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Writing

How to Use Plot Points to Write a Compelling Story

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 5 min read

The moment a reader is most enraptured by a story tends to be the moment when the protagonist is in great danger, must make a critical decision, or feels like all hope is lost. These indelible moments are called plot points. Plot points move your story from beginning to end and keep readers engaged with the arc of your protagonist.

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What Are Plot Points?

Plot points are major events in a story that have a meaningful impact on the plot as a whole. In general, plot points propel the narrative in a new direction and serve as a catalyst for character development. Thus, plot points can often be thought of as exciting narrative moments in fiction writing or in screenwriting that represent major turning points for your main characters.

Plot Points vs. Plot

Plot points specifically refer to singular key events in a story, whereas plot refers to a series of events in a narrative that, when connected, comprise the totality of what happens in the story. Not everything that happens in a plot is considered a plot point. For instance, there may be subplots or other events that serve to clarify the story’s trajectory or your character’s back story. These are part of the story’s plot but are not considered major plot points since they do not lead the narrative in a new direction or fundamentally alter the character arc of your protagonist.

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7 Plot Points for Basic Story Structure

In fiction writing, plot points can serve as a map for basic plot structure. Many classic stories follow a similar basic structure made up of seven key plot points:

  1. Hook: A hook is a compelling event, usually in the first chapter, that captivates the reader and encourages them to keep reading. This is usually the inciting incident of your story, in which the status quo of your main character is disrupted for the first time.
  2. First plot point: The first plot point occurs in the first act (usually around a quarter or a third of the way through the story) and propels the main character into the central conflict of the story as they break from the status quo. This is usually the first significant event of the story and serves as a catalyst for the sequence of events to come. The first plot point is also known as the point of no return.
  3. First pinch point: The first pinch point occurs in the middle of the story and is a moment where the protagonist faces intense pressure as a result of the first plot point. Usually, the first pinch point forces the character into a critical decision, the consequences of which will reverberate throughout the rest of the story.
  4. Midpoint: The midpoint is the moment in the middle of a story where the protagonist makes the decision to take action. This usually involves them forming a new goal as a result of newfound confidence, resolve, or the provocation of an antagonist.
  5. Final pinch point: In the later part of the second act, the character experiences another pressure point related to the main conflict. This could be a battle with the main antagonist or simply a continuation of the stakes of the first pinch point. It usually results in the formation of a new plan that propels the character out of act two and into the third act.
  6. Final plot point: The final plot point (also known as the second plot point) finds your protagonist at their low point, when it seems like all hope is lost. The plan has failed, and it seems like the bad guys have won. This leads your character directly into the climax and resolution.
  7. Resolution: The resolution results in the completion of your story arc, as your protagonist makes a final choice that reveals something profound about their character and brings the narrative to a satisfying conclusion.

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How to Use Plot Points in Your Writing

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The Pulitzer Prize winner teaches you everything he's learned across 26 video lessons on dramatic writing.

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Whether you’re a fiction writer working on a novel or a screenwriter trying to crack a feature film, understanding plot points can help make your story tighter, richer, and more compelling. Here are some tips for using plot points in your writing:

  1. Choose plot points that explain character motivation and desire. The most effective plot points are motivated by your character’s wants and desires. In Star Wars, for instance, Luke’s discovery that his aunt and uncle has been murdered provides him with an emotional reason to accompany Obi-Wan to Alderaan. The best plot points move the story forward and provide an emotional foundation to justify your main character’s current and future decision-making.
  2. Make sure your plot points are points of no return. Having a plot point that functions as a point of no return ensures narrative momentum by forcing the protagonist into a new or unforseen direction. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first point of no return comes when Harry boards the Hogwarts Express, which will lead him to his new life of wizarding and magic. Though not every plot point needs to be a point of no return, having a handful will make sure your story has character impetus and energy pushing it forward.
  3. Build plot points around key structural intervals. Placing plot points at the key structural intervals of your writing—such as the end of a chapter—will keep your reader engaged and interested. Since plot points tend to introduce new problems or leave your character at a critical juncture, their placement at the end of a chapter can increase the likelihood that the reader will turn the page to find out what happens next.
  4. Create a roadmap by outlining. Before you begin writing, it’s helpful to create an outline of your key plot points to serve as a roadmap. Outlining can help you see where your critical plot moments rest in a traditional three act structure. Clearly distilling your most essential plot elements into an outline can help you build up scenes that are weak or eliminate unnecessary filler.

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