A Study of Success
One of the best ways to improve your novel is to look at the way that successful authors have crafted their story arcs.
You can use this information to revise your draft novel and tell a story your readers love.
Spoiler alert! We’re about to delve into Stephenie Meyer’s blockbuster novel Twilight while paying attention to the plot points that keep the story moving.
You may be familiar with the simplest form of a story arc, made up of the Inciting Incident, Plot Point 1, the Midpoint and Plot Point 2, and the Climax.
There are those who think the story arc is a formula to follow and that it will stifle creativity. I don’t believe this. I think the story arc is about form, not formula, and it inspires me to tell better stories.
1. The Inciting Incident
The inciting incident is the moment the protagonist’s world changes in a dramatic way. Readers expect something to trigger the protagonist to act. If the inciting incident doesn’t occur in the first 15% of your novel, you need a strong reason for delaying it.
I recommend that you write your inciting incident as a dramatic scene and not as backstory or narrative summary. This enables the reader to experience the event at the same time as the protagonist and increases your chances of getting the reader emotionally involved.
Twilight’s Inciting Incident: Bella has already met Edward. This leads up to the inciting incident where Edward saves Bella from being killed in a parking lot. She gets her first glimpse of his powers and is set on her path of discovering more about him.
Twilight’s Inciting Incident happens 10% into the story. The percentage is based on the word count.
2. Plot Point One
Plot Point One is the point of no return — your character can’t back out of the central conflict. Your character may be obligated to take action, they cannot return to the way the world was before, or their desire for something overrules all else. There must be something at stake, because if the character doesn’t care about the outcome, a reader won’t care either.
Plot Point One should occur between 20% and 30% in your novel. If this plot point comes too late, the story will feel like it’s dragging. If it comes too early, the story will feel rushed or lacking in depth.
Twilight’s Plot Point One: Bella suspects that Edward is a vampire, but she decides to pursue him anyway. Edward has emotional power over Bella.
Twilight’s Plot Point One happens 25% into the story.
3. The Midpoint
Often the Midpoint is where an author struggles to keep the story interesting. To keep your story exciting, you’ll need to find some way to raise the stakes of your story with a life-changing, exceptional, or threatening event.
Ideally, this is where you’ll be taking your readers on a journey where the protagonist moves from a reactionary mode to a proactive mode.The Midpoint should occur between 45% and 55% in your novel. If the Midpoint comes too early or too late, the story won’t feel balanced.
Twilight’s Midpoint: Edward reveals his true powers as a vampire to Bella. He saves her from an attack, and this strengthens how she feels about him.
By now it should be no surprise that Twilight’s midpoint happens at 50% of the story.
4. Plot Point Two
At Plot Point Two, the protagonist must work hard to get what they want or lose everything. Plot Point Two should occur between 70% and 80% of your novel.
Plot Point Two will be a low point for your protagonist. Their actions since the middle have caused disaster, or they become more determined to reach their goal.
Twilight’s Plot Point Two: A bad vampire decides to go after Bella, and Bella must leave her home. Bella wants to survive but not if it means risking those she loves.
Twilight’s Plot Point Two happens 75% into the story.
5. The Climax
The Climax scene is where you get to shine as an author. Every word you’ve written up to this point will pay off. Ideally, the climax scene (or scenes) will have the highest level of conflict, the greatest tension, or the most devastating emotional upheaval.The protagonist must be in your Climax scene, or you risk alienating your reader. The protagonist should face the biggest obstacle in the story and determine their own fate.
The climax should happen somewhere around 90% into your novel. Too early, and the reader may get impatient with a long resolution and skim to the end. Too late, and the resolution may lack depth or satisfaction.
Twilight’s Climax: Bella is lured into a trap. She faces down the evil vampire and gets injured.
And you guessed it. Twilight’s Climax happens 90% into the story.
6. The Resolution
The resolution is everything that happens after the climax. It shouldn’t be longer than 10% of your total story. This is the time to give the reader an emotional resolution as well as tie up any loose ends.
Twilight’s Resolution: Bella and Edward are home, safe, and together, but when Bella tries to persuade Edward to turn her into a vampire, this leaves the reader questioning what happens next.
Kristina Stanley is a bestselling author, editor, and the CEO of Fictionary. Fictionary helps writers tell better stories with breakthrough online software that simplifies story editing. She’s the author of the Stone Mountain Mystery Series, Look The Other Way, and The Author’s Guide to Selling Books To Non-Bookstores.