The middle is comprised of two acts joined by a major plot point, the midpoint event. Following the inciting incident is the second act, comprised of reaction to the inciting incident, and action, and more reactions, all of which leads to more trouble, rising to a severe crisis. All the action should relate directly to the core trouble, the quest.
At the midpoint, the protagonist and friends are in grave difficulty and are struggling. The midpoint of the story arc is the turning point, the place where there is no going back.
Consider J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit: At the midpoint, Bilbo is committed to seeing the Dwarves regain their home, and Smaug is routed, but at great cost. Now, he only sees disaster ahead of them, if Thorin continues down the moral path he has chosen. Bilbo has been changing, evolving in to a strong and moral character, but now he shows his true courage, by hiding the Arkenstone. Then he takes matters into his own hands to head off the impending war. Bilbo tries to ransom the Arkenstone, but Thorin refuses to see reason. He banishes Bilbo, and the battle is inevitable.
This arc is the same in every good, well-plotted novel: everything starts relatively well, but events soon push the protagonist out of his comfortable life and into danger. This peril can be physical, or emotional–after all, many things rock our world but don’t threaten our physical safety. Either way, the threat and looming disaster must be shown. At first, emotions are high, and the situation sometimes chaotic, but the protagonist believes he had a grip on it.
The Midpoint is the place where the already-high emotions really intensify, and the action does too. Toward the end of this section, the protagonist suffers doubt, fear they may not have what it takes, and their quest won’t be fulfilled. From this point on, the forces driving the plot are a train on a downhill run, picking up speed, and there is no stopping it or turning back now. The characters continue to be put to the test, and the subplots kick into gear.
Within the overall story arc, there are scenes, each of which propels the plot forward, moving the protagonist and antagonist further along the story arc to the final showdown. Each scene is a small arc of action that illuminates the motives of the characters, allows the reader to learn things as the protagonist does, and offers clues regarding things the characters don’t know that will affect the plot.
As I mentioned in the previous post on the opening act, those clues are foreshadowing. Through the first half of the book, subtle foreshadowing is important, as it piques the reader’s interest, and makes them want to know how the book will end.
At the midpoint, another serious incident occurs, launching the third act and setting them back even further. Now the protagonist and allies are aware that they may not achieve their objectives after all. Bad things have happened, and the protagonists have to get creative and work hard to acquire or accomplish their desired goals. They must overcome their own doubts and make themselves stronger.
Just when the characters have recovered from the midpoint crisis, another crisis occurs, the event that launches the final act.
Someone may die. But be aware, random action, blood and gore, or sex inserted for shock value or just to liven things up have no place in a well-crafted novel. Blood and sex do have their place in some of the best stories I have read, and they were watershed moments in protagonists’ lives. I want to make this extremely clear: If those events don’t somehow move the story forward, change the protagonist profoundly, or affect their view of the world, you have wasted the reader’s time.
The middle of the story is also where we get to know the antagonist and learn what the enemy knows that the protagonists do not. We discover his/her motives and what they may be capable of.
By the final quarter of the story, the protagonists should be getting their acts together. They are finding ways to resolve the conflict and are ready to commence the all-important, final act, the moment where they will embark on the final battle to achieve their goal. They will face their enemy and either win or lose.