Welcome to the Character Evolution Files! This column focuses on character arcs, from the elements that create or enhance a character’s inner journey, to techniques that writers can employ to strengthen character arcs in their own work. Today we continue our journey through the stages of the character arc with File No. 7, which focuses on the Revelation (or the Midpoint).
Every stage of a character’s evolution is important. However, the previous four stages have been building to the story’s halfway point. All of the protagonist’s mistakes and choices so far come to a head now, forcing the protagonist to realize that things aren’t going according to plan – and his behavior is the reason why. This fifth stage of our Journey Through the Character Arc is what we’ll call the Revelation.
Thus, the Revelation is our topic for Character Evolution File No. 7. We’ll cover the emotional and psychological aspects that will put the protagonist in a state of “tug of war” between his false belief and its opposite truth. And, we’ll see what happens when our two example characters from literature are confronted by their respective Revelations, and how they change from a state of reaction to a state of action.
Don’t forget that you can follow along with our Journey Through the Character Arc using the Story Structure & Character Arc Alignment Chart, available for download at Worksheets for Writers.
The Basics of the Revelation
The Revelation / Midpoint typically occurs around the 50% mark. This allows for ample page-time to develop all of the elements from the previous four stages, from the external plot, setting, and backstory to the character’s personality, motivations, and choices. It also leaves plenty of page-time for the stages to come.
The Revelation is a single scene in which the protagonist finally sees the error in his false belief and the truth that will eventually set him free. Like with the Trigger / Inciting Incident (Stage 1) or the Point of No Return / End of Act I (Stage 3), something shakes up his world yet again and prompts that realization. This “prompting event” can be a small victory or a temporary defeat. Regardless, it leads the protagonist to discover that it’s time to stop reacting and start being proactive.
Think of the Revelation as a “reflection in the mirror” scene. An event must present itself so the protagonist can reflect on the lie he believes about himself or the world. Upon this reflection, he’ll understand that the way he’s been acting is wrong, and that his choices and behaviors may have had a negative effect on his ability to reach his story goal – a goal he’s deeply invested in. So, in order for the character to achieve this goal, the protagonist will need to change his behavior and shed his false belief.
As a result, the Revelation is like the Point of No Return in that it presents the protagonist with a choice: Should he continue acting according his false belief, or acknowledge its opposite truth? In a positive arc, it’s usually the latter. And by discovering that his false belief has hindered his progress, the protagonist will, for the first time, acknowledge the truth that undermines the lie he believes.
This doesn’t mean that the protagonist has rejected his false belief yet. Think back on your own experiences with change, even something as small as breaking a habit. In all cases, the first step is acknowledgment. You open yourself to the possibility of thinking or acting differently and seeing the world in a new light.
Acknowledgment, however, isn’t the same as acceptance or action. Even if you’re aware of what needs to change, are you ready to immediately commit to that change? Most likely, you’re not. That’s what the Revelation is: a moment of awareness, of acknowledgment before acceptance or action. The protagonist hasn’t figured out the “how,” “when,” and so on, but he does know the “why.”
So, let’s recap the elements to a strong Revelation:
- Prompting Event: An event shakes things up to catalyze the Revelation.
- “Mirror” Reflection: The prompting event forces the protagonist to look back on his mistakes and behaviors, and connect them with his false belief.
- Opposite Truth: The reflection allows the protagonist to see the truth that undermines his false belief, and how his life might change if he accepts that truth.
- Story Goal Reinforcement: The protagonist realizes that the truth (not his false belief) will help him achieve his story goal, and he’ll need to change his behavior and/or way of thinking to do so.
- Second Major Story Decision: The protagonist must decide whether to continue acting according to his false belief, or to acknowledge the truth. In a positive arc, he’ll choose the latter.
- First Step in the Right Direction: The protagonist will take some kind of action as a result of his decision. This action is evidence of his acknowledgment of the truth.
- Evidence of Clinging: Despite his decision, the protagonist will carry lingering thoughts or emotions that show he’s not ready to let go of his false belief.
With these elements, the Revelation will be more than just a scene that falls in the dead-center. It will address the emotional and psychological aspects of the pivot from reaction to action. It will also raise the stakes again and remind readers of the protagonist’s redemptive qualities. Most importantly, the Revelation will leave the protagonist subtly conflicted. He’ll be enlightened by the opposite truth, but his desire to cling to his false belief won’t make things any easier. In fact, the next stage of his arc journey will only complicate matters further.
For more tips on the Revelation / Midpoint, check out the linked articles from Fiction University (three act structure and preparing your novel’s middle), Mythic Scribes (Story Structure, Parts 2 and 3), and Helping Writers Become Authors.
How the Revelation Sheds Light on the Protagonist’s False Belief and the Opposite Truth
Let’s go back to our case-study character, a young female criminal on the run. She’s hiding from the police (story goal) in a stranger’s home, and this decision has put her in direct conflict with her false belief (“I can’t trust anyone”). Now, she has reached the end of her Struggle / Act II, First Half (Stage 4), which has tested her reluctance to trust her benefactor and her ability to achieve her story goal. So, how should her Revelation play out?
First, we should determine the fugitive’s opposite truth. If her false belief is “I can’t trust anyone,” she needs to learn that she can trust other people. Therefore, her Revelation needs to show this truth by making her realize that her benefactor does want to help her.
Next, we need a prompting event to catalyze the Revelation. One of the Struggle’s pinch points was a visit from a detective who interviews the benefactor about the fugitive’s whereabouts. Even though the benefactor offers no information to help the detective, the fugitive (who is eavesdropping from a nearby closet) is still shaken by the close call. This scene would be a great choice for a prompting event.
With all of this in mind, here is one possible design for the fugitive’s Revelation:
- Prompting Event: A detective stops by to interview the benefactor. The fugitive hides in a closet and eavesdrops on their conversation. The true Revelation comes when the fugitive and the benefactor sit down later that night, and the benefactor offers to “smuggle” her out of town.
- “Mirror” Reflection: The fugitive is stunned first by her benefactor’s decision to withhold the truth from the detective, and then by his suggestion for escape. She realizes that he wants to help her, and regrets her previous suspicions and behaviors toward him.
- Opposite Truth: The fugitive learns that she can trust her benefactor, and wonders what might happen if she begins to trust people in general.
- Story Goal Reinforcement: The benefactor’s offer to leave town aligns with the fugitive’s story goal (avoiding arrest and jail time). Accepting his offer will prove that she trusts him with her safety.
- Second Major Story Decision: The fugitive must decide if she should stay where she is or leave town with her benefactor. She chooses to trust her new friend, and takes him up on his offer.
- First Step in the Right Direction: While the benefactor arranges for their car trip, the fugitive packs what few belongings she has and helps her benefactor with his luggage and other things as she can. She also thanks her benefactor for everything he’s done for her so far.
- Evidence of Clinging: Despite wanting to trust her benefactor, the fugitive feels a nagging fear that he might betray her, or that leaving town might increase her chances of being captured.
Compared to its prompting event (the detective’s visit), the Revelation seems like a relatively quiet scene. Yet it contains all the necessary elements that a character arc’s midpoint calls for. Plus, by acknowledging the truth that opposes her false belief, the fugitive has decided to journey into uncharted territory both physically and emotionally.
This is exactly the outcome your protagonist should reach at the end of his Revelation. Allow him to be brave and choose the option he wouldn’t have dared to choose in the past. Doing so will set the stage for the Charge / Act II, Second Half (Stage 6), when he begins to demonstrate his belief in the truth.
How Does the Revelation Align with the Story’s Midpoint?
Continuing with our arc-stage comparisons, let’s see how the Revelation parallels the Midpoint:
- Both stages occur around the story’s 50% mark.
- Both require a single event that reinforces the story goal and further raises the stakes.
- Both are prompted by a preceding event that disrupts the protagonist’s world again.
- The protagonist realizes that his original plan isn’t working and is forced to make another major decision (go on as planned or change / adapt).
- By doing this, the protagonist switches from a reactive standpoint to one of action that he carries into the second half of the story.
An Example of a Character’s Revelation Using Aragorn from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings
As we follow Aragorn’s journey through the positive arc, we’ll refer to the Revelation basics we discussed earlier to illuminate how they play out in a story. Also, please note that these Aragorn sections will reference both the books and Peter Jackson’s film trilogy. The focus will be on film-Aragorn, who endures a more noticeable internal struggle than book-Aragorn, but the discussion will include appropriate references to the books as needed.
So far, Aragorn’s evolution has taken him from assuming responsibility of the Fellowship after Gandalf’s fall, to a winding road of failures (most notably the dissolving of the Fellowship) and successes (acknowledgment from others of his leadership qualities) that have pushed him uncomfortably close to his false belief (“I can’t be a good leader”). This all leads to a point in The Two Towers where Aragorn pivots from “reaction” to “action.” First, let’s look at his Revelation’s prompting event.
Towards the end of Aragorn’s Struggle, he and his fellow Fellowship members Legolas and Gimli accompany King Theoden of Rohan as his city flees for Helm’s Deep. Along the way, a pack of warg-scouts (sent by the wizard Saruman) ambush the refugees; and during the counterattack, Aragorn is dragged over a cliff into the river below. He survives the fall despite his injuries and manages to ride to Helm’s Deep – but not before finding a massive army on its way.
As you can see, Aragorn delivers this staggering news to Helm’s Deep. Watch how King Theoden responds to Aragorn’s warning – and what Aragorn does in return – in the following scene that appears only in the film version of The Two Towers (not in the book).
Notice how Aragorn is more assertive and outspoken here than earlier in the trilogy. His decision to confront Theoden (whom we established in File No. 6 as Aragorn’s “mirror” character) does more than show he disagrees with Theoden. In fact, behind his desperation, Aragorn’s demeanor has an air of steadfastness and authority – a kingly air. He may lose the argument in the end, but his choice to try to change Theoden’s mind is the boldest move he’s made thus far in the series, and one that brings him closer to embracing his destiny.
So, let’s break down Aragorn’s Revelation using the keys we discussed earlier:
- Timing: Aragorn’s Revelation occurs during The Two Towers, from the 1 hour 55 minute mark to the 2 hour 1 minute mark (52% to 53% of the film trilogy). The scenes discussed do not appear in The Two Towers book. If they did, they would occur shortly before Page 148* (51% of the book trilogy), where the Battle of Helm’s Deep begins.
- Prompting Event: Aragorn sights the 10,000+ Uruk-hai army and realizes how dire Rohan’s circumstances (and his own) have become.
- “Mirror” Reflection: Since this scene appears only in the film, it’s difficult to know what Aragorn is thinking. We can assume, though, that Aragorn fears Theoden and his men stand little chance against Saruman’s forces. He might also realize that his self-doubt and reluctance to speak up may have led Rohan into the position they’re now in, and he wants to rectify that behavior.
- Opposite Truth: While Aragorn can’t command Theoden’s army, he now accepts that he must take on a secondary leadership role in the upcoming battle. His advice to call for aid also indicates how he might act differently if he were in Theoden’s shoes.
- Story Goal Reinforcement: Aragorn’s immediate goal is to help Rohan survive the Battle of Helm’s Deep. If Rohan manages to defeat Saruman’s army, their victory could be a setback for the evil Lord Sauron and help Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee’s quest to destroy The One Ring – which was Aragorn’s original goal in The Fellowship of the Ring. So, in essence, Aragorn is doing what he believe is necessary to defeat Sauron.
- Second Major Story Decision: Aragorn must decide whether to remain passive and let Theoden do what he pleases, or stand up to the king and persuade him to act in ways that might increase his people’s chances of survival. The scenes above show that he chooses the latter.
- First Step in the Right Direction: Upon his arrival at Helm’s Deep, Aragorn warns Theoden about the Uruk-hai army. He then stands his ground and freely offers advice (calling Gondor for aid) when Theoden responds with defiance.
- Evidence of Clinging: Like with the “Mirror” Reflection, this evidence isn’t clear yet. One could say that Aragorn’s acceptance of losing his argument with Theoden is a sign that he didn’t defend his opinions well enough. We’ll have to see how Aragorn continues to act as the trilogy continues.
A Second Example of a Character’s Revelation Using Tris Prior from Veronica Roth’s Divergent
Chapter 17 of Divergent (timing = 43% to 46% of the book**) is dedicated to Tris’s Revelation. Unlike the temporary defeat that Aragorn experiences during his in Lord of the Rings, Tris’s is an exhilarating personal victory that motivates her further toward her story goal (finding her place in society) and gives her a glimpse of the truth that will undermine her false belief (“I am weak” / “I don’t belong anywhere.”).
After a fellow Dauntless initiate is attacked and then quits the initiation process, Tris is approached by Uriah, a Dauntless-born initiate. Out of sympathy, Uriah invites her to participate in a “ritual” that’s meant only for Dauntless-born initiates and their older siblings (Page 212**). What is this ritual? Climbing to the roof of the Hancock Building, then zip-lining to its end several blocks away (prompting event).
Tris doesn’t run away from the opportunity, though. As she’s pushed into the line, she’s surprised by her excitement (“Still, there is a part of me that groans, I have to wait for seven people? It is a strange blend of terror and eagerness, unfamiliar until now.” [219**]). She also questions her choice to participate, even as she’s hooked into the harness and overhears encouragement from Uriah (“‘I told you… She’s Dauntless through and through.'” [220**]).
The questioning ceases once Tris starts her slide down the zipline. She takes in the scenery around her, catches the cheering of pedestrians below, and loses herself in the sensations of air and speed. The rest is described best in Tris’s own words:
- “I throw my arms out to the side and imagine that i am flying…” (221**)
- “I also feel everything, every vein and every fiber, every bone and every nerve, all awake and buzzing in my body as if charged with electricity. I am pure adrenaline.” (221**)
- “I should scream, like any rational human being would, but when I open my mouth again, I just crow with joy.” (222**)
Tris then makes some important discoveries once she reaches the zipline’s end. As she unbuckles her harness and lets her fellow Dauntless members catch her, she realizes, “I have to accept that these people are mine, and I am theirs. It is a braver act than sliding down the zip line.” (222**) Then, when someone asks Tris for her opinion about the ride, Tris’s immediate reaction is, “When can I go again?” (223**) By the time she returns to her friends, she readily admits to herself than she’s “really eager to be one of [the Dauntless]. Which means I have to survive the next stage of initiation.” (226**)
Since we’ve already pointed out the timing and prompting event, let’s break down the remaining keys to Tris’s Revelation:
- “Mirror” Reflection: Tris is surprised by how easily the Dauntless-born initiates and their older siblings welcome her to their ritual. Her insights after her turn on the zipline also show her feelings of belonging and acceptance in her new faction.
- Opposite Truth: Tris realizes that maybe she does belong in Dauntless. The encouragement she receives from Uriah and his peers helps bolsterthis belief.
- Story Goal Reinforcement: Riding the zipline further fuels Tris’s motivation to successfully pass Dauntless’s initiation process so she can officially become one of them.
- Second Major Story Decision: Tris must decide whether to “lay down” and let her fears fears ruin her chances of surviving Dauntless initiation, or to “fight” and let her drive to succeed take the wheel. Thanks to the taste of belonging she now has, she chooses the latter.
- First Step in the Right Direction: Tris admits to herself (and to readers) that she wants to become a Dauntless more than ever.
- Evidence of Clinging: Tris’s next comment (“Which means I have to survive the next stage of initiation”) shows that she’s still uncertain of her chances of passing initiation and reaching her goal.
Questions to Ask While Developing Your Protagonist’s Revelation
Below is a list of questions comprised of the keys to a character’s Revelation. Use these, along with your answers to past Journey Through the Character Arc questionnaires, to craft a believable midpoint for your protagonist’s arc that builds on the momentum from the previous arc stages and inspires the character to move from a “reactive” state to taking initiative for the rest of his/her evolution.
- Where does the Revelation occur in terms of the story’s overall page count / word count?
- What event immediately preceding the Revelation shakes up the protagonist’s world and prompts his reflection? How is this accomplished?
- How does the protagonist reflect on his previous mistakes and actions during the Revelation? Does he connect those errors to his false belief? What other conclusions does he draw?
- What is the opposite truth to the protagonist’s false belief? How does the Revelation help the protagonist realize this truth, and provide a glimpse of how life might be different if he sheds the lie he believes?
- How does the Revelation reinforce the story goal? Does the protagonist realize that his false belief will hinder his progress toward his story goal, and how the truth will help him instead?
- What is the new choice that the protagonist must make? What does he decide?
- What is the first action that the protagonist takes after making this decision? How does this reflect his acknowledgment of the truth?
- What evidence (e.g., emotions, thoughts) proves to readers that he still clings to his false belief?
What are some memorable Revelations / Midpoints from books you’ve read? If you’re working on a story, how would you describe the midpoint of your character’s arc? How does it mark his/her shift from reacting to acting and his/her acknowledgment of needing to change for the better?
Please join me again in April / May for File No. 8, where we’ll cover the Charge, or the second half of Act II.
*Reference: J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, 2001 paperback edition by Del Rey / Ballantine Books
**Reference: Veronica Roth’s Divergent, 2011 paperback printing by Katherine Tegen Books