The Major Plot Events of a Novel and When They Occur

building blocks, an analogy of plot eventsThis month’s last post on plotting concerns the major plot events, or building blocks, of your story.

Most writers understand all fiction has a climatic scene, aka the climax. They also know it occurs very near the end of the story.

However, many writers miss several other plot events essential to their story.

What Is Plot?

On the most basic level a plot is the POV character’s concrete goal, all the conflict the protagonist encounters on his journey to reach that goal, and his success or failure in reaching that goal.

The concrete goal is tangible, something physical that can be depicted on a theater stage or in a movie. Examples:

  • save the world from total annihilation by an approaching asteroid,
  • build a successful tourist business in remote Alaska,
  • walk the Appalachian Trail in one month.

The concrete goal must be immediately apparent to propel the reader into the story.

Depending on the genre, the POV character may also have an inner goal, or as C.S. Lakin calls it, a spiritual goal. This goal isn’t religious in nature, but involves the heart’s inner desires. Examples:

  • to be loved unconditionally,
  • carry on the family legacy,
  • discover one’s purpose in life.

The inner goal is not always apparent. Often the protagonist doesn’t recognize this need until much later in the story.

Major Plot Events and When They Occur

The Inciting Event

This event happens about at the 10% point in your story.

The protagonist gets a taste of the story conflict.

Point of No Return (aka Turning Point)

Occurs toward the end of Act 1. This event can often be closely tied to Plot Point 1.

The protagonist slams smack into the main story conflict and commits to the goal for the first time.

Plot Point #1

Marks the end of Act 1 and beginning of Act 2. Occurs at about the 25% mark.

Your character’s normal world is turned upside down, and he begins to react to the conflict in an effort to find a “new normal.” At this point in the story, he doesn’t have a very good grip on the realities of the conflict/strength of the antagonist. He is merely reacting, trying to get himself righted in his new world.

The Midpoint (Plot Point #2)

As the name indicates, this event happens midway (50%) through your story. It marks the beginning of the second half of the second act.

This event rattles the protag’s world again, only now, he has a better grip on the conflict and begins to act rather than react to the conflicts that come his way.

Plot Point #3

Marks the beginning of Act 3 and happens at about the 75% point.

This event takes the protagonist to his deepest low of the story and his goal now appears impossible to reach. He analyzes his actions and beliefs and gets to the core of his personal conflict—the lies he believes about himself, his own mistakes or destructive behavior and more that have prevented him from reaching his goal.

Climax

Begins at about the 90% mark.

The final struggle between the protagonist and antagonist that ends the conflict. The protagonist either succeeds or fails.

The Resolution (aka denouement)

I really like the way K.M. Weiland describes the resolution in her book 5 Secrets to Story Structure: the exhale to your Climax’s inhale. This shows how your characters deal with the events of the climax and get on (or don’t get on) with their lives.

There is a lot of conflict that happens in between all these major plot events, but they are milestones in your plot construction and in the character’s journey to reach his goal.

Avid readers instinctively look for these plot events and though they might not be able to name them, they know when they’re missing from your story.

For practice, watch your favorite movie tonight, but as you watch see if you can identify each of these same events.

K.M. Weiland’s book 5 Secrets to Story Structure is an excellent read on plot points, and I believe is a free download on her site. C.S. Lakin, at her site LiveWriteThrive.com, also has several terrific articles concerning essential scenes needed in your story.

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