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Learn the "bones" of story

Sunday, July 9, 2023

The 12% Rule of Story Structure

Proper structure helps you deliver your story to the audience in a satisfying and familiar way. You wouldn't want to end up with the climactic peak hitting only ~36% into the story. That would make the story feel awkward and the remaining ~64% boring. (Talk about a dissatisfied audience.)

Contrary to what some believe, to me structure is all about organizing and/or timing. When stripped of all the details, beat sheets, and fill-in-the-blanks, it's a matter of organizing your content and timing the delivery of it.

This is one of the reasons you can find successful stories that don't seem to fit your favorite beat sheet. Even though that particular story may not be like others in its details, it can still deliver the content in a satisfying way if it organizes and times it properly.

Today's post is more about the timing.

And I call it the 12% Rule--or perhaps better said, the 12% Rule of Thumb (because even here there are variations, however atypical they may be).

The idea is, at the most basic level, most all successful stories will have a significant turning point every ~12%. A major turn near the end of every quarter, with a medium turn between those.

First, let me acknowledge that some writers hate using percentages, because they feel too calculated, too formulaic. But in all honesty, percentages are the best and quickest way to convey when something should typically happen in a book, so I use them (though I too used to hate them as a beginner.) And this article is obviously using them today.

Second, let's talk about what I mean by "turning point," in case you are new around here.

A turning point is an action or revelation that turns the direction of the story. It turns the trajectory of the story. The plot was heading toward one destination on a metaphorical "railroad," but a track switched, and now it's heading toward a new destination. (That's the analogy I like to use, anyway.)

The climax is the biggest turning point of the story, and notice that in basic structure, it quite literally, visually, turns the story into the falling action. 

But not only should your story have a climactic turning point--ideally there should be turning points in each act and each scene. The difference is that, the smaller the structural unit, the smaller the turn. 

Another notable turn in the story as a whole, is the inciting incident, which essentially disrupts "normal" life and kicks off the main plot. Sometimes in basic structure, the inciting incident will be drawn so that it too will visually turn the story into the rising action. While the climax is a big turning point, I consider the inciting incident to be a medium-sized turning point. But I'll talk more about inciting incidents in more detail, in an upcoming post.

If this is your first time learning about turning points, you've probably actually heard them called by a different name. They are also known as plot turns and plot points. Three different names that mean the same thing.

So, there should be multiple turning points (or plot turns or plot points) in a story--moments that actually change the direction, the trajectory, the plot is going. Something shakes up what's currently happening in a big enough way, that the consequences of it lead to a new or altered course. The story is on track for a new outcome. These turning points almost always shift the protagonist's overarching goal or their plan to get the overarching goal (or both). And sometimes, on occasion, they simply add a new goal to the current one.

Now, this is just a rule of thumb, but most successful stories will have some sort of turning point, a plot "shake-up," every ~12%. Let's go through how this typically looks. (And if you know about 7 Point Story Structure, or some other structural approaches, this may all look familiar to you.)


Open the story with a hook to grab the audience. (This isn't necessarily always a turning point, but it's an important moment I felt I should include.)

~12%--Medium-sized Turning Point (Inciting Incident(?)):

It's common for the inciting incident to hit at the ~12% mark. This is halfway through Act I. However, this isn't always the case. The inciting incident can be as early as the first chapter (where it may double as the hook), and as late as near the end of Act I.

For example, the inciting incident of Harry Potter, when the Hogwarts letter arrives, hits near ~12%. But the inciting incident of The Hunger Games, when Prim's name gets called, happens in the first chapter.

So the inciting incident can hit in different places, but there is still often a turn at ~12%, whether that is the inciting incident or something else.

Commonly, if it's not the inciting incident of the main plotline, it will be the inciting incident of a secondary plotline, like a relationship plotline.

What's nice about looking at things this way, is you can have the inciting incident of one plotline be the hook, and the inciting incident of another hit the 12% mark. I could have the inciting incident of the relationship plotline be the hook, and the inciting incident of the external plotline hit at 12%. And I could have the inciting incident of another plotline hit later.

But I digress a little. Because it may not even be an inciting incident.

It's just the idea that there is a medium-sized turn-- a "shake-up" or "change up" ~12% in, that alters the story in some medium-sized way.

~25%--Big Turning Point (Plot Point 1):

Plot Point 1 is the big turning point of Act I. You can even view it as the climactic moment of Act I. It's what the beginning has been building toward. So while Harry gets the letters ~12% in, Hagrid tells him he's a wizard and has been invited to Hogwarts about ~25% in. It's what Act I has been building toward. It's a big turn, and how Harry responds changes the trajectory of the story. He was living an ordinary life with the Dursleys (more or less), and now he's going to go with Hagrid to the Wizarding World.

That's a big change.

That's a big turn.

Plot Point 1 is usually the moment when the protagonist chooses to engage in the main plot in a defining way. It's also known as "Crossing the Threshold" (Hero's Journey) and "Break into Two" (Save the Cat!)

But the most important thing to remember, is that this is a big turn.

~37%--Medium-sized Turning Point (Pinch Point 1):

~37% into the story, there is often another medium-sized shake-up. This is commonly known as Pinch Point 1. A pinch point is a moment where the antagonistic force applies painful pressure to the protagonist. I already did a big post going over the details of Pinch Point 1, so I won't repeat everything. And this could definitely get complicated, because the protagonist isn't always present (which I think can make some of what I'm saying in this article arguable), but I'm trying to stay somewhat basic.

Now admittedly, occasionally, I see stories where I don't see an obvious pinch point here. But there is still some sort of medium-sized turning point. Something comes along and shifts the direction of the story a bit, enough to alter the goal, plan, or course, somewhat.

It often bumps the story on a clearer trajectory to hit the next big turn, the midpoint.

~50%--Big Turning Point (Midpoint):

Halfway through, there is another significant turning point, called the midpoint. Again, it changes the direction of the story in a significant way, often by revealing information to the protagonist about the antagonistic force. This typically leads the protagonist to become more proactive in the "fight." This changes his or her goal or plan in a powerful way that affects the third quarter of the story.

For example, in Interstellar, the midpoint happens when Cooper learns that Plan A is a ruse. He responds by changing his current plans. This alters the story for the next quarter. In Star Wars IV, this is when Alderaan is "missing" and the Millennium Falcon gets pulled in by the tractor beam, before Luke learns Leia is on the ship. He decides to find her. This alters the direction of the story for the next quarter.

~62% Medium-sized Turning Point (Pinch Point 2):

~62% into the story, there is often another medium-sized shake-up. This is commonly known as Pinch Point 2. It's another noteworthy pinch point, but it's worse than Pinch Point 1. It's at least another medium-sized turning point that alters the direction of the story somewhat.

It often bumps the story on a clearer trajectory to hit the next big turn, Plot Point 2.

~75% Big Turning Point (Plot Point 2):

Plot Point 2 is the next major turning point, and you can view it as the climax of the third quarter, or even the climax of the whole second act (the middle). This is (almost) always a major moment, and usually the second biggest "peak" of the story. It will usually be a key confrontation between the protagonist and antagonistic forces. It most commonly ends in a costly failure, but it can also end with a costly victory (sometimes called a "hollow victory").

In Hamilton, this is when Burr implies he could use the info about Hamilton's affair against him, so in response, Hamilton writes the Reynolds Pamphlet, revealing his affair to the public. This is a major moment that alters the course for the next quarter or so of the story.

This is also called "The Ordeal" (Hero's Journey) and "All is Lost" (Save the Cat!).

~ 87% Medium-sized Turning Point:

~12% later, and guess what? There is usually another key turning point--another medium-sized turning point. I feel like this can show up a few different ways, but generally speaking, it's the turn that takes the protagonist into the climax of the story. It's the turn that leads the protagonist toward the final confrontation with the antagonist.

It often bumps the story on a clearer trajectory to hit the next big turn, the climactic turning point.

~ 89 - 100% Big Turning Point (Climactic Turning Point):

This one is a little tricky with the percentages, because obviously 100% is the end of the story, and nearly all stories have a denouement, which means the big turn will come before 100%.

But the final big turn is the climactic turning point. This is where the protagonist or antagonist defeats the other and the main conflict is resolved, which turns the story into the falling action.

This is Harry defeating Voldemort.

Katniss winning the Game.

Luke destroying the Death Star.

Hamilton and his duel with Burr.

I think you are probably most familiar with this turn 😉

Remember that I'm simplifying and briefly covering all these things. These are the basics of timing key turns. And it's the basics that provide the foundation for everything else. So, include a notable turn about every 12% in your novel, and it will serve your story's structure well (even if it varies from more detailed story structure approaches).


  1. I'd like to join your 12% class, when does it start?

    1. Hi John, I'm so glad you are interested in my class. You can learn about it here: https://www.septembercfawkes.com/p/the-triarchy-method-of-story_7.html

      I just talked to the team this last week, and it will be offered again in Jan. 2024.

      While we do talk about structure in the class, much of it is about character, plot, and theme.

  2. Such as informative article, thank you for sharing your knowledge in such a readable way ☺️

  3. 100/12.5=8. Like the 7 chakras + 1 ;)


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