When we were in elementary school, our teachers read the following from their manual: a story has a beginning, middle, and end. Pleased with that easy answer for the next test, we didn’t question it. Or at least we kept it to ourselves.
But really…isn’t that about as obvious as saying that daytime is caused by the sun? Surely there’s more to it. And there is.
Even the most dedicated panster needs to understand this formula. We refer to this magic as Plot Points. Ah yes, the little critters that divide the beginning from the middle from the end. And they play an important role in your story. As important as character and plot.
Let’s lay ‘em down. And I highly recommend follow-up study.
Major Plot Points
Opening: This is normal world. It covers the first 20-25% of your book, though something interesting should happen here. No happy people in happy land. Which is why we have…
Inciting Incident: This is pounded into your writerly skulls for a reason. It must happen soon. It must hook your reader for the long ride ahead. But it is not to be confused with…
Plot Point 1: Otherwise known as the Point of No Return. The gateway. Around the 20-25% mark, your hero chooses, or is forced, to undertake her adventure. This is critical: after Plot Point 1, she cannot just say, “Eh…never mind,” then turn around and go home. If that’s possible, you need to work on Plot Point 1 until she’s forced to remain on the journey. Hint: Protagonist thrive on abuse.
Mid-Point: I’m convinced that the number one reason authors complain about the sagging middle (and your readers will, too) is that they pay no heed to the mid-point. Something must happen at that 50% mark. Your character makes a choice (for a character driven novel) or a major event takes place (for plot driven). James Scott Bell does an excellent job of explaining this in his Write Your Novel from the Middle. Essentially, your character chooses her old way of thinking or the new. If you’re writing plot driven thrillers or suspense, just blow something up. Okay, not quite that simple, but just make something happen–a turning point.
Plot Point 2: The disaster. The break-up. The death of the mentor. At the 75% mark, your hero’s world crumbles. All is lost. Make her suffer. She’ll thank you later.
Final Confrontation: Overcome impossible odds and win the man of her dreams, blow up a Death Star, catch the killer. This is your final 10% of the novel. Do not disappoint your reader here. Did I mention impossible odds? Just checking.
Conclusion: Wrap it up. Quickly.
Easy peasy? Almost. Continue your study of structure. Get it right and you’ll never hear an agent or editor say that “your pacing is off” again. By simply knowing the elements of structure, a panster will instinctively nail ‘em. But don’t ignore structure. Without it, your story crumbles.
Ron Estrada writes suspense and spec fiction. He lives in Oxford, Michigan with his astoundingly beautiful wife, Kelly, and their two above-average children. You can find more of his ramblings at ronestradabooks.com or catch him on facebook where he’ll be talking about writing, politics, gardening, and 70s sitcoms.