I'm writing a novel about an obsessive character who is bothering the people around him but just will not or cannot accept that a change must come.

When is the most effective time (or if not - the normally accepted time) in the arc of a story to forcibly kill off the ego of the character (in the first third, second or last third part of the tale) in order for a phoenix type resurrection of the character as a more balanced person to occur?

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    – user
    May 25, 2018 at 15:19

3 Answers 3


It depends. How much do you have to tell about the MC after he undergoes this transformation? Is this the main conflict of your story, or merely something that impedes the MC from dealing with the main conflict?

Basically, smooth sailing is boring. If there's more conflict for your character after this arc has been addressed, you can have the "transformation" early. If that's the main conflict, then after the "transformation", you've only got the resolution, so perforce it would have to be late. If the "transformation" itself is a lengthy process with complications, you can have it early.


Generally, the conflict is resolved in the third act. Acts end with (effectively for the story and characters) an irrevocable something, a decision, an act taken, words spoken, event transpiring, etc.

That is not to say this must be the final sentence of a chapter, there can be ramifications or consequences described, but that is the end of the act.

The end of the LAST Act (ACT III in the 3-act structure, ACT IV in Freytag's four act structure, ACT V in Shakespeare's 5 act structure, etc) is the resolution of the story.

In your story, the "phoenix rising" sounds like the final bit of ACT III, generally the last 5% of the total story length. ACT II would likely end with the irrevocable event that instigates this "killing off" of the ego, and thus leads into ACT III. ACT III would begin with the consequences, what to do next, and the denouement would be the re-assembly of the ego, accomplished in the last 5%, leaving enough room to show the reader the irrevocably changed person going forward.

Although many people write their stories to fit the 3-act structure religiously, I don't recommend that. They are derived from actual highly successful novels and stories, and as such are descriptive statistics: The % are, on average, how highly successful stories happen to be plotted.

But averages don't tell us everything; as the aphorism goes: Freeze one hand in a bucket 35F water, and the other in a bucket of 160F water, and on average you're not uncomfortable.

As descriptive statistics, you can use them to see when you are straying terribly far from the norm; more than 10% perhaps is either stretching the reader's patience (boring them) or rushing the tale too much (confusing them). And of course good books can range from 60,000 words to 700,000 words (but the reader has an idea of what to expect from the # pages or heft of the book).


The position of the climax varies to much. I used to graph the rising action of everything I read or watched looking for patterns. It didn't really tell me much (except that on a lot of TV shows the climax is at minute 42, right before the last commercial break.) It varies to much based on the book and the way the story is told (written versus tv versus movie etc).

Some books the climax is the second to last chapter (think the first Harry Potter book) sometimes it's a hundred plus pages from the end (think Lord of the Rings, there is a lot post 'the ring is destroyed, the world is saved'). If the climax is the destruction of your character's ego, this probably happens towards the end. If it is merely the instigator for the larger arc, probably ends Act 1. (If it's the second, I recommend reading about the Hero's Journey).

So ask yourself, how much of the story needs to happen before the event and how much after? This will dictate when it happens.

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