Well structured stories follow these steps:
The First Act
Well structured stories begin with the hook. The hook is the first opportunity to catch the reader’s attention, convincing them to read on. A good hook will always be in the form of a question that piques the reader’s curiosity and urges them to find out what happens next. The hook needs to be early in the first chapter, preferably in the first paragraph.
The Inciting Event.
Well structured stories have the turning point in the First Act where the main character reveals the main conflict. The Inciting Event is identified by asking what event starts the ball rolling in the story’s plot? Asking this question identifies where the conflict begins and in what way it sets the story’s action in motion. The Inciting Event is generally found halfway through the First Act and is the turning point of the Act. The story’s normal world is properly established before the turning point. The Inciting Event is not the hook. The hook begins the domino effect, bumping one scene into another. However, the main character doesn’t come into contact with the main conflict until the Inciting Event is reached in the First Act.
The Key Event.
Well structured stories have a Key Event that irrevocably engages the main character with the conflict that is encountered by the Inciting Event. In a sci-fi novel, the Inciting Event may be a war between two planets in some solar system, but the Key Event is when the main character engages in the war. The Key Event belongs at the end of the First Act. Often, but not always, it is closely linked to the First Plot Point.
The First Plot Point.
Well structured stories have the First Plot Point near the end of the First Act or at the beginning of the Second Act. The First Polt Point is where things change for the main character. So far, the First Act has set up the main character’s normal world and introduced supporting characters, the setting, and the stakes involved. The First Plot Point rocks the normal world because the main character starts reacting to a new situation. The First Plot Point should occur about a quarter of the way through the book. Major plot points should divide the book into rough quarters.
The Second Act
First Half of the Second Act.
In the First Half of the Second Act, the main character is in reaction mode based on the idea that the First Plot Point has changed his/her world in a way that causes the main character to figure out how to deal with the changes wrought by the First Plot Point or Plot Twist. This reactionary mode can continue until the middle of the book, so in essence, begins at about the 25% mark and continues to about the midpoint of the book.
The midpoint of the book is where the Second Plot Point of the story should be introduced. It is here that everything changes again, thus keeping the reader engaged and interested. Each Plot Point should either throw the main character off balance or reveal a moment of truth. The main character is either in reaction mode or is equipped to start embarking on a new course of action. The Second Plot Point belongs in the middle of the book, thereby dividing the Second Act in half.
Second Half of the Second Act.
After the midpoint and the introduction of the Second Plot Point, the main character needs to go on the offensive. Being no longer willing to have the antagonist bring the battle to them, they throw off their insecurities and implement their own plans instead. This aspect of character development begins in the middle of the book and continues to about the 75% mark of the story.
The Third Act
The Third Plot Point.
The Third Plot Point is the final plot point, and once again, brings on a change to the plot. It is here that the main character has to analyse their actions and motivations to get to the core of their personal character. This is where the character’s destructive or ineffective mindset is revealed, and where the character starts rejecting flaws in their character. The Third Plot Point needs to begin at the beginning of the Third Act, at about the 75% mark of the book.
The climax is the point of the whole story. This is where the conflict developed at the outset of the story needs to be resolved, one way or the other. While events are heating up all the way through the Third Act, the climax doesn’t begin until about the 90% mark, and the climactic moment itself won’t be revealed until the very end, perhaps a scene or two from the end of the book.
The resolution gives finality to the book. It is here the reader is given the opportunity to react to the events of the climax. How have the events in the book changed the character in their outlook from what it was at the beginning of the book? What does the future look like from here now? By this point, the story is almost over, so the resolution only needs a scene or two to tie up any loose ends. The resolution should leave the reader with a satisfied feeling as they read the last word.
- Note: In writing this article, reference has been made to The 5 Secrets of Story Structure – K.M. Weiland