story structure | intuition versus knowledge

I wrote last week about reading Story Structure—Demystified by Larry Brooks and discovering a perfect execution of the four-part structure in the last novel I had read, Delirium by Lauren Oliver.

Here’s what nagged at me: This structure wasn’t new to me. My earliest finished novel hit the milestones like this:

First Plot Point at exactly 25%: The main antagonist reveals himself.

Midpoint at 47%: The storylines of the human and alien protagonists converge. United, they stop running and start to fight back.

Second Plot Point at exactly 75%: A betrayal makes a minor antagonist ally with the protagonists, setting up a joint effort to defeat the main antagonist.

I plotted my next novel and divided it into four parts. Each part served its correct purpose: Setup, Defense, Offense, Climax. Each ended with an event that changed everything.

So who needs to learn about story structure? I was a pro at this stuff. Right?


I panstered that first novel. The plot milestones fell into place after rewriting segments spanning tens of thousands of words. My original antagonist became too likable, too justified, and teamed up with the good guys. I had to grab a minor character and go back as far as possible to build him up as the new main antagonist.

I plotted the next novel, and based the four parts on a vague recognition of the three-act structure of films with a midpoint.

That doesn’t mean I knew what I was doing. My next novel was the best and most mainstream so far, the one outlined in the most detail. The shape of its plot structure looks like a Glaucus Atlanticus.

The best candidate for First Plot Point comes at 44%. That makes the break into the climax seem like the Midpoint. Rewrites had only swelled the novel before the First Plot Point. I quit working on it because of this—and I hadn’t even discovered Larry Brooks yet. I just knew the novel wasn’t balanced, without understanding why.

Intuition worked for me up to a point. But to stay on track, I needed knowledge.

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