What is a plot point?
A plot point is a pivotal moment in a story that significantly advances the plot and drives the narrative forward. These moments are crucial for the development of the story’s structure and progression. Plot points often involve significant events, decisions, or revelations that lead to a change in the direction of the story or the characters’ motivations.
There are typically two types of plot points:
- Major Plot Points: These are the significant turning points in a story that lead to major shifts in the narrative. They usually occur at key structural moments, such as the end of Act 1, the midpoint, and the end of Act 2 in a three-act structure. Major plot points often involve a character making a critical decision or facing a major challenge that propels the story in a new direction.
- Minor Plot Points: These are smaller but still important events or moments that move the story forward within a scene or chapter. They help to build tension, reveal information, or develop characters, ultimately contributing to the overall narrative progression.
How to Write the First Plot Point of Your Story
Great stories are made up of captivating plot points, with the first plot point, in particular, having the ability to hook a reader. The first plot point in a story serves as the point of no return for the main character. I is usually the first significant event of the story, and it launches the protagonist’s story arc. The consequences of the first plot point usually lead to the first pinch point, in which the protagonist faces intense pressure as a result of the first plot point.
1. Time and Space
In three-act structure, the placement of plot points is critical, and the unusual positioning of this first major turning point can have an adverse ripple effect on the rest of the story structure. If the first key event comes too late, your first act can feel tedious. If it comes too early, the second act can feel bloated while the first act seems rushed. Typically, when structuring your novel, you’ll want to ensure that the first major plot point happens around a quarter of the way through the story.
2. Emotional stakes
The first plot point is the moment that everything changes for your character. This is when they go beyond their comfort zone. It’s an inciting incident that pushes them toward the middle of the story and beyond. In Star Wars, for instance, Luke Skywalker’s discovery that his aunt and uncle has been murdered provides him with an emotional reason to accompany Obi-Wan to Alderaan.
Use the first plot point to change your character’s surroundings. Your first plot point provides an opportunity to take your protagonist to new surroundings. Sometimes this means sending them to a new world, while other times it means changing the characters who surround them. Either way, the first plot point is the moment that your protagonist leaves the everyday world laid out in the first chapter. In the Harry Potter series, Harry’s discovery that he is a wizard impels him toward Hogwarts to begin his new life of magic.
Ensure that the consequences of refusal are dire. Since the first plot point represents the point of no return, your character should have a strong reason to set out on their adventure. That means that the consequences for refusal should be dire—or even fatal.
Examples of Plot Points in Literature, Film, and Television:
- In J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” the revelation that Harry is a wizard and has been accepted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry marks a major plot point that sets the story in motion.
- In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” the midpoint plot point is the climactic confrontation between Gatsby, Tom, and Daisy at the Plaza Hotel, which leads to a turning point in the characters’ relationships.
- In “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope,” the destruction of Alderaan by the Death Star serves as a major plot point that raises the stakes and drives the main characters to take action.
- In “The Dark Knight,” the Joker’s detonation of a hospital marks a pivotal minor plot point that escalates the chaos and danger in Gotham City.
- In “Breaking Bad,” the end of Season 4’s “Crawl Space” episode, where Walter White’s realization of his imminent danger and the collapse of his life’s work becomes a powerful major plot point leading into the season finale.
- In “Stranger Things,” the discovery that Will is still alive in the Upside Down at the end of Season 1’s finale serves as a major cliffhanger plot point that propels the story into the next season.
Overall, plot points are essential tools for storytellers to create tension, suspense, and momentum in their narratives, engaging the audience and keeping them invested in the story’s outcome.
Major plot points are pivotal moments in a story that often follow specific patterns depending on the genre and subgenre of the story. While the specific elements may vary, here’s a general breakdown of common elements for major plot points in different genres:
- Introduction of the main conflict or villain
- Protagonist’s decision to take action against the antagonist
- Gathering of resources or allies for the upcoming battle
- Climactic showdown or confrontation with the antagonist
- Revelation of a crucial clue or information
- Escalation of the threat or danger
- Protagonist’s realization of the true nature of the conflict
- Discovery of the antagonist’s identity or motive
- Introduction of a significant obstacle to the main characters’ relationship
- Climactic declaration of love or emotional confrontation
- A choice that impacts the relationship’s future
- Resolution of the romantic conflict
- Unveiling of a hidden magical element or artifact
- Protagonist’s acceptance of their role in a larger magical world
- Confrontation with a supernatural enemy or force
- Resolution of the fantasy conflict
- Introduction of a new technological advancement or discovery
- Exploration of the ethical implications of the science fiction element
- Protagonist’s decision to use technology for a specific purpose
- Resolution of the technological conflict
- Revelation of a deep family secret or personal truth
- Protagonist’s emotional breaking point or crisis
- Decision to confront personal demons or address past traumas
- Resolution of the emotional conflict and character growth
Minor plot points, on the other hand, serve to build upon the story’s overall development and contribute to the narrative’s progression. While they may vary in their specifics, here’s a general breakdown of common elements for minor plot points:
- Interaction with a secondary character that influences the protagonist’s growth
- A moment of introspection or self-discovery
- The experience of a small victory or setback that shapes the character’s journey
- Foreshadowing of future conflicts or events
- Introduction of a small obstacle or challenge
- Building of interpersonal conflicts between characters
- Exploration of a new setting or environment
- Introduction of a secondary storyline or subplot
- Revelation of additional information about the story’s world or history
- An emotional scene or moment that deepens the audience’s connection to the characters
- A moment of vulnerability or raw honesty between characters
- A reflection on the story’s central themes or motifs
It’s important to note that these elements are not set in stone and can vary widely based on the specific story and author’s creative choices. However, understanding these common elements can provide writers with a solid foundation for crafting major and minor plot points that effectively drive the narrative forward and engage the audience.
what’s the difference between plot point and plot beat?
Plot points and plot beats are both narrative elements that contribute to the structure and progression of a story, but they serve slightly different purposes.
Plot Points: Plot points are major events or turning points in a story that significantly impact the overall narrative trajectory. These points often mark shifts in the story’s direction, reveal new information, or lead to crucial character decisions. Plot points are essential in propelling the story forward and driving character development. They typically include elements like the inciting incident, major conflicts, climax, and resolution. Plot points are essential landmarks in the story’s structure and provide a roadmap for the plot’s progression.
Plot Beats: Plot beats, on the other hand, are smaller units of narrative that make up the larger plot points. They are moments within scenes or sequences that contribute to the development of characters, relationships, conflicts, and themes. Plot beats can include actions, decisions, revelations, conflicts, and resolutions that occur throughout the story. They help shape the pacing and rhythm of the narrative by creating a series of moments that keep the story engaging and moving forward.
In summary, plot points are major milestones that shape the overall structure of the story, while plot beats are the smaller components that make up the scenes and sequences, adding depth and texture to the narrative. Both plot points and plot beats work together to create a cohesive and engaging story
is the first plot point the same as the inciting incident?
No, the Inciting Incident is an event that upsets the balance of your protagonist’s world, gives rise to their object/s of desire, and foreshadows the story’s climax. The First Plot Point is the moment your protagonist commits to the journey ahead, despite the obstacles they’ll have to face along the way.
While they are both significant events in a story’s structure, they occur at different points in the narrative and serve different purposes.
Inciting Incident: The inciting incident is the event that sets the main plot in motion. It is the moment that disrupts the protagonist’s ordinary world and introduces the central conflict of the story. The inciting incident usually occurs early in the story, often in the first few chapters or scenes. It is the event that grabs the reader’s attention and makes them invested in the story’s outcome.
First Plot Point: The first major plot point comes after the inciting incident. It typically occurs around the end of the first act or the beginning of the second act of a three-act structure. The first plot point is a significant event that marks a major shift in the story. It forces the protagonist to make a decision or take action that propels them into a new direction, setting the stage for the main conflict and the rest of the narrative.