One way to look at a story's structure is like a mirror placed at the midpoint that displays the first half in the reflection, which creates the second half. Everything you have in place from the opening to the midpoint should have a partner that evenly matches up to it from the midpoint to the ending.
Rather than look at your structural points in one long list from start to finish, take your outline and tear it in half, then flip the second half upside down and set it next to the first half, side by side. Like this:
Set-up Grand Finale
Catalyst Break Into Three
Debate Dark Night of the Soul
Break Into Two All Is Lost
Fun & Games "Bad Guys" Close In
Midpoint aside (for details of what the midpoint is all about, click here), each point is paired with another point in the complementary half. The paired points are similar in nature, but also opposites. Like a reflection in the mirror.
Opening and Closing
These are the most obvious. They are at the furthest points you can go in either direction. Wherever your story starts, it must end with something significantly changed. If there isn't a clear opposite in your opening and closing, then everything in the middle is pointless. If the ending makes your story feel pointless, then your reader will feel, at the least, dissatisfied, or at the most, irate for having wasted their time.
To ensure the opening and closing "match up", take the very first page of your manuscript and the very last page and (you guessed it!) place them side by side. Is the tone of the ending opposite of the beginning? Is there a clear change in the viewpoint character's... viewpoint? Has something in the story world significantly changed?
Any of those things, among others (too many to list), can add to reader satisfaction upon finishing the story.
I've used this example before and I'm going to do it again, because it's just so perfect. Watch the opening of How to Train Your Dragon, and then watch the very end (after the climax). The similarities make it circular, satisfying, but you can also see a clear change. Not surprisingly, the story doesn't feel like a waste of time.
Set-Up and Grand Finale
Neither of these are turning points, really, but they still match up. The set-up is Act One and the grand finale is Act Three. In the set-up part of a story we are building up toward the main premise, giving all the important elements a push-start into the plot. In the grand finale all of those things are wrapped up.
Whatever is introduced in the set-up makes a final appearance in the grand finale. All the story questions are resolved here, including the main one at the climax. They are not all resolved at the same time, though. You have nearly 25% of the story's total "page time" to wrap up each individual thread in natural succession.
You have the same amount of page time for the set-up as well, but Act One is tricky. The set-up encompasses the entire first act, including the catalyst and debate. It overlaps them. And I know that might be confusing, so just look at it this way: every can of worms you open in Act One must be collected and re-sealed by the close of Act Three.
Catalyst and Break Into Three
Both of these points are attached to a major decision made by the protagonist. The catalyst comes right before a major decision, and the break into the third act comes right after a major decision. So in that sense, these are both major transitional points in the overall story arc.
And they are completely opposite.
The catalyst is usually something largely out of the protagonist's control that inevitably forces them into making the decision that pushes them headfirst your premise (detailed explanation of that can be found here). The break into act three is a result of the protagonist's choice to fix everything, no matter what the cost.
In the first half the protagonist feels more like they are being pushed around at something or someone else's will, not their own. They are still proactive, making decisions, but they are ultimately not in this situation by choice. In the second half the protagonist owns up to everything that's happened so far and determines how to settle it "once and for all."
If you view these two points in terms of opposing viewpoints from the protagonist toward their situation, the importance of these points in the story will be easier to clarify.
A good example of this is in Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall. At the catalyst Sam realizes she is not only alive (after dying the night before), but she is also reliving the same day as yesterday. This pushes her toward the main premise without much choice on her part.
At the break into act three, Sam makes a firm decision to do what she feels will break the curse. Nothing happens by chance here. All the cards have been dealt and she determines how to play her hand.
Next Wednesday we'll cover the remaining three pairs of opposites. If you have any questions about the points in today's post, please feel free to ask in the comment section below.