This post will explain in detail the main milestones of a novel on which you should focus as a reader and writer. If you are interested in finding out what else to focus on when reading please check out my earlier post Effective reading for writers.
I will upload another post soon where a particular novel is broken down by structure to show highlight in depth the main beats.
For now I will briefly outline the basic framework of a novel, each stage that should be identifiable in a fictional book. It may also be worth noting down the structure as an aide for when you are ready to write your own fiction manuscript.
20% the Inciting incident aka the Incitor: something happens that plunges the reader into the main adventure/story that the book will cover. Everything before that should really focus on familiarizing us with the world of our protagonist and creating empathy for our main character(s).
In a romance novel at this point the author hints at why the protagonists are right for each other, while at the same time displaying how they are not ready to admit it yet.
25% First plot point: at this particular point information is provided that changes what the reader and protagonist know. It also drives the behavior of the main character in part two.
In a romance novel an external event, over which the characters have no control, occurs that leads to the protagonists spending time together. Simultaneously they make a decision that suggests their romantic interest in each other.
After the first plot point our hero/heroine retreats, mulls about the new knowledge and tries to make sense of what is happening.
At around 37.5% of the novel or 3/8 of the book the first pinch point comes into play. It is a direct reminder of the main threat in the story and shouldn’t be narrated through the eyes of the protagonist.
The evil needs to show up directly and create tumult via an attack, assault, murder, break-in and etc.
It is not enough for the protagonist to merely think/worry about the antagonistic force.
For some genres it is easier to outline the big bad. In thrillers and mysteries it is often a killer on the loose, while fantasy has a super natural malicious force. If you write in the romance genre the threat can be external or internal. It is crucial to pay attention to how the pinch point affects the romantic relationship.
Now if the major antagonist in your novel is not a character or evil force but rather something internal e.g. fear of rejections, jealousy, something negative should still take place. An internal monologue of the protagonist about his/her shortcomings is not enough.
Let’s say that you write a love story and the biggest issue between the two love interests is the male protagonist’s jealousy. At the pinch point we would see the jealousy clearly displayed, through e.g. assaulting another character or another disturbing and unwarranted deed.
Part two finishes with the midpoint in which another vital piece of the puzzle is revealed that transforms our protagonist from passive to active. In the romance genre an external act where the protagonists show commitment to each other would be displayed, while internal issues would be highlighted that needed overcoming before the relationship can blossom.
If the character was rather idly in the previous part the third quartile is the time for the hero to kick into high gear. He or she will actively fight the problem or evil the story is dealing with, however without a successful resolution in sight. In fact some of the actions of the protagonist will get him/her only into deeper waters.
At 62% or 5/8 of the novel the second pinch point comes into play. Again it has to be a direct representation of the malicious force in the novel and cannot be an internal reflection of the hero. Something active has to happen. And of course the stakes are higher compared to the first pinch point. Always remember that the drama elates throughout the novel. It never decreases.
Around 70 to 75% it appears to be improbable for the protagonist to overcome the antagonist. Everything is going the wrong way; even friends and family can desert the main characters at this point.
In a romance novel an occurrence triggers dismay and the protagonists move away from each other, rather than towards each other. They are convinced that their relationship cannot be successful long-term.
The final and last critical piece of information is provided at 75%. Nothing after that point can be new knowledge. Everything that we see in Part 4 has to be foreshadowed earlier.
That doesn’t mean that hero and reader have to fully comprehend the meaning of the provided information. An example of skillful writing here would be Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Book 2). Harry and his friend Ron go to visit Hermione, who has been petrified and is lying in the hospital wing with a mirror and a piece of paper by her side. Both the mirror and the paper hold all the relevant clues that Harry will need in order to solve the riddle in part 4.
The resolution. The protagonist finally comes head to head with the antagonist force in the novel. Going into the situation it appears as if there is no way that he/she can win but the hero manages anyhow. Furthermore, in the final part the protagonist transforms into a selfless hero.
For example, in a Romance novel the male protagonist does not only make up and apologizes to the female protagonist but also sets things right with her brother, who had been standing between the two lovers throughout the book due to his addiction. Instead of merely salvaging his relationship with the female protagonist, the male protagonist also helps the brother to reach the decision to check himself into rehab.
Everything that takes place in part four needs to be foreshadowed. In the example above the brother would’ve displayed earlier in the book the awareness that he needs help.
To summarize when paying attention to the development of the plot of a novel, note the following parts: Incitor (20%), First Plot Point (25%), First Pinch Point (37.5%), Midpoint (50%), Second Pinch Point (62%), Crisis (70-75%), Final Plot Point (75%).
The more you become mindful of these beats in other author’s work the more natural it will be for you to insert them in your own story flow in order to get the pacing right and keep your reader interested.