Awhile back, I attended the three-day Story Masters Workshop, given by James Scott Bell, Donald Maass, and Christopher Vogler. I highly recommend it, and you can check out more information about their workshops here. Vogler’s expertise is movie scripts. One of the things that I found most interesting about his 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.
If you have read my posts before, you know how fond I am of mathematical approaches to plotting. You can check out my mathematical formula for kicking out a fast first draft here. Clearly I was intrigued by Vogler’s premise, but I wasn’t able to tap into the high-testosterone crime/thriller movie examples he was using: Casablanca, The Godfather, etc. Believe it or not, with the exception of Star Wars, I hadn’t seen a single one of the movies he cited. It made me wonder if the formulas he was promoting were as applicable to the Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction my kidlit colleagues and I were writing, as they were to the thrillers and crime movies he used as his examples. As a result, I took it upon myself to put his formula to the test.
I picked random books off my bookshelf, checked how many pages were in the novel, divided by four, then opened the book to the 25% and 50% mark to see if there was, in fact, a crossing over scene and a near death scene. In my not-so-scientific study, I looked at approximately twenty novels and, for the most part, Vogler’s markers held true. The following three novels were typical of the results.