Rollercoaster Theory is a basic plot model I follow for all my novels: standalone novels work best in 5-6 seasons or two parts broken down from the 3 Act Structure. The best television shows generally have a world-bible/story arc designed for a 4-6 seasons series. Based on countless years of TV-binging, figuring out the plot fifteen minutes into movies, and the trials and errors of my own works, I think this is a strong model for a certain type of book.
I would not recommend this to cliffhanger 3 book trilogies. This plot model is more for the Harry Dresden cases, Discworld standalones, and something like The Goblin Emperor.
Or better yet, think of it as a writer’s run on a comic book series. Most writers have a rotation of a year-two years on a certain book. To translate that into writer’s language, there’s five-six major plot changing events/beats.
Season 1: This is where you setup the world, introduce the characters, and open with your plot. Generally speaking, you’ve got maybe 5 chapters between 10000-15000 words to make this work. I tend to write 3-4 scenes between a 1000-2000 words per scene depending on the context/setup of the story. I write between 40-50 chapters per novel (65 for a 170,000 book I need to edit at some point). But I always vary the chapter length (I’ve written 700 word chapters before) to go with the concept of the rollercoaster. There are highs and lows within the plot. Unless you’re writing a kinetic thriller, you can’t be running and gunning for 300 pages. Even plot oriented thrillers have a few chitchat scenes/character development scenes. Usually in a 40-50 chapter novel, I cap this off at 8-11 chapters between 17000-25000 words. Given I write fantasy, I tend to aim for 90,000-115,000 words for my target. It’s better to leave out supporting character subplots/extra development, and better to focus on the main characters/main plot first.
And then you have the big event, everything in the previous chapters leads to this mini-climax. The story reveals a major plot point, and everything really ups the stakes external or internal. That’s up to you.
Season 2: You’ve introduced the world, the first season had its game changer, and now it’s time to get real. At this point, your major plot beats/progression should be rolling. Again, highs and lows. Character breathers/plot development, all at the same time. If you have an antagonist/villain, they need to be introduced/take an active role at this point. Questions are raised and then you reach the act 1/part ii plot point. This usually changes the story/concludes the first act story, and then opens the second act with a new direction, a reversal. Usually your characters have a victory while suffering a major setback, whether external or internal. Always be pivoting.
Season 3: The dreaded Second Act/Long Middle. Usually this around page 170-210 in a 400-450 page story. Honestly? I’ve never had an issue with this. I always knew where I was going/how to develop my characters from here. Usually my novels reach this point early with the exact halfway point. This is where characters reassess their priorities, the cool mentor dies so protagonist can become the Guy/Gal, secrets are revealed, and the protagonist/his quirky party are in the thick of it. They’re not just going back and forth, they’re taking action against the world, the antagonist, each other. The end of this season needs to be powerful. The stakes progressively get larger/things get worse. The ending of this season should be WTF or a bitter loss/reversal. Characters learn things about themselves, the world, and are on a course toward the climax. Usually 25000-35000 for me for both Season 3 and 4. I tend to make these sections 10-15 chapters welded together.
Season 4: Tighter and you start to focus on lingering threads, wrapping up minor subplots/lay the groundworks for character arc conclusions. Shit is getting real. People are dying, the world is unraveling, and this is where the characters either succeed or fail, depending on your story’s direction. Big plot events/character trajectories come together, and the word count for these next two-three arcs nosedives. There’s no room for introducing new characters, new threads, don’t get distracted. This is where the villains big plan cracks/unravels. Villain/antagonist usually has a back plan/last desperate move. Stakes are high here.
Season 5: Usually I end the story here. Five to me is always the perfect number. There’s no time to wallow in supporting characters’ arcs, everything needs to be wrapped and the main plot resolved, main characters grow, fall, decay, etc. This is the climax. This is where the hero fails or succeeds. This is where last minute foreshadowed plot twists happen, the villain engages the hero in an epic duel with their remaining forces, and everyone has their team power time to shine. No bullshit, no meandering, it’s time to live or die. And then the ending. In terms of the rollercoaster analogy, this is the big loop. You go flying up, reach that peak for four seconds, and everything comes tumbling down, tumbling down. This is up to you. The story has reached its end. How you write it? That’s on you. In terms of a 100,000 word novel, these two parts at most should be 15,000-25,000 words max. I tend to drop my word count/tighten to give a fast paced ending.
Season 6: Tight. This is usually 3-4 chapters less than 10k words. This might be the second half of season 5. I cannot stress enough how tight this needs to be. Big battle, stop the bomb, the romance fails or succeeds. I usually use this for downer/bittersweet stories. It’s the pointless duel in Yojimbo, it’s the debriefing of MGS4, it’s a season reserved for tragedies/thematic endings. I would say season 6 is the last 10% of the novel. It’s really the denouement/eulogy of the novel. And then the characters are gone, you might do an epilogue, and you type THE END.
I developed this model for standalones. Stories that are a part of a trilogy or a 2000 page epic divided into 650 page three part trilogy I doubt would do well with this model. This model supports tight worldbuilding, placing character and plot above deep exploration of every food, bird, and secondary world material. If you’re writing a 200k+ epic doorstopper, this probably isn’t the right model for you. It’s more for 90k-130k max stories.
That’s my model. It’s helped me a lot and maybe it can help you too.