Story Design’s Third Act: The Moment of Truth
On Plot Twists and Mind Fucks in Story
A great story has the protagonist discover an essential truth at the midpoint which propels them through the end of the story. Some story pundits refer to this as the mind fuck, the moment when the veil is lifted from the hero’s eyes, but hard work remains to be done.
If you’re a storyteller, the trick is to identify that essential truth and arrange things around it. You can do it by planning or pantsing your story. Either way is fine. If you’re a story planner, you design the story until you know the essential truth. If you’re a pantser, you look for it after and rearrange things as needed. (Hey, pantsers gotta’ pants, amiright?)
“Essential truth” is not widely recognized as a way to make a story great. Instead, pundits speak often about compelling conflict and universal themes, but not about the essential truth. They talk about a twist you’ll never see coming, or the aforementioned mind fuck. Essential truth sounds like something a protestant pastor discusses from the pulpit to his sleepy congregation on Sunday morning.
Twists and Mind Fucks
Twists and mind fucks show up often in action, adventure and horror stories. Try pitching a story to an agent without one, and see the cold look of boredom on their face. You will know what that protestant pastor knows: simple terms bore people to death.
The advantage of the term “essential truth” is that it’s easier to apply to simpler romance, comedy, drama, and society stories. In those stories, you’d discuss that moment as “So-and-so realizes that what’s-their-face actually loves the Shogun, and will never agree to leave the island.” It’s a much quieter variety of mind-fuck.
So it is with me and this publication, Story Design for Fiction.
In Act One, I launched Story Design for Fiction as a place to share what I learned about telling stories. Despite the deluge of books and articles about creative writing, plotting, and story structure, I didn’t see a discussion per se about story design. But I was nervous and reluctant: who am I to tell the world about story design?
So I quit.
In Act Two, after reading Into the Woods (a book about story structure), I renewed my commitment to this publication because that book’s discussion about the essential truth a protagonist must discover at the midpoint gave me an epiphany that connected all the things I’d studied for the previous thirty years about storytelling.
Alas, despite my epiphany, I didn’t persist in that discussion.
What I did do last year is rewrite two novels using what I learned and then write a third novel. I’m now busy bringing those novels to market (one is with an agent, another will be published by me, and the third needs a polish before querying). That creative output was satisfying to me, but also convinced me that the epiphany was not a flash in the pan.
Into the Woods and the Five Act Story
I have to sidebar here because I’m using a five-act story structure as a metaphor. A lot of structure pundits, starting with Aristotle, use three acts as the way to organize a story. Into the Woods uses five acts, and that’s what I’m doing right now.
Okay, back to my article…
So here we are at the moment of truth…
I’m at the midpoint of Story Design for Fiction’s story, and the essential truth is that I have learned how to tell a compelling story. You may not believe me because you haven’t read my books. I know the truth, and it will propel me through the end of the publication’s story.
Writing novels is hard work and demands a lot of time. I still want to share what I’ve learned, so I’m going to get this publication to a consistent level of content delivery, explaining what I learned, sharing what I know. I’ll welcome discussion and other points of view.
My personal mind fuck is that I have to find time to keep my day job, write, edit and publish novels, and also write these articles about the process.
I’m not exactly sure how the story ends, but I have a pretty good idea.