Posted On September 23, 2013 by Print This Post

A Matter of Timing: Positioning Your Major Plot Points Within Your Story by K.M. Weiland

Timing is everything. The familiar words might be a truism, but that doesn’t make them any less true. Today’s guest K.M. WEILAND gives us a quick refresher on the importance of timing in story structure.

When writers start talking about story structure, one of our biggest brow wrinklers is timing. Even after we’ve identified the major plot points in our stories (more on that in a sec), our work still isn’t finished. Where do we position these plot points within the plot? And how precisely do these moments have to be timed?

Where should you put your plot points?

Plot points and their placement is a subject for a much more lengthy exploration, but for now, let’s just get a quick overview of the major plot points within your story’s structure, as well as their optimal placement.

1. The Hook belongs in your first chapter.
2. The First Act (in which you’ll introduce characters, settings, and stakes) will take up the first 25% of your book.
3. The First Plot Point will occur at the 25% mark in your book.
4. The First Half of the Second Act (in which your character will react to the First Plot Point) will span from the 25% mark to the 50% mark in your book.
5. The Midpoint will occur at the 50% mark in your book.
6. The Second Half of the Second Act (in which your protagonist will begin to take definitive action) will span from the 50% mark to the 75% mark in your book.
7. The Third Plot Point will occur at the 75% mark in your book.
8. The Climax will begin at the 90% mark in your book.
9. The Resolution belongs in your last chapter(s).

If you’re unfamiliar with any of these important moments within the structure of your story, I highly recommend taking the time to learn about them. You can read more in Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering, Syd Field’s Screenplay, or my own Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story. Structuring_Your_Novel

How precise must the timing of plot points be?

This is where structure can get sticky. In screenwriting (which is way ahead of novel writing in implementing story structure), each of these plot points must be timed down to the minute. This makes movies a wonderful tool for learning and studying structure, since we can spot all the major structural moments simply by keeping an eye on the time. Divide a movie’s total running time in quarters, and you’ll know exactly where the major plot points will show up.

Novelists, however, often buck this demand for precisely timing the plot points. And with good reason. The timing of your major plot points is important, both to fulfill your readers’ inherent story sense and to make sure each segment of your story gets its deserved amount of time on the page. However, it’s important to realize that the timing of these plot points within a novel is far more flexible than it is in a screenplay.

This opportunity for flexibility is available to novelists for a couple of reasons:

1. The novel is a bigger beast than is the screenplay.

A 120-minute screenplay has little room for maneuverability. Every scene, every word of dialogue, and every story event has to count. They have to count in a novel too, of course. But novelists have more room in which to explore subplots and flesh out scenes. If the Midpoint happens a couple dozen pages to either side of the 50% mark, readers probably won’t even notice, and your story won’t suffer at all.

2. The novel’s size and introspective nature allows for more “flow” between scenes.

While a screenplay’s plot points often revolve around very specific and compact scenes, a novel will create long segments of scenes that build. The timing of your major plot points may slip to one side or the other of the suggested mark simply because they’re part of a sprawling scene segments, in which one related event snowballs into another to create that major plot point.

Keep the optimal timeline for your story’s structure in mind. But don’t feel as if you have to get the plot points timed down to the precise page numbers at the 25%, 50%, and 75% marks. This balance of structured fluidity is what allows us to meld our craft and our art into a novel that is truly memorable.

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Do you place plot points in this manner when structuring your stories?

Don’t miss Wednesday’s post at RU – Avon editor LUCIA MACRO is back!

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Bio:
K.M._Weiland

K.M. Weiland (@KMWeiland) is the author of the epic fantasy Dreamlander, the historical western A Man Called Outlaw and the medieval epic Behold the Dawn. She enjoys mentoring other authors through her website Helping Writers Become Authors, her books Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel, and her instructional CD Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration. She makes her home in western Nebraska.

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20 Responses to “A Matter of Timing: Positioning Your Major Plot Points Within Your Story by K.M. Weiland”

  1. Thanks so much for hosting me today, ladies!

    Posted by K.M. Weiland | September 23, 2013, 10:51 am
  2. Great article.
    Great points and must know information.
    Thanks,
    Jeanne

    Posted by Jeanne Mangano | September 23, 2013, 12:02 pm
  3. Since I’m a die-hard pantser, thinking about this just shuts my muse right down when I’m cranking out my first draft, because that’s the hardest stage for me anyway. Luckily. I do love to edit and rearrange and rewrite. I know I’m causing myself extra work, but it’s the only way that works for me. Do a lot of writers wait till draft 2 to zero in on plot point placement?

    Posted by Linda F | September 23, 2013, 12:25 pm
    • I would say that most authors who are aware of structural requirements probably plan their plot points ahead of time, to one degree or another. But the degree is really up to you. You definitely don’t want to do anything that’s not going to foster your best creativity. You might enjoy this post I wrote earlier this month on pantsing and structuring.

      Posted by K.M. Weiland | September 23, 2013, 12:37 pm
      • Thanks for linking to that post–lots of good information. I think I fall into the “Absorb Story Structure Through Osmosis” category. I read so much and watch so many movies that I pretty much know what makes a good story. I do create a 2-3 page rough synopsis before I start the first draft. Where I get the hives is if I try to identify the hook, first major plot point, etc. too soon. Even the GMC stresses me out. And yet I look back at what I’ve written when I’m finished with the first draft, and most of the time, it’s all there. Maybe not in the right place, but it’s at least on a page. I did try reading Larry Brooks’ book but didn’t connect with it, so now I’m ready to read your book, which I bought a couple of weeks ago. I’ll be your ultimate test, LOL–if you can get through to me, you’ll be able to get through to any writer!

        Posted by Linda F | September 23, 2013, 2:06 pm
        • Bring it on! :p If there’s one thing I believe is important to understand about the writing life, it’s that every writer is an individual. There is no one right way to write a good story. Some of us do better with outlines; some of us don’t. We all just have to keep learning, growing, experimenting, and refining the personal processes that maximize our effectiveness.

          Posted by K.M. Weiland | September 23, 2013, 2:20 pm
  4. I’m a plantser (part plan part pant) so I have a general outline of conflict, plot and resolution before I start the deep writing.

    Posted by Jeanne Mangano | September 23, 2013, 12:39 pm
  5. Thanks for a great post – all the points you mentioned are things I should know, things I really DO know but still manage to forget at times. Thanks for the important reminder!

    Becke

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | September 23, 2013, 12:57 pm
  6. Hi KM,

    I feel better after reading your post. I start writing with a rough outline, with plot points ‘penciled’ into the story structure. But I’ve learned (after many re-writes) that moving the plot points doesn’t change the structure and doing so, in my case, helped with the pacing.

    Great to have you here with us today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | September 23, 2013, 3:57 pm
    • The timing of the plot points is really all about pacing to start with. If you feel exact placements at the quarter marks are taking more away from your pacing than they’re adding, then that should definitely be a consideration in adjusting the timing.

      Posted by K.M. Weiland | September 23, 2013, 4:08 pm
  7. Hi KM!!

    I’m a pantser who’s trying to change her ways. I’m a definite Osmosis type of person though, so I’m always a little surprised when my plot points seem to appear at pretty close to the right time.

    BTW – Everyone! I have KM’s book and it’s AWESOME! Even a die-hard pantser like myself can take away elements to use in my non-structured plot to make it work.

    Great post KM, definitely printing this one out!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | September 23, 2013, 4:46 pm
  8. Thanks so much for joining us today – you made Monday fun!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | September 23, 2013, 8:26 pm
  9. This is a very timely article for me. I’m currently editing the first draft of my latest novel. I think moving one of the big scenes forward might make all the difference.
    I’m usually a planner, but this book was a complete pain to plot and I ended up pantsing it. It was either that or give up…

    Great post. Thanks for the insight.

    Posted by Rhoda Baxter | September 27, 2013, 2:42 pm

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