So far, I've been learning rules and guidelines for plotting a good story from John Truby's excellent "The Anatomy of Story".

Truby structures plot using 22 steps (a summary here). Among them, the most important are steps 20 and 21: step 20 is "Self-revelation", where the protagonist learns more about himself, his true self, his past mistakes and how to overcome his psychological and moral weakness. This character growth is immediately shown in step 21, "Moral Decision", where the character acts in a moral way (in contrast to his moral weakness that defined him at the start of the story). These two steps, positioned at the climax of the story (between "Battle" and "New Equilibrium") are so important, they should be among the first things defined when building a story, according to Truby.

Then, I have stumbled upon this answer, which describes James Scott Bell's concept of Mirror Moment.

The Mirror Moment is a moment, at the middle of the story, where the protagonist assesses herself, and makes a decision based on her own psychology, what sort of person she is going to be (source). Anything happening later is about showing that the character's change has taken place.

I see several similarities between these two moments. It almost looks like the same moment moved to the middle of the story instead of the climax.

Is there a difference between Bell's Mirror Moment and Truby's Self-Revelation? What is the best place to insert a self-revelation moment: Middle, climax, or anywhere else? Does it depend on genre or other factors?

This is my first question on SE, I apologize if it's too vague.

2 Answers 2


To first address your title question, There are protagonists who never have that self-realization. Or they may have it too late. These are called tragedies. They are also called comedies, depending on the tone. Despite what many writing systems seem to believe, not all stories are a "hero's journey" in the Joseph Campbell vein of interchangeable cookie-cutter archetypes. Not every protagonist becomes a "better person" at the end. Not every protagonist fights both an external and internal battle.

To address your writing systems question: steps 9 and 10 are the rough equivalent of the "mirror moment" of character realization in the other system.

  1. First revelation and decision: Changed desire and motive This is often known as the first turning point in the film and is where the hero receives some new information or makes a decision that taken them in a different direction. Plan
  2. The plan is the hero’s means of fulfilling his/her desire. The plan doesn’t always have to go spot on, if it did it would make for a boring film. An unseen flaw in the plan or an opponent’s action could change the plan. This change should be intended to shock or surprise the audience

These (and all other) writing systems are just systems, they are not laws.

One of these systems has 22 steps, the other has 4 (or possibly just a 2-step palindrome) – which in my opinion is so simplistic as to be useless (or universal, depending on your point-of-view). The 22-step system is interesting enough that I will spend the next few minutes mentally checking a few of my stories against it, just to see how I feel about it (edit: it was fine, but it's not my story).

These systems are like reading astrology or tarot, they eerily ring true often enough that they can feel flatteringly like real insight into your narrative. After a while they become less interesting once you realize they are saying the same thing to everyone, and you are the one providing structure to fit the formula. You can eventually do this for yourself, fill in the blanks to a structure of your own choosing that reflects your story's theme.

If you want to "overlay" 2 different systems onto the same story, it defeats the purpose to attempt to do both simultaneously (you are essentially making up a new system that has unclear rules). Check your story against one system, and take what you like. Then check it against another system, and take what you like.

Usually you will discover that your story elements can easily be "re-slotted" to fit most systems. Occasionally you will be struck by a story hole that you hadn't realized was there, and trying to fill it will bring out a new element that you hadn't considered before. This is great, but you want to write your own story too, not just fill in a Mad-Libs style form with generic (and predictable) story beats or false emotions.

At no time should you allow a system to overwrite your own sensibilities. The goal is to inspire you, and to suggest a "dynamic" story that involves character development and conflict evolution as well as plot twists and turns, which may be lacking in a first draft or outline.

  • 1
    Thank you. I haven't thought of it like that. I'm definitely more a planning writer than a discovery one, but I may overthink too much. Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 11:13
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    @Moonwhisper, omg me too! I bought Scrivener which makes it easy to shift sections around (plotter's dream). I don't want to sound like a snob, I actually tried a lot of writing systems, and I will again…. Whatever helps you is good, especially in early drafts. Later when you really know what the story is about, and you have some sure scenes and characters, you'll be more confident about when to leave the "hollywood formula" (or maybe switch to a different inspiration, ie: mystery/thriller instead of action hero).
    – wetcircuit
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 12:04

It depends on what the self-revelation is supposed to accomplish. There are multiple turning points in a story. At about the 25% mark, the character needs to leave their "status quo" world and start solving some inciting incident.

But typically this is a non-expert or fumbling attempt (that may have made their problem even worse) for about 25% more of the story, so around 50% they figure out more of a real plan, and start to execute that.

Then at about 75%, the real plan isn't working that great, and they need a turnaround that sends them into the finale.

Your Mirror Moment or self-revelation can occur at any of these points. Say the inciting incident is witnessing a murder. She is in her status quo world, we are getting to know her and her routines, then about the 12.5% mark she witnesses a murder. She doesn't think she's been seen. from 12.5% to 25%, she is debating whether she should put herself in danger by coming forward, but around the 20% mark, the stakes are raised: An innocent man is arrested for the crime. She knows he is innocent, she saw the killer. Her self-revelation is about who she truly is as a moral being; whether she can still remain silent, or if she has to come forward.

Self-revelations, particular of flaws or shortcomings in character, are plot devices, they serve to make your character grow into a different person, and in particular a different person that can solve the problem she is facing.

For an emotional story (coming-of-age story, or coming-out-gay story, dealing-with-death story, a love story), I'd expect the self-revelation to appear late, it would drive the story into the last Act (the finale).

For more action-oriented stories, I'd expect it earlier, it would drive the story out of the FIRST Act, leaving the status quo world and into the risky wilderness to try and accomplish or change something.

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