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.
Successful authors, literary agents and editors all agree that aspiring and already published authors need to read. In fact Stephen King recommends reading about seventy books per years, or a book about every four to five days.
Now this might seem excessive at first but let’s look at the reasons to understand why reading is so important to writers.
Firstly, reading expands the vocabulary and helps with improvement of writing style. Secondly it’s always easier to judge someone else’s work fairly than your own. By understanding what works in their chosen genre, good character development, effective story structure and so on, writers are able to reflect more efficiently and critically on their own work. Lastly, it is important to read to understand what direction the industry is moving into and become aware of particular trends and fads.
But what does reading a book every four days looks like in reality and how can one read in the most useful manner?
How long it takes to finish a book depends on how quick you read. Personally I find that in order to meet my twenty-five percent quota for the day I need to put aside daily three to four hours. That is a lot of time. So how do I do that? Certainly there are times where I read consciously and leisurely, perhaps while sitting on my balcony. But other days when I’m pressed for time, I have been reading in the gym while on the treadmill, during the preparation and consummation of meals and yes even while brushing my teeth. Finally, the brutal truth is that when one cuts back on TV, Internet browsing and magazine reading precious time begins to free up.
The second part of the question as how to read in a meaningful way as a writer is a bit more complex. There are certainly many paths and I encourage you to unearth the one that works best for you. Personally I like to always have a pen and two notepads with me while I read. The smaller sized notepad is used for words that I have to look up (either directly on my Kindle or if I read a printed book on one of the various downloadable dictionary apps). After familiarizing myself with the meaning,I write it down, its explanation and synonyms.
Secondly, whenever I find a sentence or passage that is particularly inspiring or astutely written, I also note it down in the smaller booklet. This serves to improve one’s personal writing style and become more aware of various word/phrase usages.
Thirdly, I ensure that I pay attention to the structure of the novel. Each novel can be broken down into four equal parts: The Set-up, The Response, The Attack and The Resolution. Particular attention should be paid to the two pinch points, the two plot points and the midpoint.
The reason why it is important to pay attention to these beats or milestones is to pace the novel and keep the reader intrigued.
Next post will focus in detail on these beats and what exactly should occur at each of them.
Once upon a time there was a novel called Twilight. It became so successful that its author Stephenie Meyer became a millionaire and was even able to sell movie rights. The first installment of the cinematic experience was released in 2008 and in turn increased the euphoria for the books. Simultaneously HBO released in 2008 the first season of True Blood, a series about vampires based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris. (The first book Dead until Dark was published in 2001). Due to the first one being geared towards the young adult genre and the second one being part of the urban fantasy genre and featuring explicit scenes that included both sex and violence, the two series together covered all age-ranges and their desire for vampires.
Those who found Bella Swan too sulky and Eric Northman’s escapes too gory didn’t have to fret either. Their desire for vampires was fortunately fed through the super natural drama Vampire Diaries, which was also based on a book series of the same name and released by the CW in 2009.
Suddenly it felt as if one could turn into any direction only to find oneself surrounded by vampires and not just any kind but broody, enticing and gorgeous vampires that were misunderstood. Ones that were able to hang on to their humanity and debated their animalistic urges.
Bookshelves in stores were overflowing with tomes on bloodsuckers for middle graders, young adults, romance and fantasy readers.
But that all came to an end recently. The fang trend is over. Done. Finito. Readers had enough of vampires and editors won’t publish any more stories that feature them. At least that’s what one would assume if one scans articles on the Internet or visits the closest Barnes & Nobles.
Young Adult bookshelves are filled with grimly, innovative fresh takes on classical fairy tales such as Alice in Wonderland as well as stories about assassins (Throne of glass) or heroines with amazing powers (Shatter me).
If we look at fantasy bestsellers George R.R. Martin’s tomes of Game of Thrones are dominating the store landscape, while contemporary seems to be the main trend in the romance category.
And yet, in a time and age where vampires are out one has to wonder how they can be out when eBook sensation Bella Forrest has been able to stay at the top of the amazon best seller list with her series A Shade of Vampire. One that has sold over million books and released twenty-eight installments so far with no intention of slowing down.
As I write this Vampire Girl 2: Midnight Star by Karpov Kinrade (penname of a wife and husband writing team) is in the top twenty of Amazon fantasy best sellers, while Book 1 of A Shade of Vampire is both in the top ten of the Romance and young adult best seller list.
Thus, it seems that for the dedicated fang writer there is still a market out there. One that is hungry for adventure and love stories that center among the creatures of the night.
If you have just completed a vampire book or are in the middle of the writing process there is still hope. We can agree that the peak of the vampire hype has passed, but there are still new vampire books that capture a readership. Thus, vampires should not be seen as a fad but rather a timeless topic with a dedicated readership. Certain readers will doubtless grow fatigued with bloodsuckers, but some never quench their thirst and others are just getting into the taste.
The question therefore is not if there is demand for fresh vampire novels but how you will reach the audience that is still thirsty for them?
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed this post.