Writing Advice: Story Checkpoints


Although I tend to rebel against writing self-help manuals, I do like finding little tidbits of advice that focus on the mechanics of writing. It’s helpful to have something of a cheat sheet when it comes to constructing good, sound plots. There are tips out there about writing in five-act structures, or even seven-act structures. There are tips about how to construct a plot that fits best with what you want your character to experience, and how you want them to grow. And then there are tips like this one, which help you understand exactly where things should happen in your story.

In a recent post on Writer Unboxed entitled “Plotting, Pacing, and Crossing Over,” blogger and author Anne Greenwood Brown wrote about a writer’s workshop she recently attended. At this workshop, she heard a talk on the 12-stage hero’s journey, which includes the suggestion of having a “crossing over” point and a “near-death” point in your story. Here’s what Anne said in her blog post:

“One of the things that I found most interesting about [Christopher Volger’s] presentation was his 12-stage hero’s journey, which suggested that every well-plotted and well-paced story had a “crossing over” at approximately the 25% mark, and a “near-death” at the 50% mark. His case in point: Star Wars. At the 25% point, Luke “crosses over” by leaving his Aunt and Uncle’s farm, and at the 50% mark suffers a “near death” when he’s caught in an intergalactic trash compactor.”

I really like this bit of plotting advice, and I think it’s a good way to keep yourself on track. As you’re writing, you can mentally note where these spots might be, and either insert a note or try to write in these events in the first draft. Even when you’re going back to edit or revise what you’ve already written, you can use this system to check that your plot is progressing well.

These plotting devices also just make sense in terms of storytelling. About a quarter of the way through, you should have finished your initial exposition, and should be ready for some character-based action. Here you can insert a moment where your character “crosses over” into a new direction. And halfway through the story, they should experience something that makes them want to turn back or simply puts them at peril, which creates a moment where they could potentially give up, but probably won’t.

Do you include “crossing over” and “near-death” moments in your story? Do you think that knowing about this plotting technique would help you in your writing? Share your thoughts in the comments!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan


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