Greetings, padawan 🧙♂️ I hope that wherever you are, life is glorious! And to make it just a little more amazing, today I’ll be telling you all about plot points… Yay!
You luck dogs.
Now, in the world of writing, there are a lot of different ‘methods’ out there in regards to structuring your novel. There are energetic markers, three acts, four acts, the hero’s journey, and so many more. You could choose a different structuring method with each new novel you write and probably never run out. #truth.
But it’s up to you to decide which works best for you and how your mind works, because everyone is different. I know that’s shocking, but it’s true. So one method might not completely compute for you. Plot points in combo with the three act structure works for me. It totally makes sense to my brain, so that’s the method I use most when plotting out my manuscripts. But you, being the unique entity you are, can choose a different method, and even <gasp> design your own!
Without further ado, enjoy this deep dive into plot points and you can thank me later 😉
Some don’t include this within the whole ‘plot point’ bucket, but I do. Because in the beginning, you need something to grab the reader’s attention. This is the first time where your character’s morals, their values, will be shown for all to see. Readers will get to see what the hero is willing to sacrifice and suffer.
In the hero’s journey it would be closely related to the call to adventure. Now, in different genres, this is presented differently. If you’re writing a murder mystery, this is where the detective discovers the body. Or, in an action adventure, it might be the fireman running into a burning building. In romance, it’s where the two prospective lovers meet.
Let’s do some examples, because everyone loves a good example. An inciting incident would be when you pull out your leftover pancakes (clink the link and get my pancake recipe!) and spot a giant blob of mold on them! Gasp! The horror!
Okay, you want a better example? Got it.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The inciting incident for book 1 is where Effie calls out Primrose’s name, and Katniss volunteers to take her place in the games. Gripping, check. Emotional, check. Character defining, check. Introduces conflict, check. It’s an excellent inciting incident because you know exactly what’s at stake when the poor girl’s name is called. Certain death. And when her sister yells out, “I volunteer as tribute”, you know exactly what it will cost her. Excellent.
Now, the inciting incident is not to be confused with the hook. But they’re like cousins. Because the hook should occur within a page or two, and it should be attention grabbing. So in the Hunger Game, the hook would be Katniss hunting and the descriptions of the broken world. But its small fish, it’s getting a whiff of pancake. Not the entire thing, just something to ensnare the senses. Whereas the inciting incident is more meaty, has some stuff to chew on. So, like putting a delicious, fluffy pancake in front of someone, and asking them not to eat it.
Impossible to resist 😂
The inciting incident occurs within the first act of your story, or the beginning. If you’re looking for a number, it should occur around the 15% mark. But <waves a big red flag> it can fall wherever is natural in the story. If that’s the second page, go for it. The only caution is that if it falls too late, you might lose readers to boredom. And if it occurs too early, your readers might get bored as well. So, as with everything in life, it’s a balance.
Now, I love the inciting incident because it has the power to catapult the novel into the stratosphere. I’ll dive deep into the inciting incident later, but for now I hope you get the idea.
But this is what plot points are all about. They aren’t little ponds that can be skipped over. They are deep oceans that take months to cross…
Okay, that might be taking it a little far, but the idea works. Plot points are major events.
First Plot Point
Some say, and I might agree with them, that the first plot point is the most important moment in your story. Even more grand than the inciting incident, midpoint, or climax. Why you ask? Because this plot point begins the entire dance. This event is the bridge between part 1 and 2. Which means everything that happens before is set up. And everything that happens after is a response. In terms of story, this is huge! If you flop when writing the first plot point, your story might not recover, because your reader won’t know exactly what to expect.
Why you ask?
The essential story, the bones of it, the conflict, all of it is fully defined with the first plot point. Yes, this one moment in your story introduces the upcoming journey, question, or mission that your hero has. That’s all a story is. Tracing the path of a MC (hero or otherwise) through a journey, question, or mission. If you flop on the first plot point, your reader may not truly grasp where the character’s path lies, and that is dangerous. Because then a reader can make assumptions and become very disappointed when those assumptions aren’t met.
Let’s try to boil this down a little more clearly. The first plot point is the moment when something affects and alters your hero (status, plans, beliefs, life, etc.) and forces them to take action. The stakes are now tangible. The opposition is firmly in place. There is no going back. There is no other way except forward except through the murk.
It’s the inciting incident on crack.
Basically, if I can borrow a term from the hero’s journey, it’s the point of no return.
In our Hunger Games example, the first plot point is where the lie of a romantic connection between Katniss and Peeta begins, and in a double whammy where Katniss scores an 11 in her private practice. After those events, she can no longer be obscure and unnoticed. Her life is irrevocably changed, and there is no way to return to before.
Give the first plot point a lot of love and attention, and a ton of thought and consideration. Because if you nail it, you’ve got a tremendous advantage going into the second half of your story.
Like the inciting incident, the exact location of the first plot point can be up to the writer’s discretion, within reason, of course. But typically it’s found around the 25% mark. But by definition, the first plot point occurs toward the end of part one and beginning of part two (assuming a three-act story), so it can’t be too early, or too late or it’s no longer a first plot point.
First Pinch Point
There are only going to be two pinch points in a story. The first pinch point is smack dab in the middle of act two. The second pinch point is found in the middle of part three (again assuming a three-act story). So going by the numbers, at the 40% and 65% marks, respectively.
A pinch point is the most simple and efficient of the plot points. It’s like a baby plot point.
This is the place where the reader gets to meet the antagonistic force in its most pure, most dangerous, and most intimidating form. Yeah, that’s a lot of mosts, but they’re all important. This is the place where the reader will get a reminder of the danger and clearly sees the monster under the bed.
At this point, the hero needs to look into the antagonists’ eyes and know without a doubt what the bad guy wants and the power of that desire.
At this first pinch point, the hero needs to come face to face with the antagonist, not just hear it talked about or discussed. But the antagonist isn’t always a person. The antagonist could be whatever conflict is driving your hero. A big test, a first date, corporate America, lava. So, in this pinch point, your hero would spot lava flowing down the mountain, racing toward his home. See? He’s facing the antagonist, getting a first glimpse at the conflict to come.
The beauty of a pinch point is that it can be quick. It can be a simple scene, a glimpse of the storm. But it gets even more fantastic, the more simple and direct it is, the more effective it will be.
In the Hunger Games the first pinch point is where tributes start to die, and Katniss is forced to flee her safe place when the wall of fire comes for her. Then the careers find her and she goes up the tree, only to dump a hive of tracker jackers down onto the careers.
Katniss gets faced with the big bad of the story, both the careers and the game makers themselves. It’s the first glimpse of just how bad the games can get, and how much she’ll have to fight to escape.
Oh boy, we’ve really gotten into it now! First, the inciting incident comes swooping in to catch our attention. Then the first plot point shifts everything and forces us down the path, and the first pinch point has shown us just how bad the baddies really are. Now, we arrive at the midpoint. The midpoint is like a flamboyant aunt. All dressed up, jewels, bobbles, fancy clothes. Ready for a night out on the town.
First, let’s define it: The midpoint is where new information is revealed, and it changes the experience and understanding of the hero, reader, or both. Yes, the character or reader suddenly knows that which wasn’t known before. It’s revelation. It’s knowledge. And some approach the midpoint like a plot twist, and that can really work.
Now, this can be previously existing, yet hidden information, or completely new information. But, I’ll get my big red flag out again; this doesn’t mean that you should withhold information in the first part of your novel just to have something to reveal at the midpoint. Sometimes the best way to increase tension is to reveal that information, because knowledge is power.
A good midpoint changes things through meaning. It’s like a good pancake. You’ve got the raw batter, tenderly mixed with love, then the midpoint arrives. The batter is heated, and flipped, to create something new and golden and delicious. That’s the recipe for a good midpoint. You have all the ingredients before, and the midpoint transforms it.
The midpoint is the turning point for the story. So far, your hero has been struggling under their burdens, slogging, miserable, down on their luck, just sort of shit combined with shit. They’re convinced that there is no way through it. The conflict is stronger than they are. But at the midpoint, that changes.
Ideally, the first half of the second act has altered them. You’ve presented them with challenges and surmounted them (even if they’re badly beaten up—physically and mentally.) Unless you’ve killed them, then that’s a whole other ballgame.
Think of the midpoint as a sort of turnstile. This is a swivel for the story, a point of movement, a pivot. Because before this point, your hero’s only been re-acting. They’ve been bombarded and beaten. But after this point is where they are finally reactive. They’ve transitioned into an active participant, and decided to go kick ass and take names.
In the Hunger Games midpoint Katniss allies with Rue. By uniting, they even the odds between them and the rest of the tributes. Then, in a stroke of madness or genius, they decide to destroy all the supplies outside the cornucopia.
See? Up to this point, Katniss has only been running and hiding. She’s avoided all conflict that wasn’t placed directly in her path. But at this moment, they decide to be proactive and begin to truly participate in the games.
The tides are turning.
Second Pinch Point
As with the first pinch point, this is a snack. A sort of yummy treat to go along with all the drama that you’ve already set forth.
So like blueberries or chocolate chips on your pancakes 😁
But the first and second pinch points are twins. You’ll use the same sort of approach to this one as the first. Make it gloomy. Make it full of the feels.
In the Hunger Games the second pinch point is where Rue dies, and Katniss kills the boy responsible. It’s another grim reminder of what the games truly are, and what Katniss will have to surrender to win.
As I said above, the second pinch point is right in the middle of part three. So it should fall at about the 65% mark.
Third Plot Point
We’re coming down the home stretch. We’ve got the climax in our sights and we’re hurtling toward it like a Jedi seeking a Sith. The second half of the second act should empower your hero. They should have a victory, mental or physical, and they should feel renewed. Like he just finished his first pancake. It tastes so good, all that maple syrup and sweet flavors. But, alas, that victory is short-lived, because he still has to face another empty plate, and more struggles to fill it again.
Damn, I love my pancakes.
Now, the third plot point arrives. A reminder that your hero isn’t invincible. That they still have plenty of work to do to conquer the antagonist. This point point directly results from the antagonist. This is the bad guy making sure they remind your hero that at this stage, he still sucks.
By this point things are again looking grim. He’s failed at this conflict, he’s lost something, and he’s sure that the bad dude will bury him forever.
In the Hunger Games, Seneca Crane announces the rule change, that two people from the same district can win the games together. So, Katniss finds Peeta, and nurses him back to health. To do so, she risks her life to get medicine, and poof! She succeeds! But more icing is that she accepts the romance that she’s been fighting against. Things are going great until the game guys remove all the water and force them into their final confrontation.
This point should fall at about the 75% mark.
No, I’m not talking about that special moment between you and your pancake 🤣
I’m talking about the peak, the culmination of all your hard work. The ultimate combination of struggles, fear, sadness, and all those negative things. Because this is it! This is the final showdown between your hero and your antagonist.
And boy did your hero have to earn it.
The climax is where your hero takes everything they’ve learned from this point and applies it. They transforms into an avenging badass who’ll chop through whatever your antagonist throws at him. But it’s still a struggle, because nothing is free here in story land. Being this important means that this is the point in your story with the greatest amount of drama, action, and movement.
Most final battles are grand and epic. Two forces of nature smashing against each other until one breaks. And even if it’s just a battle of wits, the climax should be just that. Two immovable forces colliding. Only one can succeed. Most likely, it will be your hero who wins, though not always. But don’t make it easy for them!
None of that Deus Ex Machina shit allowed in Good Story Land.
The climax is the high point of your story, and without it, your story will lack excitement or an overarching meaning. The climax is a signal to the reader that things are ending. Because nothing lasts forever, even the best stories. Except maybe that song “this is the song that never ends. It goes on and on, my friends!” Man, that’s a great song.
The climax should fall at the 90% mark-ish, but that depends on you. Most writers have a resolution to show the hero in their new world. But again, that’s up to writer discretion.
In Hunger Games, the conclusion is vicious! Cato, Katniss, and Peeta are being chased by these nasty beast creature things. They climb the cornucopia to get to safety. But then Cato tries some underhanded manipulation and Katniss ain’t havin’ none of it. So she shoots him in the hand. Except he falls, and as luck would have it, survives only for the beast things to chew on him. So Katniss, in her mercy, shoots him. Then there is some back and forth about some poisonous berries until both Peeta and Katniss are declared the victors!
The conclusion is sorta like a huge fat stack of pancakes, dripping with real maple syrup.
It’s a hard won victory. It’s struggle and blood and torment wrapped into one. But a good conclusion will leave readers feeling satisfied and hopefully leaving 5 star ratings all over the place.
That’s it, we’ve discussed all the major plot plots a successful novel should (usually) entail. These are just the briefest of glances at them, because they’re each more than a few paragraphs of explanation. But you’ve got the idea, right?
I use these plot points to outline my manuscripts. I decide what each of these events will entail, then I fill out the scenes that need to come before and after each point. And because I’m just a little humble, I call it the Ashy Point Method. Maybe I’ll go into detail for y’all. I’m sure it will be great.
But for now I’ll bid you adieu and happy writing!
Now, go forth and write!