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Reading Challenge: Stuck in the Middle with You

Like a magician sawing a body in half, we’ve made it to the middle.

It’s what we call “The Midpoint,” pretty original, right? Bad jokes aside, this is the moment when the main character evaluates whether or not they like the person they’ve become. A lot of times the protagonist will find themselves in front of a mirror having this introspective moment, other times, it’s a figurative “looking in the mirror” experience.

James Scott Bell developed this concept of writing from the middle. He did an experiment where he looked at the exact midpoint of many movies, give or take a few minutes, and found that in almost all cases there was a moment of self-reflection. Gabriela Pereira from DIY MFA, decided to see what happened when she looked at some of her favorite books. She discovered the mirror moment is so common you can take any book, divide the page length in half and, give or take 10 pages, you’ll find it.

This self-reflection is brought about by two different scenarios, a temporary triumph or a false failure. A temporary triumph, the character’s gotten what they wanted but they realize it’s not quite what they hoped it would be. The false failure is where the character thinks it’s can’t get any worse . . . and then it does.

In The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson, it happens around pages 115-123. Here’s where I’ll caution you against incoming spoilers. Jake Baker ends up spending the day with Dove Yellowbird, his crush, and while it’s fun—he quickly realizes that liking her won’t end up the way he hopes. In my honest opinion, I feel like Jake experiences both a temporary triumph, from getting to hang out with Dove, and a false failure of being unable of preventing her from running away.

This book continues to throw me for a loop with some of these milestone points I’m searching for based on the criteria in the WriterIgniter Reading Challenge from DIY MFA. I know it’s not a one-size-fits-all, but this has been difficult for me. I’ve participated in similar exercises in my English classes, but the teacher or professor was always been guiding the way and keeping the class on track.

Don’t get me wrong, the book is wonderful and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. The way the story’s being told isn’t what I expected, but that’s been a nice surprise. This self-directed learning experience is almost like being an amateur archeologist that’s trying to reverse engineer how the author’s built the story and trying to understand the why. Sometimes the answers aren’t obvious, while it’s frustrating when I’m the one trying to come up with the answers—as a writer, I appreciate the nuance and the skill that Craig Davidson demonstrates. It’s a kind of magic and that’s what I live for—it’s why I write.

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