Every Secret Thing

Inciting Event: Journalist Kate learns that Deacon, the old man who died in a hit and run in the opening chapter, had a secret report he wanted to share with her. This is a nice example of a story that opens in medias res with the first pertinent scene—but in which the Inciting Event (in which the protagonist personally brushes with the main conflict for the first time) correctly happens as the turning point halfway through the First Act. Prior to the knowledge about the report, Kate had no real reason to believe there was a conflict or that Deacon’s death was anything but an accident.

First Plot Point: After Kate’s grandmother reveals she and Deacon were working with British Intelligence during World War II, she is assassinated. This plot point takes place very late. It does a great job turning the plot and thrusting the protagonist into a totally new Second Act “adventure world.” But it’s a bit problematic, since the lengthy, wobbly First Act ultimately doesn’t do enough to properly set up reader expectations about the type of story they will be reading (the fact that this is a different genre from the author’s normal romantic oeuvre doesn’t mitigate that).

First Pinch Point: After going on the run herself, Kate learns that her grandmother’s house was burgled and that the only thing taken was Kate’s own briefcase, containing Deacon’s report—which she had yet to read. This turns the plot primarily by motivating Kate to take the investigation into her own hands. She disguises herself and heads to Portugal, where Deacon was stationed during the war, in order to discover the truth.

Midpoint: Kate realizes that the handsome American who has “coincidentally” bumped into her several times is, in fact, investigating the same people from Deacon’s past as she is. She believes he is her grandfather’s murderer and goes on the offensive to avoid him. She also learns important clues about Deacon’s report.

Second Pinch Point: One of Kate’s last remaining important witnesses “accidentally” falls down the stairs and dies the day before she can talk to him. Since many other people from Deacon’s past have also turned up dead, she correctly assumes this is the responsibility of her mysterious antagonist. She flees to Washington, DC, to interview the last person on her list.

Third Plot Point: Kate figures out the identity of the murderer and risks her life to confront him while wearing a wire. Although the structure is a bit dodgy up to this point, it holds up well enough. But it all rather comes apart in the Third Act. Although Kate experiences many moments of danger throughout the story, she never has to confront a personal low moment. Her confrontation with the antagonist—known as the Colonel—is a dramatic turning point, but it’s more properly climactic, despite the timing. The fact that the climactic confrontation happens so early means the rest of the Third Act is unavoidably anticlimactic.

Climax: Kate learns the Colonel’s complicit family, and ostensibly the Colonel too, have died. She believes the Colonel has survived and will be coming to kill her. This is exciting, tense stuff. But it’s all very passive. By this point, Kate does nothing in response but hide.

Climactic Moment: An old friend of Deacon’s—who, it turns out, was watching out for Kate all along via the handsome American—sends Kate a cryptic birthday gift, letting her know he has protected her by hunting down the Colonel and killing him. Needless to say, this is the anticlimactic cap to an anticlimactic Climax. The protagonist isn’t even present when the conflict is finally resolved, and it is told in the epilogue, almost as an afterthought.

Resolution: The Resolution section of the story actually comprises a good ten percent of the book and takes place before the Climactic Moment. In it, Kate meets Deacon’s old friend and hears his memories about Deacon’s relationship with her grandmother.

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