The ‘True North’ Plot Point Writing Guide for New Authors

It’s true. The path from writer to author stems from an inner calling. But is it an impossible dream? Sure, novel writing is not for everyone. Yet, I feel an urge to reach out and say that if you want to write a book, then yes – you can! And it may not be as hard as you think.

To quote Joanna Gaines from Magnolia Journal (Spring 2022), “For a good part of my life, I was content to know a little about a lot, but recently, I’ve wanted to flip that script.” For me, this meant I wanted to start taking myself seriously as a writer. I decided to begin by educating myself about the writing industry. Sixteen months ago, I dusted off the first 12,000 words of a novel rough draft that I wrote in fits and starts over several (okay, ten) years with a new fire lit under me: I was going to get serious and tackle the novel for real. At the time, I was working a full-time job with “additional evening and weekend hours as needed,” had two active tweenagers who were heavily involved in sports and music lessons, a supportive spouse, and an active labrador puppy. As an often interrupted and easily distracted writer, I knew I needed a reliable process and a big writing goal to help me stay on track. After some research on typical novel lengths in my desired genre, I selected a goal of completing a 40,000-word middle-grade novel. Today, I am a self-employed author in the process of editing and re-writing the second draft of a 64,000- word upper middle-grade novel. How did I get to this place? Simple. I restructured the classic plot point writing formula.

The first thing I did was research and adapt various novel plot point timelines into a guide that worked for me. This was not an easy task, as there were countless timeline suggestions available at my fingertips. I studied words of wisdom from leading novelists and editors. I took copious notes. I researched various plot point and ‘heroes’ journey’ writing models. Then I compiled the highlights together to create my own writing guide. Once I had this outlined story plot diagram to follow, I tallied the recommended plot point percentages to create wordcount goals and filled in the story segments using the plot point formula that I had compiled.

Now I had a detailed writing guide with descriptions of each plot point to follow as I wrote each section of my story. Suddenly, the words started to flow between my plot and pinch points. Just today, I found myself referring back to the guide as I puzzle pieced together my second draft. This new guide has become my “true north” writing tool. After seeing the impact that following the guide has had on my writing pace, I have decided to share this tool with my peers.  

NOVEL-WRITING PREP

In a famous quote by Shannon Hale, writing the first draft of a novel involves “reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so I can build castles.” During the first draft process, writers are simply putting words on paper. I write adventure fantasy fiction stories, so I spend quite a bit of time researching and “world-building” for my writing topics. Some writers focus solely on this phase before they begin the writing process. For authors who are planning to write a series, a year spent “world-building” is not uncommon. Other writers, like me, research as we go. One tip I have found useful is to make sure I schedule my writing time and adhere to it. I complete my research “after writing hours.” This practice has helped me stay focused so I can meet my wordcount timeline goals. As I write, I often refer to the following guiding template that I compiled.

TRUE NORTH’ PLOT POINT WRITING GUIDE

Here is my compilation of popular plot point diagrams and scene sequences that authors may use while writing. Please note that there are many versions of writing timelines available online with a range of suggested scene and plot timing sequences. Below is the writing plot sequence that I have put together and have found to be must useful.

  • Wordcount plot point planning tip: to calculate anticipated wordcount markers for each plot point, take your total novel wordcount goal and multiply by each plot point percentage. Example: 64,000 wordcount goal x .12 (12%) Inciting Event = 7,680 wordcount marker

PLOT POINT                       Percent of wordcount                    Description

ACT ONE0% – 25%
The Hook1%Make the 5 W’s intriguing (Who/What/When/Where/Why)
Exposition2%-11%Introduce Protagonist in their normal world. Create questions in reader’s mind. What current challenges face main character(s)? Protagonist has something antagonist wants. What is it?
Inciting Event12%Protagonists first encounter with main conflict. Introduce problem protagonist must solve. Event that sets the protagonist’s adventure in motion. Action really starts.
Key Event 20% – 25%Officially engages protagonist in events of the plot. Can coincide with first plot point. 
 ACT TWO25% – 75%
First Plot Point25%  First “doorway of no return” = end of protagonist’s normal world. Dramatic and memorable scene.   Protagonist makes a choice. Appears to be right choice at first, but small disasters occur, then bigger ones, until protagonist must finally face the real problem.
Beginning of Second Act26% – 36%Protagonist tries to cope with events of first plot point. Rising action scenes.
First Pinch Point  37%Provides reminder of antagonist force’s power; sets up for big mid-point scene. Action rises higher.
Mid-Point  50%Top moment of fun & games, the most “high” moment or the “lowest” moment; moment protagonist thinks story is over & they won (or there is no way they can win). Moment of revelation for protagonist as they come into clearer understanding of the nature of the conflict. Period of action for protagonist.
Second Plot Point   62%“All Is Lost” moment. This scene is opposite of mid-point. Write the twist that brings everything crashing down. Moment of seeming defeat. Protagonist comes to conclusion and learns that they were wrong. NO NEW INFO is introduced after this point in the story.
ACT THREE75% – 100%
The Choice (Pre-Climax) 75%Protagonist clears their head of horror of All Is Lost moment. Makes a (tough) plan for success. Protagonist, changed for better, finally makes the right decision. The time has come to defeat the antagonist or do something that they previously did not want to consider doing. Armed with this new understanding, the protagonist can now take action right to the antagonist force.
Climax  88% – 98%Starts halfway through third act & is heralded by turning point that pits protagonist against antagonists’ forces in final big confrontation.
Climactic Moment    98%Occurs at end of climax and is true ending of story – moment when climax is resolved. It should cost the protagonist something.
Resolution      98% – 100%Ends story with final scene or two to tie up loose ends.
The writers and bloggers who inspired various aspects of this plot diagram include reedsyblog, Middle Grade Minded: Basics of Plot Structure by Stacey Trombley, and Georgia Roy at writingtipsoasis.com.

KNOW YOUR GENRE AND AUDIENCE

Recently, I came across a quote in a letter by J.R.R. Tolkien, also known as the father of modern fantasy literature including The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The quote reads, “But on a basic passion of mine ab initio was for myth (not allegory) and for fairy-story, and above all for heroic-legend on the brink of fairy-tale and history, of which there is far too little in the world for my appetite.” This quote resonates with me deeply and inspires me to write in my chosen genre. I recommend researching authors in the genres you are interested in writing. Buy their books. Read them. Keep them for reference. I often pick these novels up and study their plot point scenes carefully for ideas and inspiration. How did they build tension? What was the point of no return for their protagonist? What big scene did they use at the mid-point of their story? Many successful novelists follow a plot diagram similar to the one I’ve included above. I’ve discovered that they use these plot diagrams because they work.

I hope this compilation of plot points, suggested novel timing percentage points, and plot point descriptions can serve as another useful tool for you in your novel writing toolbox. From one new author to another, I want you to know that you can and should write your novel. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” I am finding that storytelling is a journey I start within, and writing is the tool I use to share my stories with others. I have to say I agree with J.R.R. Tolkien. We need more heroic-legends on the brink of fairy-tale and history in our world. We need more stories and relatable characters so we can imagine a world with more challenges, more possibilities, and a wider variety of solutions. I believe our world of words holds the key to the future of our collective imagination.  I am inspired by the following quote by Linda Starbird, “If you have books in you, then write. You must write.”

KJ Martin

3 responses to “The ‘True North’ Plot Point Writing Guide for New Authors”

  1. Excellent summary, KJ! I wish more aspiring writers would adopt your commitment to the craft. It matters because storytellers change but not storytelling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment and support, Grant! I’m excited to see what I can accomplish and learn this year an aspiring full-time author.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Thank you for your comment and support, Grant. I’m excited to see what I can accomplish this year as an aspiring author. I’m following the breadcrumbs other writers have left for folks like me in their articles and blogs. There is so much to be said for standing on the shoulders of giants:)

      Liked by 1 person

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