One of my favorite subjects is how to craft a story with good structure. It’s so important. A writer can learn all kinds of crafty skills, write you-are-there scenes, and still have a story that falls flat–unless a good structure holds it up.
Today I’m talking about what is sometimes called the man-in-the-mirror moment, or MIM. It’s something that filmmakers have been using for years. Exactly halfway through a movie, you may find the main character actually looking into a mirror and pondering a change of direction. (Example: A Beautiful Mind.) Or you may find the main character simply pondering without the mirror.
The main character is deciding to abandon his old self and take steps toward his new self. Screenwriting teacher Stanley D. Williams teaches it as pivotal to the plot of a good movie, occurring smack in the middle of the second act. (Second act is the long middle of your story where the character struggles with a variety of obstacles.)
Author and writing teacher James Scott Bell takes it a step further. The MIM, he says, can be a starting place for you when you are dreaming up your story to start with. You can imagine your main character making this momentous decision to change direction. Then you can imagine what his psychological history is that would bring him to this point, and also imagine his eventual transformation at the end of the book. The rest of the plot elements can fall out from there.
Let’s take The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy Gale just wants to find a place somewhere over the rainbow where people are nice and have time to talk to her, unlike her crabby neighbor Miss Gulch and the busy farmhands on her farm. But after she actually blows in to an alien place, she realizes that “there’s no place like home,” and she spends the rest of the movie trying to get there.
At the midpoint of the book Gone With The Wind, Scarlett realizes what her mission is in the aftermath of this terrible war: it is to save Tara.
The MIM is about inner transformation that leads to outward actions, says Bell. If your characters have both an inner and an outer journey (and they should), they intersect here.
A note for seat-of-the-pants writers: you can always work on structure after you have your first draft. If you can work this idea into your book, it will be stronger.
Stanley D. Williams, The Moral Premise
James Scott Bell, Super Structure