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The Pivotal Points of Fiction

By Laura Backes

All good fiction contains basic elements around which the plot revolves. Though each story is different, there are certain "checkpoints" found in all novels. Paying close attention to these areas will help you pace the action of your story and keep the plot moving.

The beginning. Your story should start at the point in your character's life where his or her everyday world changes. Don't waste the first chapter describing your character or the setting of the book; most of that information won't be necessary to the story, and if it is it can be worked in later. Begin the book with action or dialogue.

The first chapter. By the end of the first chapter, your readers should know something about your main character and what problem, or conflict, that character will be facing in the book. In middle grade and young adult novels the conflict sometimes changes during the course of the story, but the first conflict (that pulls the character out of his everyday world) should be evident early on. Your readers must know enough at this point to believe the conflict is valid and to care about the character.

Chapter endings. If chapters end in the middle of a scene, your reader will want to turn the page and see what happens next. This is especially true with chapter books for readers ages 7-10. Ending a chapter with action or dialogue helps to keep the momentum of the story going.

The story's climax. The climax of the book, when your main character comes face-to-face with the conflict, should be a natural outcome of everything that's happened up to this point. Too many beginning writers draw out the climax, diluting its impact. Ideally, the climax is contained within a scene, or a chapter at the most. The height of the climax, like the peak of a roller coaster, occurs at the end of a chapter.

The story's resolution. The resolution must be brought about by the main character. It occurs directly after the plot's climax, and is also contained within a chapter. The resolution must be believable and, ideally, a surprise to the reader.

The ending. The story ends soon after the resolution has been reached. Often the resolution occurs in the last chapter, with only a few paragraphs that follow showing how life returned to normal for your character. Padding the ending is a common mistake with beginning writers; the resolution itself should be a satisfying conclusion to the book, and anything extra will simply take away from all that's gone before.

Other points to consider. Is the point of view consistent throughout the book? Does one character emerge as the focus of the story? Too often, two or three characters are vying for the reader's attention, especially in chapter books. And finally, is the conflict important or intriguing enough for your readers to want to see how the story turns out? When in doubt, make the conflict bigger rather than smaller. Remember, you're asking your readers to invest time and energy in your book. Give them a problem they'll care about, and they'll gladly oblige.

Laura Backes is the publisher of Children’s Book Insider - the newsletter for children’s writers - and the founder of The CBI Collection, the first-ever catalog just for children’s writers. The CBI Collection includes exclusive books, disks and writers tools for every level of children’s writing, from complete beginners to experienced pros. There’s even a complete beginning children’s writing course available for under $20. For a free copy of The CBI Collection, write to Children’s Book Insider, 901 Columbia Road, Fort Collins, CO 80525, call 1-970-495-0056 or e-mail Also, visit the Children’s Writing Resource Center on the World Wide Web --

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