Hitting Your Novel’s Milestones

To many new writers (as well as some more experienced) novel writing feels like a mystery. You read novels you admire and the story just flows. But if you learn some basic milestones that almost every novel contains, the mystery unfolds.

catchristmasWriting Tip for Today: According to Larry Brooks, each “Milestone” should comprise from twelve to eighteen scenes or about 25% of the total story. What are these four essential milestones in a novel?

Milestone #1

The Set-up

Think about how jokes are told. Before you can tell much, you must give us the players (characters) as well as when and where the scene takes place. So when two guys walk into a bar, it’s clear that we have two male characters, at a bar and the present day time period is understood. It provides the story’s HOOK or some event that attracts readers to the story. But the set-up of a novel must go beyond these basic facts: in your novel’s opening scenes, you’ll need to introduce the hero, give us at least a hint of what points the hero toward a new journey or goal and provide the stakes, that is, what will happen if the journey’s goal is not met.  All this should take place just before the BIG THING that happens to set our hero on his quest to win something, someone or whatever the goal may be. This BIG THING is also Plot Point #1.

Milestone #2

The Response

In stories, the rhythm is governed by a sort of call (scenes or acting out) and response (sequel or processing of the stuff just dramatized). Naturally, after the First Plot Point is acted out in a scene, readers want to understand what the Protagonist (Main Character) does with the new information. The hero will need to depart from her “ordinary life” to devote energy to this new calling. In this part of the novel, it’s an artful balance of reveal and respond, rinse and repeat. The trick though, is not to travel the same circle again and again. The revelation of new info should move readers forward so that they won’t feel as if the novel is dragging or standing still. By the end of this section, you’ll reach the critical MIDPOINT of the story. The tension should grow in each scene and each scene and sequel should back our hero into more of a corner.

Milestone #3

Fighting Back

Up until this MIDPOINT, the hero has been losing more than winning, staying off balance by the series of unfortunate events that you, the novelist, throw at him. Now that we’ve passed the MIDPOINT, however, our hero starts to fight back, becoming more desperate or passionate about that goal. If the character suddenly decides the prize isn’t worth fighting for after all, you’ll have to give a logical explanation or a bigger better goal or else risk readers’ wrath. Readers don’t like to be tricked or let down if you aren’t prepared to lift them back up again. In this section the hero begins to formulate and pursue answers that may actually work, and which move the story forward. She may still stumble, but she is more surefooted than ever, at least in her passion for the goal.

Milestone #4


In the last section, you’ll want readers to witness the hero’s conquering or dealing with his inner life—things that hold him back or otherwise keep him unhappy or unfulfilled. By wrestling with one’s inner demons, our hero can finally fight that outer battle for the story’s main goal. She must change her mind or resolve to do what the climax scene’s battle entails. After this CLIMAX, you’ll want to quickly wrap up the story by giving readers an idea of what happened after the main goal is won: either the hero wins the goal and is happy, doesn’t win and is unhappy or these possibilities’ opposites: hero wins but is unhappy or doesn’t win but is happy after all. Check your novel draft and see if you can spot all these important milestones.


About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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