7 Tips for Writing Your Story's First Pinch Point
Chapter 6 “Plot Points” – Section 5“First Pinch Point”
“The greatest obstacle to being heroic is the doubt whether one may not be going to prove one's self a fool; the truest heroism is to resist the doubt; and the profoundest wisdom, to know when it ought to be resisted, and when it be obeyed.”
So you've spent the last few chapters of you novel working on your Rising Action. Within this plot-point, your protagonist has been aiming for a goal, meeting mostly failure and some success, growing in power, and becoming a bit more confident that they can achieve that goal. Now, it's time to lift a figurative hammer that your protagonist will see only long enough to know that it's being aimed at their skull, which will end up shattering all the confidence that they have gained. This lifting of the hammer is called the First Pinch Point.
Tip 1: Understand the purpose of the First Pinch Point.
In Star Wars – A New Hope, the First Pinch Point begins when Luke, Ben, R2, C3PO, Han and Chewy escape the Empire's attack on Tatooine, and try to make their way to Alderaan (Leia's home planet) only to find its charred remains and a star destroyer that kidnaps their ship. This event, perpetrated by the antagonists (the empire), creates a situation in which the heroes have to take action in order to survive. This antagonist-driven event of placing the heroes in such a situation that will eventually cause direct and tremendous conflict with the villains, is called the First Pinch Point. In your own First Pinch Point, find an action that your antagonist can perform that will either directly, indirectly, purposefully, or accidentally create a need for the protagonists to have to fight.
Tip 2: Make sure that the First Pinch Point is centered around the actions of the antagonist.
Up until now, all of the plot-points have centered around either your fictional world or the primary protagonist; but this event must be driven by your antagonistic force. Otherwise, the antagonist may become either a stagnant force of non-action that is not necessary for the hero to confront, or else an irrelevant plot-device that functions as a sort of literary “boss-fight” for your hero. Keep in mind that just because this is the first antagonist-centered plot point, it does not mean that this is the first time you are allowed to show your antagonist (this could be done at any earlier point in the story), or even that you now have to feature them fully if you want to retain mystery. However, what's left of the plot will be centered around the central conflict between the protagonist and antagonist, creating a necessity for the the antagonist to actually perform actions that will make them a relevant force in your story.
Tip 3: Prepare for and stage the upcoming conflict (the Midpoint) for your readers.
The Midpoint is the plot-point that comes after the First Pinch Point; it is the first major confrontation between the antagonist and the protagonist, as well as the point of your protagonist's greatest loss. In A New Hope, this is the point at which Ben separates from the other heroes, fights Vader, and is killed—the point of greatest loss for Luke. Your readers will need to recognize the significance of this plot point and that it signals a shift in the direction of the story. By lifting the metaphorical hammer over your hero's head and showing the threat that the antagonist poses, before actually showing the conflict, you are showing your readers the importance of the event like dramatic music, a change in lighting, or a shift in pacing would do in a movie. Such changes frame the scene and show that this event is not just another small conflict like those in the Rising Action, but rather something much more vital.
Tip 4: Show or prepare to show the extent of your antagonist's power.
When your hero comes into conflict with the antagonist, he/she will get a glimpse at the immensity of the challenge that they are going to face, in terms of the stakes of the conflict and the power of the villain. Luke begins to see these when he finds the obliterated remains of a planet that was destroyed by the Empire—revealing both the Empire's potential as a threat, as well as an idea of what will happen to other planets should he fail. In the Midpoint, the threat and power of the enemy are shown, in a bit more depth, when Vader shows his ability and cruelty when killing Ben; but it all starts in the First Pinch Point. In your own story, find a way to give your audience an idea of the scope of your antagonist's power. This can be done by showing the extent of a crime kingpin's level of influence and corruption in a city, the destructive powers of a super-villain, the charisma of a bully, the potential of a storm to blow over a house, etc... Doing so will reveal more about your plot, build audience anticipation, and build tension as the audience begins to doubt whether the protagonist can succeed in their quest.
Tip 5: Make sure that the protagonist feels compelled to face the confrontation.
Of course, a Pinch Point means nothing if you protagonist does not feel realistically compelled to face the antagonist. If, for example, the switch to escape the Empire's Death Star is in the hanger, along with the kidnapped princess, then there is no reason for the heroes to risk everything for an unnecessary conflict with a sword-wielding sorcerer. Instead, make sure that the heroes feel (either situationally, logically, or emotionally) that going into the upcoming confrontation is their best option. This can be in the form of a perceived opportunity, an ultimatum, some form of blackmail, clouds that are promising a snowstorm from which there is no escape, or anything else you can imagine. Remember that the protagonist should always take the path of least resistance or greatest reward, unless otherwise motivated.
Tip 6: Give the reader and the protagonist a feeling that they can succeed in the upcoming fight.
Even though dressing as a Stormtrooper and infiltrating the star destroyer in search of Leia feels like a suicide mission that Luke and his friends cannot succeed, they remain hopeful. They continue to make jokes and work hard, even though the First Pinch Point has set the odds against them. Your heroes do not have to be this optimistic, but make sure that their head is still held somewhat high during this plot point. Firstly, you want there to be an actual conflict, with both sides trying and creating a more dynamic form of storytelling than a lamb going to a slaughter. Secondly, the Midpoint is going to end in disaster, which will be dramatically empowered by violent suddenness as opposed to a gradual descent.
Tip 7: End on a miniature Turning Point, giving the protagonist a renewed sense of how they need to react.
Remember that the First Turning Point (at the end of Act I) was the point at which the hero decided how they would react to the changes, loss of balance, and pain in their life. Well, at the end of the chapter containing your First Pinch Point, give your hero a plan for how they will deal with the problem they've been given. Luke, for example, decides to take advantage of his ship being captured to rescue Leia while also trying to figure out a way to escape from the Empire. Ultimately, your protagonist's new goal should be to somehow resolve the threat posed against them, to escape the hammer looming over their skull. This plan does not have to involve conflict with the antagonist, though conflict is the ultimate destination whether your hero wills it or not.
Weekly Recommended Reading: Harry Potter by JK Rowling (Since it had redefined the children's and fantasy genres, it is already something you should read if you ever plan to write a book. However, the series relates to the topic of Pinch Points in how darkness and threats constantly looms over the protagonist, constantly forcing him to act heroically. The many antagonists' actions efficiently make Harry's actions the most logical steps for him, allowing for the story to move forward smoothly.)
Write-a-Novel Exercise 6.5
Write your First Pinch Point chapter, following the tips listed above. Click here to submit it to the gallery.
ANN - Chapter 9 - Our Terrifying Descent
Adding Character FLAWS
Story Arc Explained
How to Write Plot-Based Dialogue
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