Literary Structure Math

Welcome to MATH AND WRITING 101!

Now, some of you may be wondering, what could math and writing possibly have in common with each other, besides how many pages long that history report is supposed to be? Make yourselves comfortable, take out your pencils, and let the class begin!

Let’s say you want to write a novel. A novel, by the standards of NaNoWriMo, is 50,000 words. Not too big, not too little. Of course, this number varies between genres and markets, but for this post, 50k = Novel.

(Yes, I just brought Algebra into this. Don’t worry about a thing, I’ll do all the math.)

And let’s say you want to participate in NaNoWriMo and completely write a 50k novel. Using the rules of NaNo, which say you begin on November 1st and end on November 30, and simple division (50k divided by 30), and a calculator,  you must a write 1667 words a day to reach your goal.

From the Timelord's archive.. Doctor and his companions traveling through time and space.

But math in writing goes much farther than this. Let’s take a look at a couple of story structures.

One formula (I think it’s the Hollywood Formula, but I’m not entirely sure), says that the Inciting Incident (the big, out of the ordinary thing that happens that kind of starts your story) should happen at approximately 1/8 of the Novel, the Choice (when your MC chooses to have a story) at 1/4 of the Novel, the Midpoint (the point of no return, among its many definitions) at 1/2, and the Low Point (all is lost) at 3/4. The last 1/4 of the story is when you finish things up and tie all the loose ends into a pretty bow.

Still following? Great! Let’s add the Three Act Structure into all this.

The Three Act Structure is pretty simple and fits right into the last formula. Act One takes up one forth of the story. It ends with the Choice. Act Three begins just after the Low Point and takes up the last forth. Act Two starts after the Choice, ends with the Low Point, the Midpoint happens in the middle of it, and it is twice as long as either of the other two acts.

Head spinning yet? Let’s recap.

Inciting Incident = at 1/8 of Novel

Choice = at 1/4 of Novel = end of Act One

Midpoint = middle of Act Two = at 1/2 of Novel

Low Point = at 3/4 of Novel = end of Act Two

End (or Denouement) = last 1/4 of Novel = Act Three

50k = Novel

It’s obvious to see how these numbers would help a plotter; they can just plug in the correct scenes at the right moments. But this is where some of you discovery writers are probably thinking “This is nice and all, but I don’t plan my writing. How does this help me?”

I’m a pantser. I don’t plan very far beyond the main plot and some scenes I’m excited to write. Everything else forms as I write. This is how these numbers help me:

I am a very concise writer. I’m not going to be the writer who writes something as thick as Inheritance. Probably not even something as thick as The Lightening Thief. Getting to 50k will be a challenge. So, I do the math and see if I can put the key points approximately where they need to be. Can I expand that much?


I write my first drafts by hand. I write approximately 250 words average a page in a standard, college rule notebook. So, if I want to write a 50k novel, I need to write 200 pages. Using some simple math and the aforementioned structural formulas, I can figure that…

Inciting Incident = page 25

Choice = page 50

Midpoint = page 100

Low Point = page 150

The other day, I was concerned that I might not get anywhere close to page 50 before my MC needed to make the Choice. There’s only so much fluff you can put into a book to fill in the gaps. Then I realized that the Inciting Incident was closer than the Choice. It was on page 25, approximately. I had just finished page 16, so I only needed about 9 more pages. 9 pages was definitely more doable than 34.

However, I had an idea of what these key points were (I actually figured out the Inciting Incident while talking to Mom about these structure numbers). If you don’t feel okay planning all the points but you want to try structuring your novel, you could try just planning the point closest to where you are in the story. Or just keep the points in your head; a mental outline. No one said you had to write any of this down.

So, there’s my thoughts on Literary Structure Math. Anything to add? (Let me know in the comments!)

Class dismissed. Have a dancing Weeping Angel.


This is what they do when you blink. Then they try to kill you for not seeing their awesome moves.




18 thoughts on “Literary Structure Math

  1. Oh this is SO USEFUL. I am definitely bookmarking this! I am something between a plotter and a pantser (still figuring out my most effective style), so this is perfect.

  2. *applauds loudly* Good work, Robyn! You managed to tie math and writing together in a very clear and understandable way. You should be very pleased with yourself. *hands you some kind of award made up on the spot*

  3. First, I must say, that dancing Weeping Angel is creeping me out. And somehow making me laugh simultaneously.

    Anyway, onto the important part, this is a really good post! Pretty interesting, too. I’d want to convert it to word-count rather than page numbers, though, since the writing program I use doesn’t track pages.

  4. That is the best Weeping Angel gif I’ve seen.

    Awesome post. And since I’m plotting Draft 3 right now, this will totally be useful. *Makes mental note to reread this.*

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