In his book Story Engineering, Larry Brooks offers six core competencies involved in writing an excellent novel. I’ve covered all six competencies in the past month or so, but I want to dig further in Structure, the fourth competency. I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m a structure junkie, and this is the part of the book I loved the most. For a quick review, the four parts of the structure are The Set-up, The Response, The Attack, and the Resolution. But within these four parts are some major milestones. I want to look in-depth at these pieces and pick them apart.
First let me identify the milestones. I’m copying this out of the book:
- The opening scene or sequence of your story;
- A hooking moment in the first twenty pages;
- A setup inciting incident (optional, as the inciting incident can be the First Plot Point)
- The First Plot Point, at approximately 20 to 25 percent through the story;
- The First Pinch Point at about the three-eights mark, or precisely in the middle of part 2;
- The context-shifting Midpoint, at precisely the middle of the story;
- A Second Pinch Point, at about the five-eights mark, or in the middle of Part 3;
- The Second Plot Point, at about 75 percent through the story;
- The final resolution scene or sequence
The first four bulleted milestones fall in Part 1. The First Plot Point falls at the end of Part 1 and leads directly into Part 2. The First Pinch Point fall in Part 2. The Midpoint falls right at the end of Part 2/beginning of Part 3. The Second Pinch Point and the Second Plot Point fall in Part 3, and the last bulleted point is in Part 4. Looks a bit convoluted all typed out like this, but it’s not too hard. I’m assuming you understand importance of the opening scenes and the hook (establish the hero in his normal life, identify the stakes, set the hook, and foreshadow the antagonistic force). The inciting incident is that moment when the hero’s ordinary life takes a serious jolt. He hasn’t had to make a decision yet–he’s just been interrupted.
Then comes the First Plot Point (FPP), the most important part of the entire book. Without this FPP, there is no story. Here’s Brooks’ definition: “the moment when something enters the story in a manner that affects and alters the hero’s status and plans and beliefs, forcing him to take action in response, and thus defining the contextual nature of the hero’s experience from that point forward, now with tangible stakes and obvious opposition in place.” The hero will have to DO something. He has to react. (Did you just have that A-Ha Moment when you realize that Part 2 is called The Response because the hero has to respond to the FPP? Yeah!)
(This hero’s choice does NOT constitute a First Plot Point. But she’s brought to you courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
The FPP introduces a conflict into the hero’s life that must be resolved, and there’s opposition to whichever choice he makes. “The First Plot Point is the moment when everything changes. Even if there have already been changes before this point. Meaning imparts change because meaning drives motivation and connects to stakes. Meaning is why people will risk their lives, kill people, or run into a corner shrieking like a little girl. Without it, a plot twist is just a twist, not a plot point.” When the hero’s life, dreams, word view and inner demons are stirred with a pointy stick, suddenly it’s all up for grabs.
There’s so much more I want to say about this First Plot Point, so I’ll cut off here at a decent length and continue the discussion next time. Any questions or comments so far?