We’re back on structural elements today and delving deeper into plot. Whheeeee!!
Most of the “keywords” I’ll mention in these plotting posts are from Larry Brooks’ series on story structure (i.e. 6 core competencies). That’s because his definitions and explanations make sense to me in a more concrete way than any other method of plotting I’ve tried.
It works for me. It won’t work for everyone. But if you’re a plotter and you haven’t read his series on NaNoWriMo, you really should.
Today we’re talking Pinch Points, of which your novel will have at least two. These are moments where your story’s main conflict is intentionally highlighted, when the reader gets to see the antagonist’s truly bad nature in a way that is separate from any biases your MC may have. In other words, even if your MC can’t see the bad guy for who he truly is, the reader will (even if it’s not until the second read-through.)
Totally clear, right?
On the roof of the Training Center the night before the Games, Katniss and Peeta discuss how the Gamekeepers manipulate the tributes and set them up to fail.
In the Great Hall, Harry’s scar hurts for the first time. He thinks it’s because he’s looking at Professor Snape. Really, it’s because of Quirrell’s turban facing him.
Frustrated and desperate for comfort, Tris goes to Erudite to visit her brother. When she returns, Eric is waiting for her. (It’s also arguable that when Eric forces Christina to hang over the Pit by her fingertips that this is a Pinch Point. I disagree because the aforementioned moment paints both Janine and Eric as antagonists in cahoots.)
Cinderella’s stepmother tells her she can go to the royal ball…if she finishes an impossible list of chores.
Katniss makes her first kill—the kid who snared and speared Rue—and becomes a murderer.
Harry’s broom gets cursed during Quittich. (He thinks it’s Snape--who’s really muttering a counter-curse. But right beside him is Quirrell and that pesky turban.)
POTTER, like other stories with suspenseful twists revealed at the end, is a little tricky where Pinch Points are concerned. Because instead of two pinch points, you really have four: The two red herrings you want the reader to fall for as the writer, and the two true sightings of the bad guy that the reader probably won’t realize are there until they go back and read the story for a second time.
If you’re working off a Four-Act plot structure, the Pinch Points happen during Act II and Act III—on either side of the midpoint. You may have other moments like this at other points during your book, where the reader sees the antagonistic force for themselves, but there will be at least two of them.
***Two questions I had when I first read about Pinch Points***
If we are in first person POV, how do we see the antagonist’s evil nature without the MC’s bias?
The reader can always have a different opinion from your main character. This is one of the reasons it’s really important for your MC to have flaws. If your MC is perfect, and we’re in his/her head, there’s not a lot of surprise happening with the Pinch Points. And she might be aware of who the bad guy is, he just might not fully perceive the scene the way a reader would should they go back and read for a second time.
What if you’re writing a romance or other such manuscript where the antagonist isn’t a character, but rather some sort of internal struggle?
There’s still got to be an antagonistic force. It might not be a person. It might be a character flaw. It might be a relationship conflict. But if your story doesn’t have conflict, if nothing opposes your main character, you don’t have a plot.