Milestones

Does your story have milestone scenes or does it wander all over the place? Milestone scenes serve a specific function in a story and support the structure. These are the points in your story where new information  comes in and changes things up. Maybe the tension grows, or the stakes are higher or the direction takes and about face. You can think of a milestone as a plot twist if you like, though not every plot twist is a milestone.

Think of the milestone scenes as the support poles that hold your story up. For each milestone scene, there are several scenes that lead up to it, and several more that lead away from it. If you have your milestone scenes planned, most of your story is laid out before you. So, just what are the milestone scenes?

  • The opening scene
  • The hook (in the first 20 pages or so)
  • The inciting incident (which in some stories is also the first plot point)
  • First plot point (approximately 20-25% into the story)
  • First pinch point (approximately in the middle of part 2)
  • Midpoint (a shift in the middle of the story)
  • Second pinch point (in the middle of part 3)
  • Second plot point (approximately 75% into the story)
  • Final resolution of the story

These will be the most important scenes in your story. If you plan these moments, if you know what they will be and how they work with the flow of your tale, how to connect them and how to set them up, you’ve got a nice structure for your novel. Structure that will pay off.

All the other moments in your book are either heading towards one of these scenes or reacting to them… these key scenes have a purpose. If you plan your story this way, your first draft can actually be quite good from the start.

So can you do this without planning? Yes, but you’ll end up doing it in one of your later revisions when you realize the story isn’t where it needs to be. You’re still planning, you’re just doing it by writing instead of outlining. Don’t cover your ears and sing ‘la la la.’ It’s true. We all plan our stories, we just use different ways to do it. I’ve tried to pants it, but I end up lost in circles. It’s not for me, just as I’m sure my constant outlining and post it notes aren’t for all of you. Okay. I use Scrivener, because I already have so many post it notes on my desk for client projects that I’d never find the ones intended for my own story. Scrivener gives me index cards and an outlining feature.

My point is you need to know your key scenes and what they’re going to do for your story. Whether you do this before you write or during your 5th draft is up to you. These milestone scenes will propel your story forward like a bullet train headed for Tokyo station, where it will crash headlong from the track into the crowded platform, causing death and mayhem. Your hero (or heroine) must react in some way and eventually figure out who did it and why. Was it a mechanical failure due to a disgruntled employee? Was it a terrorist attack? Was it planned to take the focus away from an equally evil plot elsewhere? Only you can decide, but unless you understand these milestone scenes and how to make them work for you, your plot may fall flat somewhere along the way.