Climaxing the Midpoint . . . or The Dirty Little Secret of Patterns

Adron J. Smitley
17 min readJun 27, 2020

I’m obsessed with plot. Have been for years. I stalk it at the grocery store. See it every time I close my eyes. Watch it lovingly from afar while it’s out for a morning jog through the park. Imagine the smell of its hair, the taste of its sweat . . . the splendid siren’s song of its screams after I follow it home then stab it three-hundred twenty-seven times in the chest with my loveknife because IF I CAN’T HAVE YOU THEN NOBODY WILL!!!


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there exists only one plot in all of fiction, A Hero Goes on a Journey or A Stranger Comes to Town. The protagonist’s point of view decides which is yours. I stole this tasty tidbit from James Hudnall while perusing the interwebs years back, and it blew my mind open to endless possibilities. All the novels I’d read and all the movies I’d watched up to that point suddenly made perfect sense thereafter.

But Dwight V. Swain says there are actually three plots, centered round one driving need of the protagonist seeking:

1. Possession of something

2. Relief from something

3. Revenge for something

And Christopher Booker expands upon the singular plot theory into seven basic plots thusly:

1. Overcoming the Monster: the (good) protagonist sets out to defeat the (evil) antagonist force which threatens the protagonist and/or their homeland.

2. Rags to Riches: the poor protagonist acquires power, wealth, and/or a mate, loses it all and gains it back, growing into a changed and wiser person as a result.

3. The Quest: The protagonist and companions set out to acquire an important object or to get to a location while facing temptations and other obstacles along the way.

4. Voyage and Return: The protagonist goes to a strange land and, after overcoming the threats it poses to them, they return with experience.

5. Comedy: Light and humorous character with a happy or cheerful ending; a dramatic work in which the central motif is the triumph over adverse circumstance, resulting in a successful or happy conclusion. Though comedy is more than humor. It refers to a pattern where the conflict becomes more and more confusing, but is at last made plain in a single clarifying event. The majority of romance films fall into this category.

6. Tragedy: The protagonist’s character flaw or great mistake which is their undoing. Their unfortunate end evokes pity at their folly and the fall of a fundamentally good character.

7. Rebirth: An event forces the main character to change their ways and often become a better person.

Then there’s Ronald B. Tobias who proclaims twenty master plots:

1. Quest: The hero searches for something, someone, or somewhere. In reality, they may be searching for themselves, with the outer journey mirrored internally. They may be joined by a companion, who takes care of minor detail and whose limitations contrast with the hero’s greater qualities.

2. Adventure: The protagonist goes on an adventure, much like a quest, but with less of a focus on the end goal or the personal development of hero hero. In the adventure, there is more action for action’s sake.

3. Pursuit: In this plot, the focus is on chase, with one person chasing another (and perhaps with multiple and alternating chase). The pursued person may be often cornered and somehow escape, so that the pursuit can continue. Depending on the story, the pursued person may be caught or may escape.

4. Rescue: In the rescue, somebody is captured, who must be released by the hero or heroic party. A triangle may form between the protagonist, the antagonist and the victim. There may be a grand duel between the protagonist and antagonist, after which the victim is freed.

5. Escape: In a kind of reversal of the rescue, a person must escape, perhaps with little help from others. In this, there may well be elements of capture and unjust imprisonment. There may also be a pursuit after the escape.

6. Revenge: In the revenge plot, a wronged person seeks retribution against the person or organization which has betrayed or otherwise harmed them or loved ones, physically or emotionally. This plot depends on moral outrage for gaining sympathy from the audience.

7. The Riddle: The riddle plot entertains the audience and challenges them to find the solution before the hero, who steadily and carefully uncovers clues and hence the final solution. The story may also be spiced up with terrible consequences if the riddle is not solved in time.

8. Rivalry: In rivalry, two people or groups are set as competitors that may be good hearted or as bitter enemies. Rivals often face a zero-sum game, in which there can only be one winner, for example where they compete for a scarce resource or the heart of a single other person.

9. Underdog: The underdog plot is similar to rivalry, but where one person (usually the hero) has less advantage and might normally be expected to lose. The underdog usually wins through greater tenacity and determination (and perhaps with the help of friendly others).

10. Temptation: In the temptation plot, a person is tempted by something that, if taken, would somehow diminish them, often morally. Their battle is thus internal, fighting against their inner voices which tell them to succumb.

11. Metamorphosis: In this fantastic plot, the protagonist is physically transformed, perhaps into beast or perhaps into some spiritual or alien form. The story may then continue with the changed person struggling to be released or to use their new form for some particular purpose. Eventually, the hero is released, perhaps through some great act of love.

12. Transformation: The transformation plot leads to change of a person in some way, often driven by unexpected circumstance or event. After setbacks, the person learns and usually becomes something better.

13. Maturation: The maturation plot is a special form of transformation, in which a person grows up. The veils of younger times are lost as they learn and grow. Thus the rudderless youth finds meaning or perhaps an older person re-finds their purpose.

14. Love: The love story is a perennial tale of lovers finding one another, perhaps through a background of danger and woe. Along the way, they become separated in some way, but eventually come together in a final joyous reunion.

15. Forbidden Love: The story of forbidden love happens when lovers are breaking some social rules, such as in an adulterous relationship or worse. The story may thus turn around their inner conflicts and the effects of others discovering their tryst.

16. Sacrifice: In sacrifice, the nobler elements of the human sprit are extolled as someone gives much more than most people would give. The person may not start with the intent of personal sacrifice and may thus be an unintentional hero, thus emphasizing the heroic nature of the choice and act.

17. Discovery: The discovery plot is strongly focused on the character of the hero who discovers something great or terrible and hence must make a difficult choice. The importance of the discovery might not be known at first and the process of revelation be important to the story.

18. Wretched Excess: In stories of wretched excess, the protagonist goes beyond normally accepted behavior as the world looks on, horrified, perhaps in realization that ‘there before the grace of God go I’ and that the veneer of civilization is indeed thin.

19. Ascension: In the ascension plot, the protagonist starts in the virtual gutter, as a sinner of some kind. The plot then shows their ascension to becoming a better person, often in response to stress that would defeat a normal person. Thus they achieve deserved heroic status.

20. Descension: In the opposite to ascension, a person of initially high standing descends to the gutter and moral turpitude, perhaps sympathetically as they are unable to handle stress and perhaps just giving in to baser vices.

So who’s right and who’s wrong?

We’re all right, silly!

Because every good story possesses a minimum of 7 basic plot points, and there’s no getting around this fact of fiction. Even Pantsers write to and through them though they may not realize doing so. The structure of a story’s basic plot points is simple when you strip everything else away.

You establish the protagonist’s ordinary world so we can get to know them, otherwise we won’t empathize with them when they’re hit with the major problem or big opportunity of the inciting incident. After some personal debate, the protagonist eventually decides to act because the inciting incident has impacted their ordinary world no longer ordinary in as permanent a way as possible, leaving their old word of restrictions behind for the new world of possibilities ahead. After some fish out of water time, the protagonist makes new friends and enemies while training to develop new virtues and skills to replace old flaws and bad habits. They’re tested through a pinch point, because the new skills and virtues need proof of their worthiness while the old flaws and bad habits they replace need proof of their worthlessness. The protagonist enjoys a midpoint victory in brazen display of their character growth thus far . . . soon undermined by the midpoint reversal of a key revelation which raises the stakes for all involved in the story’s main conflict as well as shifts the protagonist from Reaction (not in control of the conflict) to Proaction (taking control of the conflict) from this moment forward. But now the antagonist is on to them and enemies close in while the protagonist’s team of allies suffer internal dissension until someone precious to the protagonist is captured or killed and/or something precious to the protagonist is taken or destroyed during the punch point and protagonist’s all is lost where the antagonist seemingly wins. But the protagonist’s lowly depression ends when they are struck by a jolting bolt of inspiration to continue one last assault against the antagonist because they refuse to accept the misery of their new stasis. So they rally the surviving troops, tool up, storm the castle, and allies of the protagonist and minions of the antagonist are eliminated because war is hell with many casualties. The protagonist confronts the antagonist one-on-one as only the protagonist can and either defeats the antagonist or dies trying. The end.

That’s plot in a nutshell.

Not much to it, really.

And it describes 99% of every story you’ve ever read or watched or heard because it’s the most logical and dramatic way to introduce conflict, complicate it, then resolve it.

But maybe you’re staring at a blank page and have no idea where to begin.

No prob, Bob.

Happens to the best of us.

The above “nutshell” can be broken down into the 7 basic plot points all good stories possess. They’ve been around for hundreds of years, and if you’re not familiar with them then I suggest you introduce yourself now:

1. Inciting Incident

2. Plot Turn 1

3. Pinch Point 1

4. Midpoint

5. Pinch Point 2

6. Plot Turn 2

7. Resolution

I’m a weightlifter. Have been since I was the spry young age of twenty. And there’s a wise old saying when it comes to the Iron Game that goes a little something like this: “There’s nothing new when it comes to picking up heavy shit.” You see, eager young bucks all full of beans and looking to pack on pounds of muscle will come across a new-to-them lifting routine thinking they just discovered the greatest thing since sliced bread. But us veterans know the better because we’ve seen it all before. Been there, done that. What comes around goes around then eventually comes back around. “New” routines are only new to the young and ignorant. If you lift and live long enough, you see the same old tried and true routines gain popularity then fall out of fashion for a time only to become popular again years later. Same old same old.

And the same holds true for writing.

There is nothing new about these 7 basic plot points. Every so often a successful author is asked how they write so well and they reply with their personal take on the Basic 7, and for some reason they’re credited with discovering a newfangled system of plotting stories as if they came up with the concept themselves — which they didn’t. Claiming you invented the Basic 7 is like claiming you invented writing interesting lies then calling them stories. You didn’t so stop embarrassing yourself.

The Basic 7 are divided into Acts thusly:


1. Inciting Incident

2. Plot Turn 1


3. Pinch Point 1

4. Midpoint

5. Pinch Point 2

6. Plot Turn 2


7. Resolution

Personally, I prefer calling Pinch Point 2 the Punch Point because it’s a stronger version of Pinch Point 1. During Pinch Point 1 (or just the Pinch Point) imagine the antagonist sneaking up behind the protagonist and pinching them on the rump in reminder of the story’s main conflict, whereas during the Punch Point imagine the antagonist marching right up to the protagonist and punching them in the face. Because that’s what pinch points really are, the antagonist flexing their muscles against the protagonist in reminder of the story’s main conflict and the death stakes involved (physical, professional, or psychological) if the protagonist fails to obtain or achieve their goal.

But the Plotter I am, the Basic 7 are neither detailed nor descriptive enough for me; I prefer to make things my own thusly:


1. Old World Stasis

2. New World Flux


3. Things Come Together

4. False Victory


5. Things Fall Apart

6. False Defeat


7. False Solution

8. True Resolution

Nothing new in what I’ve done. All I did was change some letters around and add an extra stage to Act 3 because “Resolution” can contain any number of events, namely the Crisis and Climax before it as well as the fact that all remaining subplots outside the protagonist must be concluded before the big one-on-one protagonist vs. antagonist showdown. And I split Act 2 in half because the events comprising Act 2A and Act 2B are opposites. Imagine being poor (Act 1) then winning the lottery (Inciting Incident). During Act 2A you have a buttload of money and enjoy spending it, living the high life while all the wonderful charms of being filthy rich are on full display. Then comes the Midpoint Twist ushering in Act 2B where you then learn all the problems having such wealth eventually brings with angry friends and family wanting to borrow money they did nothing to earn, thieves stealing from you, people using you, bills flooding in from all the things you carelessly bought, taxes and such. But I digress . . .

You present the protagonist’s ordinary world through Old World Stasis so we can empathize with them when they’re hit with the Inciting Incident which changes their ordinary world no longer ordinary into New World Flux. After some personal debate, the protagonist decides to act, causing Plot Turn 1 while venturing from Act 1 into Act 2, leaving their old world of restrictions behind for the new world of possibilities ahead. Things Come Together for the protagonist as they make new friends and enemies while training and progressing toward resolving the story’s main conflict, of which they are reminded through the Pinch Point splitting the activities of their progress. Eventually they earn a False Victory at the Midpoint, then a TWIST of new revelation strikes them, raising the stakes while flipping that internal protagonist switch from Reaction (not in control of the conflict) to Proaction (taking control of the conflict). But the antagonist is fully aware of their protagonist problem now, and Things Fall Apart for the protagonist through internal dissension while external enemies close in. Smack in the middle comes the hot beefy injection of the Punch Point, then the protagonist suffers a False Defeat where the antagonist seemingly wins . . . until they are hit with the inspiration to continue one last assault against the antagonist and by doing so cause Plot Turn 2, leaving Act 2 behind for Act 3. During the Resolution the protagonist executes their final plan in a False Solution that brings them closer to defeating the antagonist. Allies of the protagonist and minions of the antagonist are eliminated (the False Solution is where all remaining subplots outside the protagonist must be resolved) because the protagonist must confront the antagonist one-on-one as only the protagonist can. Then comes the True Resolution where the protagonist applies all they’ve learned through their story’s journey and either defeats the antagonist or dies trying. The end.

So now what?

That blank page of yours hasn’t change yet, has it?

Well, patterns exist in writing same as they exist in nature. Spirals are a common pattern found in nature. In hurricanes and galaxies, and even in our own DNA double helix. Spirals also exist in stories. During the Things Come Together stage (split by the Pinch Point) it’s an upward spiral of progress and fortune for the protagonist. And during the Things Fall Apart stage (split by the Punch Point) it’s reversed as a downward spiral of regression and misfortune.

But enough about spirals.

A common pattern in story is the Midpoint to Climax pattern. You see, the Midpoint and Climax of a story parallel each other. A happy Midpoint and thus triumphant Climax are separated by an unhappy All Is Lost between for emotional contrast. And an unhappy Midpoint and thus a tragic Climax are separated by a happy All Is Joy between for same reasons.

False Victory Midpoint → All Is Lost → Triumphant Climax.

And same goes for the opposite.

False Defeat Midpoint → All Is Joy → Tragic Climax.

But the pattern doesn’t end there, my ugly friend.

Satisfying stories come full circle, their beginning and ending mirroring each other by contrast as proof of the protagonist’s change earned through character growth, otherwise the events of the story are rendered meaningless because they’ve provided no lasting effect.

Triumphant Climax = an unhappy protagonist leading a dissatisfying life at the beginning.

Tragic Climax = a happy protagonist leading a satisfying life at the beginning.

And by equal contrast you want to hit your happy protagonist with a major problem as their inciting incident, whereas you hit your unhappy protagonist with a big opportunity as their inciting incident. Because stories are an emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows.

Unhappy Protagonist → Big Opportunity → False Victory Midpoint → All Is Lost → Triumphant Climax.

Happy Protagonist → Major Problem → False Defeat Midpoint → All Is Joy → Tragic Climax.

Now you want to separate the Big Opportunity and False Victory Midpoint with contrasting emotion same as you did the False Victory Midpoint and its Triumphant Climax, so you stick in a Minor All Is Lost to split the feels. And you do the same with the Major Problem and False Defeat Midpoint, splicing in a Minor All Is Joy between.

The Triumphant Protagonist:

1. Unhappy Protagonist

2. Big Opportunity

3. Minor All Is Lost

4. False Victory Midpoint

5. Major All Is Lost

6. Triumphant Climax

The Tragic Protagonist:

1. Happy Protagonist

2. Major Problem

3. Minor All Is Joy

4. False Defeat Midpoint

5. Major All Is Joy

6. Tragic Climax

But you still need to split the drama feels even further:

The Triumphant Protagonist:

1. Unhappy Protagonist

2. Big Opportunity

3. Minor All Is Lost

4. False Victory Midpoint

5. Major All Is Lost

6. Inspiration

7. False Defeat

8. Triumphant Climax

The Tragic Protagonist:

1. Happy Protagonist

2. Major Problem

3. Minor All Is Joy

4. False Defeat Midpoint

5. Major All Is Joy

6. Crisis

7. False Victory

8. Tragic Climax

See now how the rollercoaster of emotions flows?

Triumph / Tragedy

1. Unhappy / Happy

2. Happy / Unhappy

3. Unhappy / Happy

4. Happy / Unhappy

5. Unhappy / Happy

6. Happy / Unhappy

7. Unhappy / Happy

8. Happy / Unhappy

These are not the only two patterns of plot, though they are the most prevalent so they’re good enough for the girls I go with. And I’ve dwindled them down to 6 plot points, adding one in before the Inciting Incident while leaving the 2 Plot Turns out because Plot Turns are the protagonist’s obvious decision to act and are, well, obvious from their surrounding events as well they depend solely on your particular protagonist and their particular story. Plot Turn 1 (better named the Physical Crossing because the protagonist physically leaves the “old” world of restrictions behind that is Act 1 for the “new” world of possibilities ahead that is Act 2) depends on the Inciting Incident preceding it, and Plot Turn 2 (better named the Spiritual Crossing because the protagonist finally reaches their epiphany point of true self-awareness and leaves their new “old” world of Act 2 behind for the “new” defeat-the-antagonist-or-die-trying world of Act 3 ahead that ends in triumph or tragedy permanence) depends on the Major All Is Lost or All Is Joy preceding it. For ease of reference:


2. Big Opportunity/Major Problem = INCITING INCIDENT

*(Plot Turn 1, or Physical Crossing: protagonist’s decision to act, leaving Act 1 behind for Act 2)

3. Minor All Is Lost/ Minor All Is Joy = PINCH POINT

4. False Victory Midpoint/False Defeat Midpoint = MIDPOINT

5. Major All Is Lost/Major All Is Joy = PUNCH POINT

*(Plot Turn 2, or Spiritual Crossing: protagonist’s decision to act, leaving Act 2 behind for Act 3)

6. Triumphant Climax/ Tragic Climax = RESOLUTION

Now, I want you to grab some index cards. Atop two write #1A and #1B, then on the first write Happy Protagonist, the second write Unhappy Protagonist. Your next two sets of cards you write . . . I’ll just show you below:

#1A. Happy Protagonist

#1B. Unhappy Protagonist

#2A. Major Problem

#2B. Big Opportunity

#3A. Minor All Is Joy

#3B. Minor All Is Lost

#4A. False Defeat Midpoint

#4B. False Victory Midpoint

#5A. Major All Is Joy

#5B. Major All Is Lost

#6A. Tragic Climax

#6B. Triumphant Climax

These are your writer flashcards. Keep them handy because the next time your drunk muse vomits an awesome scene into your brain I want you to take out your flashcards and find which card best suits said scene. After deciding on the particular card, you can then work backwards and forwards while fleshing out your next great novel-to-be by using the other flashcards as prompts.

Your happy-go-lucky protagonist comes home from work early and finds her husband wrestling in bed with her best friend? Sounds like a “Major Problem” to me! Though to you and your story it may be a “Major All Is Lost” or a “False Defeat Midpoint.”

Hungover Harry shambles in to work one bleary-eyed morning and gets that raise he’s been begging for because his tyrant boss died from a fatal heart attack mid-cheeseburger the night before? Sounds like a “Big Opportunity” to me! Though to you and your story it may be a “Minor All Is Joy” or a “False Victory Midpoint.”

No one is holding a loaded gun to your head and demanding you think to formula either. Go ahead and mix your flashcards up. Change and rearrange them to suit your imagination. You prefer a Happy Protagonist to receive a Big Opportunity instead of a Major Problem as their Inciting Incident? Nothing is stopping you but time and the effort of writing as much yourself.

Maybe you hate my suggestions and wish to stick to the Basic 7. Okay. Then make new flashcards and use those as your writing prompts. I live in Ohio, I’m lazy, and I have chronic asthma, so I’m not going to hike to where you live and murder you in your sleep if you ignore my advice. And frankly I don’t care because I have my own novels to write.

Just thought up a bored secretary who hates her job and so moonlights as a daring jewel thief? Put ‘er down for flashcard #1 then dream up a Major Problem or Big Opportunity to hit her with as the Inciting Incident that rocks her world with change — because that’s what an Inciting Incident is: change to the protagonist’s normal stasis in as permanent a way as you can make it. Maybe she’s fired for slacking on the job because she’s tired from her nights spent burgling and her story tells the tale of learning humility while surviving homeless on the streets. Maybe she’s caught and arrested and her story turns into a prison tale of redemption. Maybe she robs the most handsome man she’s ever seen and her story becomes the tale of an obsessed stalker who murders the wife in the hopes of replacing her. Or maybe you want the bored secretary turning daring thief at the Midpoint instead, preferring a slow burn and build-up to her nightly escapades. Have at it, Hoss.

The possibilities are endless, limited only by your imagination.

Plot isn’t paint-by-numbers no matter what most Pantsers claim. I’ve found those who speak ill of plot are also those who want you to believe they are geniuses, hoping others view them as the “tortured artist” writers we often see in movies who are struck with wonderful writing epiphanies only their superior brains can comprehend then translate to page for us lesser beings to enjoy.

That’s arrogant bunk.

Movies exaggerate because they’re made to entertain and for earning millions of moola, and the fact is most Pantsers plot even if they aren’t aware of it. They may not write everything down beforehand like Plotters prefer, but they’ll often sit in ponder for hours before writing what happens next.

NEWS FLASH: thinking IS plotting.

However you select your writer flashcards, keep them handy for when that next great jolt of inspiration strikes (like it should your protagonist moments before their Spiritual Crossing). Choose a plot point then build your story around it.

Because failing to plan is planning to fail.

And novels don’t write themselves.

Happy writing!

Essential plotting manual for writers of all genres! Amazon: $6.99 paperback, $2.99 digital, or FREE with Kindle Unlimited!



Adron J. Smitley

Blog for writers on everything plot, character, and story structure architecture at: