Much is written about story structure. My novels utilize what I call a story timeline, which lays a foundation for all of the plot points and character arc transitions that are required in a  great novel.

Listed below are the nineteen unique timeline points I use when designing a story. Two of those listed – Complications and Fall from Grace – are actually multiple actions that get expanded into many specific timeline points.

  • Act I – Inciting Incident (1st 5 pages): initial problem begins; story arc begins
  • Act I – Call to Action: protagonist arc begins
  • Act I – Defining Moment – Crucible: protagonist has awakening and chooses to do something he/she wouldn’t normally do; fears and moral problem
  • Act I/II – First Turning Point / Awakening (~10% of story timeline): plot moves in new direction
  • Act II – 1st protagonist subplot begins
  • Act II – Secondary character arc begins
  • Act II – Complications – nothing works (as many as needed)
  • Act II – 2nd protagonist subplot begins (puzzle to solve, new problem)
  • Act II – Grace state (protagonist hasn’t changed – still trying to solve everything using usual beliefs)
  • Act II – Moment of Enlightenment (~50% of timeline) – the old stuff doesn’t work and protagonist changes course; Midpoint stakes
  • Act II – Fall from Grace – new ways leading to solution put the protagonist in more trouble (as many as needed)
  • Act II/III – The Big Gloom (~90% of timeline) – protagonist destroyed, everything has failed, pt. of no return – chooses to press on
  • Act III – Transformational Moment (things swing in protagonist’s favor)
  • Act III – 1st protagonist subplot resolved / twist
  • Act III – Secondary character arcs resolved
  • Act III – Final Obstacle
  • Act III – 2nd protagonist subplot resolved / puzzle solved
  • Act III – Climax – initial problem is solved
  • Act III – Conclusion – story arc and protagonist character arc complete

This blog post will go into the Act I timeline points.

The first point is the Inciting Incident. This is where the initial problem begins, and the story arc begins. It’s the reason the story is being told. It should happen right away as the novel begins.

Next, the protagonist arc begins, as he or she is Called to Action as a result of the Inciting Incident. Something has happened that forces the protagonist to react and do something about it.

When this action is ineffective in solving the problem, the protagonist has a Defining Moment, a crucible where he or she chooses to do something he or she wouldn’t normally do. The protagonist is now out of their comfort zone. Their internal fears and moral problems are now exposed.

The final timeline point in Act I acts as a transition to Act II. In this First Turning Point the protagonist has an awakening, and the plot moves in an entirely different direction, leading to multiple complications and rising action.

All of this should be accomplished in approximately ten percent of the story timeline (not number of words).

By structuring the start of your novel in this fashion, you greatly improve your chances of  giving the reader a comfortable and recognized flow.

Next up, Act II.

July 18th, 2016

Posted In: Steven G. Jackson, Techno Thriller Books

Leave a Comment

Characters in Thriller Novels have some unique aspects. Allow me to share some of the material I use when I speak on Writing a Thriller.

Like all great fiction, characters are what differentiate your story from those with similar plot lines. Many people think of plot as the key ingredient when they think of thrillers, but characters are the ones who make us believe, who make us care, and who make us keep reading.

There are four main characters in most thrillers: the Protagonist, the Antagonist, the Love Interest, and the Sidekick. Each plays a critical role, and each has important characteristics.

The Protagonist is more than hero. He (or she) must possess special skills. He must also have accomplished something impressive in his past. Why? Because the reader needs to trust that he can overcome the odds he’s about to face. The reader needs to believe he can succeed.

Protagonists are typically between twenty-five and forty-five years old. They have defined moral problems, which drive their behavior. They have well-defined flaws and vulnerabilities that are shown early. And, they are questing. Questing to be a better person, get the girl, and save the world.

Antagonists are more than just bad guys. They must be a worthy opponent, one with a belief system the reader can believe in, no matter how evil. They think they are the good guy, and are the hero of their own story. They have positive, humanizing traits. They are also the ideal opponent for the protagonist.

The Love Interest is the person the Protagonist goes after, as part of the plot. It’s best for the protagonist to only win them over at the end of the story.

The sidekick needs to be a specialist at something that comes into play to help the protagonist succeed. Without the sidekick’s special skill, all would be lost.

Next week, I’ll be sharing the Unique Aspects of Plot in Thrillers.

I’ll be sharing this, and other good stuff, at the San Marino Library on Wednesday, April 20th, at 7PM. If you’re in the area, come on down.

April 18th, 2016

Posted In: Techno Thriller Books

Tags: ,

Leave a Comment