Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Only 5 Plot Points You Need to Begin Your Novel

(with the Marathon Method of Plotting)

If you’re a pantser, someone who writes by the seat of their pants, you probably don’t do a lot of outlining. On the other hand, if you’re a plotter, someone who likes to know every plot twist before they write, then you probably do a ton of outlining.

I’d like to propose a happy medium: the only 5 plot points you need to write a novel. It’s just enough outlining to get you started and keep you going.

Let’s run with it.

The first thing you need to understand before I get into the thick of the plot is how someone runs a marathon.

The Five Phases of a Marathon

A marathon is a 26.2-mile foot race. There are a lot of components to finishing a race.
  1. First, you have to sign up for the race. If you don’t officially enter the race, you won’t be able to run in it.
  2. Second, after months of training, you’ll find yourself at the starting line. When you hear the gun shot go off, you’re in it to win it. There’s no turning back.
  3. Third, it’s a major milestone when you reach the halfway point - that’s a half marathon, my friend!
  4. Fourth, you’ll likely hit the “wall”. In a marathon, the “wall” is when you reach your lowest point mentally. Maybe even physically. You feel like you can’t go any further. Your legs feel like rubber. It’s a sheer act of willpower and determination to keep going. It might be at mile 18 or it might be at mile 24. It’s different for different people, even different for different races.
  5. And fifth, the finish line is in sight. When you see it, more adrenaline kicks in and you sprint to the finish line. You’ve reached your goal and it’s time to enjoy the after party.
Now, let’s run with your writing.

Plot Point 1: The Signup

The Sign Up happens at the beginning of a novel. It’s also known as the inciting incident, the catalyst, or the call to action. It’s the point in which the story begins. The point where you could say if it never happened, the story would have never happened.

For example, in the movie, Wonder Woman, the Signup was the point where the airplane crashed through the force field and landed in the ocean.

Plot Point 2: The Gunshot

The Gun Shot is known by many different names in the classic hero’s journey archplot structure:
  • the end of the beginning
  • the point of no return
  • committing to the goal
  • plot point one
  • turning point one
  • the awakening
  • the threshold
The second plot point in the Marathon Method of Plotting is the Gun Shot, when your main character (MC) decides what their goal is. The point in which they set out on their journey, and there’s no stopping them. They are going to finish the race, even if they don’t win first place, even if they fall flat on their face.

Back to our Wonder Woman example, the Gun Shot was the point where Diana decided to leave the island and get on the boat with the soldier who’s plane crashed. Her goal was to help stop the war. Once she left the island, there was no turning back. Once she decided to help end the war, there was no stopping her. The gun had already gone off. The race was on…!

Plot Point 3: The Halfway Point

A novel’s Halfway Point occurs during the middle part of the story. Other names for the Halfway Point are the mid-act climax the moment of grace or enlightenment, or commitment to the journey. It’s the point where major progress is being made, but you know there’s still a lot to overcome before the MC reaches his goals.

Let’s shift over to a different movie, Armageddon. The halfway point in this movie is when the plans are finalized, the oil rig crew is finally trained, and the two space shuttles take off. A lot has happened, but we know there’s much more to come.

Plot Point 4: The Wall

You may know The “Wall” by many other names:
  • plot point two
  • act two climax
  • the major assault
  • abyss and revelation
  • epiphany
  • rock bottom
  • dark night of the soul
  • the crisis
  • the big change
The “Wall” is the MC’s lowest point, the point when they feel defeated, like all is lost, like they can’t continue on any longer. But somewhere deep within they find the strength to move past the wall and keep going.

Let’s continue with the Armageddon movie example. The “Wall” is when Bruce Willis’ character, Harry Stamper, is in outer space on a giant asteroid hurtling toward Earth, with what’s left of his team, down one crew, one ship, one drill, with no hope left to go on. What else can he do? But then the other Armadillo shows up and they continue drilling.

Plot Point 5: The Finish Line

The Finish Line is the final plot point of the classic novel structure. That’s not to say that it’s the end of the book; it’s not. There are still a few loose ends to tie up, but the Finish Line happens (hopefully it’s quite obvious) toward the end of the book. Other names include the climax (the most common), seizing the prize, finale, the final incident, or the transformation.

The Finish Line is when the MC reaches their goal.

Let’s take a look at both movie examples from above. In Wonder Woman, the Finish Line is when she fights Ares and defeats him, ending WWI. In Armageddon, the Finish Line is when Harry sacrifices his own life to stay behind and detonate the bomb, thus saving all of humanity.

Granted, there are many, many complex facets to writing a novel and fleshing out the plot. But these are the only 5 plot points you need to know to get started.

What are you waiting for? Choose a scene and get started!

You might also like:

Which plot point are you working on? Share in the comments!

Keep on keepin' on...



  1. I stumbled on this post through Pinterest, and I'll definitely be re-pinning. This info came at just the right time for me in my writing process and I'm feeling like I'm finally in the right place to really get started. Thanks!

    1. Cyn, Thank you for the kudos and repins. I'm happy to help and glad that this is helping you.

    2. Hi Christie. Good job. This makes sense to me. But I have a question. I have written " the incident/murder in a prologue form, and then started my novel in the past, which will eventually lead up to the murder of present. Thoughts? Thank You!

  2. Linda, I'm glad this made sense to you.

    As far as your question goes, I think I'd need some more information. Feel free to sign up for a free 15-minute strategy session. We can talk about the plot arc.

    My first inclination is to think about crime TV shows. Just because the murder happened 20 years ago or one week ago doesn't mean that the murder is the catalyst or The Signup. It would really be the point in which the MC discovers the body (at least in the crime shows).

    I'd love to know more about your story so that I can better answer your question for you!


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