Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The 25% Test

I'm determined to crank out a WIP that is NOT rife with errors that need to be fixed during the second draft. So I'm reading and studying along with my writing. (Soon I'll stop sleeping and eating, too.)

Here's what I'd like to throw out to you today: How many of you pay attention to the one-quarter rule? That is, your novel is completely set up and the first plot point smacked down by the time you are 25 percent in.

For a 60K novel, that's at around 15K. And for my projected 75K novel, it's 18.5K, give or take.

And I'm almost there.

So in attempting to make this story arc WORK THE FIRST TIME, I am making a concerted effort to place my first plot point right where it belongs. It'll be either the end of chapter 7 or chapter 8, depending on everything else that needs to line up before then.

I'm in the middle of chapter 6. So you can imagine how I'm pressuring myself right now.

Last night I propped myself in bed with Beatrice and a glass of (cheap) Chardonnay, and made a bullet list of things-that-need-to-happen. I can move these around, delete the ones that aren't necessary, and hopefully come up with a clear road map to the End of Act One.

Then I'll feel all happy and professional.

It's boiling down to craft for me. The actual writing feels more like breathing every day. So, yeah. Craft.

What about you? Do you give thought to things like this while you draft? Have you applied the one-quarter rule to your own writing with any success?

And if you have a minute, will you please mail me some chocolate? Preferably packed in dry ice. I'm sure that'll make this whole process much easier.


  1. I use a spreadsheet to plan out my plots. I don't worry too much about the word count on the first draft, but if I haven't make a crisis point to move to act 2 by scene 5 or 6 I know I'm dawdling.

    Spreadsheets are great because you can move things around, add columns, renumber scenes without any trouble.

    I start with these columns
    scene #
    What happens
    what's the conflict

    Then in the first revision pass, I add a column for notes on what needs changing.

    I rarely have to fix the structure of my book doing it this way. I still have lots of revision though.

    As for chocolate - a picture is the best I can do.

  2. Hmmm. My first plot point comes at the end of chapter seven which is probably more like 30% in. I am a meticulous planner but I didn't plan it intentionally to come in this chapter. That's just how long it took to set it up. If it came in chapter 6 or 8, I don't think it would occur to me to move it.

    Will put some chocolate in the mail tomorrow. :-)

  3. I've never heard of that rule, but I do know that I expect my first draft to be terrible and I need to rewrite usually four or five or six times before I feel half way happy about it. As a reader, I prefer books that cut to the chase quickly, so that might mean having the first plot point take place early on.

  4. I found that when I tried to make the whole thing work the first time, I paralyzed myself in fear and quit writing for a long time. However, I do strive to keep from having any errors in spelling or grammar the first time around. LOL We're just a tad insane bunch of writerly folk.

  5. There are rules for novel writing? Damn, nobody told me!

    I just wrote my novel. Tried to tell a good story. Tried to make the characters come alive. Tried to not have any boring parts (if it bored me, I rewrote.) Tried to make each chapter end with something that made the reader want to turn the page. And somehow it all worked, and damned if my ARCs aren't sitting on my desk as I type. (Yeah, it still seems a bit unreal.)

    If I thought about "rules" when I wrote, I wouldn't be able to write.

  6. Wow, that's really ambitious to write a draft and make it work the first time around! Good luck! I am bad at following the rules. I prefer to just go forward and revise later, feel things out and see where they should be and how the pacing works best.

  7. I've never even thought about it, LOL! But after you asked, I went and looked at a couple of my stories. The first plot point shows up in the first three chapters in all four of them. Considering they are short stories, I did a little math and sure enough, they're in the first quarter. However, the first plot points are also within the first twenty pages in all of my novel length WIPs as well, which makes me wonder, ROFL!

    Truth in commenting, I am about sixty percent pantser and forty percent plotter. I always have a plan, a start, middle, end and full character backgrounds before I start, but it works better for me to let the story come after that. YMMV.

  8. I do - I find structure the hardest thing for me to get right by feel, so I try hard to position those plot points at the right word count. It's kinda like playing hop scotch - I throw the rock out to that point in the word count and write up to it. ;)

  9. Well, I somehow managed to get some plotpoints in at around the right time.

    'On the other hand', the economist voice still logded in her head mumbles, 'You haven't a clue about your word count.'

    I'm currently writing pen on paper, so a page isn't really a page and there is no automatic word counter :-D

    For me, the craft of writing involves a natural flow of the story. If there's a rule that breaks the flow, it isn't a rule I'll follow.

    If I make absolutely no sense, I apologize, but my language filter is sleeping thanks to an economics essay...

  10. I write down all scenes of my plot on cards before I start writing. I write one sentence telling me what needs to happen and add some info on what emotions I might need. BUT I don't stick to this outline as if it's written in stone. When I reach a point where I realize that the story is going in a different direction, I stop and redo the rest of the outline. Also, I write on the cards of the already finished scenes what needs to be changed during revision (in red). I do this no matter if it happens 25% in or 95&. It works for me in a way that I have fairly little to revise when I'm done.

  11. I just draw a big whaaat? one on this one.

    I start plot points in chapter one and books always have main plot and two or three subplots. I don't plan them, I just let them happen. If you put one in around chapter seven, what's happening in the preceding six chapters?

  12. I'm not much of a plot planner, BUT...the more I write, the more I find the plot hits the points it needs to in order to make the story work.

  13. I wrote screenplays for a long time, so the 3+1 act structure is strongly in my head.

    However, I don't write in chronological order, I skip around, so I can't say that I have the structural rules in my head when I first write. That's more for when overall shape of the story starts to reveal itself.

  14. I've never heard of that rule. But it seems to me that although it might make perfect sense for some stories, not every story works that way.

    In my current WIP, a fantasy, the novel is set up and the first plot point appears at what would be the end of chapter 1--if the book had chapters. It doesn't. So it's basically the end of scene 5 or 6 (going from memory).

    In my last WIP, I started the story at the end (it's a scifi mystery) and the reader has to go back to the beginning. By the end of the first chapter, you're clear on who the protag is, that something dreadful just happened and has been miraculously reversed. Now you have to figure out how, why and who did the dreadful thing in the first place if the protag is to stay alive.

    So I'd say I'm more of a jump right in story-teller. My first major plot TWIST happened about 25% into the mystery. But the first twist for the previous WIP was probably near the end of what would have been chapter 2.

    So I guess it depends on the story, but I certainly don't wait till the story's 25% in to get to the first major plot point and to end the set-up. Whatever that means.

  15. Are you referring to the first turning point here? I'm showing my green-ity but I'm a bit confused.

  16. I hadn't really thought about it as I'm writing my first novel. I'm about halfway done and have been building up to the next big event, with revelations unfolding along the way. Pacing has been on my mind, but it probably won't be until it's all done and I've had a chance to actually see the whole thing printed out for editing that it'll all become apparent whether it works or not..

  17. This is the first time I've heard of the one quarter rule! Interesting!

  18. I haven't heard of this rule before, but it's interesting. I tend to just write my first draft with a general idea of where its going. I just completed my first book and in this case I knew the ending, so that helped me get through the middle to the end.

  19. nope. i write from the hip. every. single. time.

    as for the chocolate...i may be able to accomodate :)