Plot Points: What They Are, And How To Use Them Well – Jericho Writers
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Plot Points: What They Are, And How To Use Them Well

Plot Points: What They Are, And How To Use Them Well

 Engaging your readers is probably your most important job as a writer. You could be telling the most original, heartbreaking or funny tale ever written, but if your reader isn’t engaged, they will cast your characters and their journey aside.

Luckily we are able to break down storytelling into its simplest form – plot points – and once you have mastered these, everything else should fall neatly into place. 

 As writers, we know that every story needs a structure, and there are many variations of story structure out there, but it’s the plot points that will pull your readers in and keep them engaged until the final page.  

 This guide will talk you through the importance of plot points and how you can ensure your writing uses them well. I will walk you through the differences between each of them one at a time and show you how to use them. 

So let’s get started! 

What Is A Plot Point?

A plot point is a moment in your story that impacts the character or the direction of the story in some way. It’s a major turning point. It’s a door that once your character has walked through, there is no going back.

Plot points are what give your story momentum, moving the story forward and taking your reader with it.  

A plot point is defined as ‘a particularly significant part of a plot of a work of fiction.’ 

Even if your novel is quiet or literary, don’t ignore the importance of your structure. A plot point can be used as a device to shock your reader, to send them in a direction they didn’t see coming, or it can be a gentle nudge. Either way, it must form part of your character arc.  

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The Importance Of Using And Identifying Plot Points

I’m sure we’ve all read books that have felt a bit flat on the page or even a little disjointed. These are the ones you are likely to have put down and we don’t want that for your novel. By breaking your story down into its basic plot points you will be able to see where the action comes from; or doesn’t, in some cases.

You want to ensure that what is happening in a particular part of the story is more interesting than what has come before it. This gives your story momentum. 

Each plot point should bring more complication, more driving force, and get the reader invested in its resolution. And each plot point links your story, creating that narrative arc that is needed.

A novel that is connected with events that happen as a result of what has come before is one that your readers will love. Unconnected events will put your readers off.

But more importantly, events and major turning points in the story must all grow out of the character’s desire. This is where plot points differ from your overall plot.  

So now we know what a plot point is, let’s dive a little deeper. 

Plot Points Vs Plot

Plot points are key moments in your story that relate specifically to your protagonist and their individual journey. The plot, on the other hand, refers to a series of events that connect together to make your overall story. The plot also encompasses multiple characters, themes and subplots.  

Let’s have a look at an example of plot vs plot point. In Me Before You by JoJo Moyes we see the burgeoning relationship between Lou and Will – it is central to the plot. But the relationship itself is not a plot point.

Instead, if we take the moment when Lou moves in with her boyfriend and she quickly realises that she doesn’t love him, this is a plot point. This is Lou walking through that metaphorical closed door and taking her journey in a different direction. It takes her closer to Will, which in turn will lead to her awakening and embracing the opportunities that life might bring. This is a perfect example of great plot point events linking together and creating a character arc. 

Now let’s look closely at each plot point in turn. 

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The Key Plot Points In A Basic Story Structure

There are so many versions of basic story structure out there, but most are just a variation of the following, and all hold the same principles at their heart. Using a standard three-act structure, here I will break down each element that your story requires to engage and propel your readers.  

Hook

The hook is something that is unique to your story, your story world, and your characters, and is usually made clear to the reader in the opening scenes. A hook must grab their attention and make them want to read on.  

First Plot Point

The first major plot point, also known as the inciting incident, is the moment that throws your character’s status quo into disarray. It’s a calling or a threat that takes them down a path they wouldn’t otherwise have taken, and so ahead lies a rocky road of uncertainty and discovery for your character. 

First Pinch Point

At this point in your plot, your character will likely face a decision as a result of the first plot point, usually in the form of a dilemma that they will react to.

In most cases, your character will still be reacting to what is happening around them, but this plot point will lead you into act two where your character will learn more about themselves. It is also referred to as the awakening. 

Midpoint

This is one of the most crucial points for your character. The midpoint is where your character changes in such a way that there is no turning back for them. They stop reacting and start acting – they have agency. It is their moment of enlightenment. 

Final Pinch Point

Here, the stakes will be raised for your character as they respond to their newfound agency. Things likely won’t be going to plan for them but this pressure point will force them to form a new plan that will lead into your final act as we climb that insurmountable hill towards the climax. This is also known as their death experience, where they leave their old self behind. 

Final Plot Point

Also known as the ‘all is lost’ moment, the final plot point will show your character having tried and failed in their quest. But you couldn’t possibly leave your character there! This is their moment to transform. And so on we go into their final try – into the climax. 

Resolution

This is where you bring your story full circle – climax, realisation and resolution. Your character may have won, or they may have lost. But importantly, they will have changed and grown. To test this, simply ask yourself – if I took this character as they are now and put them back at the beginning of the story, would they do everything the same? You need the answer to that to be absolutely not! 

Plot points, as shown above, are the catalyst for change in your character. And this is exactly what your readers are here for. 

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Plot Point Examples: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

I’m going to use one of my all-time favourite novels to demonstrate these key plot points in action. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson falls more into literary fiction where plot points can be harder to recognise, but let’s give it a go… 

Hook

Shirley Jackson is a bit of a master and she hooks you from paragraph one with this amazing opening: 

My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead. 

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Are you hooked? We learn so much about this strange narrator in this paragraph and she leaves us with that killer, nonchalant final sentence. As readers, we need to know everything about this girl.   

In the opening chapters, we learn that Merricat (Mary’s nickname) lives with her sister, Constance, and her sick Uncle Julian. The rest of Merricat’s family were poisoned and Constance was tried for their murders but found innocent.

Everything about this story centres around the conflict in Merricat to keep herself and Constance hidden from the rest of the world. She wishes the locals dead and she would happily remain in the safety of their home and grounds for the rest of her life.  

First Plot Point

Two women visit the house for tea and suggest to Constance that she reenters the world.  

This is the inciting incident. Constance is open to this idea and everything that Merricat is trying to preserve is threatened.  

First Pinch Point

Their cousin Charles arrives at the house and Constance lets him in.  

Charles is a very real threat to Merricat and her world. Constance is drawn to him and he convinces her that she has done wrong by hiding the family away. Merricat asks him to leave, but he refuses. 

Midpoint

Merricat tips Charles’ smoking cigar into the trash can in his bedroom, setting the room on fire. 

This is the moment Merricat acts rather than reacts.  

Final Pinch Point

When the fire is extinguished, the locals attack the house, breaking everything inside.  

They surround the sisters and only stop their attack when it is announced that Uncle Julian has died. Merricat and Constance escape to the creek, where they finally acknowledge that Merricat poisoned their family. This is Merricat’s ‘all is lost’ moment. It looks like her actions have led to the destruction of the thing she is trying to preserve the most – her home and sanctuary.  

Final Plot Point

Merricat and Constance return to what is left of their home.  

They board up their home, entombing themselves in its burnt shell. The locals, in their guilt and fear, bring food each day and leave it at their door. 

Resolution

The sisters are safe and happy in their home having rejected the outside world. 

I am doing this novel a disservice by reducing the climax to one line because there is so much more nuance on the page, but ultimately Merricat has got what she wanted – she has isolated herself and Constance from the world. She no longer needs to leave home for groceries and face the abuse of the locals. She is alone with the sister she loves and who accepts her despite knowing what she has done. Her final line says it all: 

‘Oh Constance,’ I said, ‘we are so happy.’ 

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How To Use Plot Points In Your Writing

You will have read so many stories in your lifetime that it is likely you are already aware of how plot points are used, even if just subconsciously. All stories contain them, no matter how literary or experimental. But spotting them and understanding them is what will elevate your writing. 

As mentioned earlier, the most important thing about plot points is the relevance they have to your main character. They must be linked to your character’s motivations and desires, their wants and needs, and their overall change. Spend time thinking about this before you write anything. Ask yourself these questions: 

  • How will my protagonist change?  
  • What are they like now and what will they be like at the end? 
  • What will happen to my protagonist that will lead to that change? 
  • What are the antagonistic forces they will face and overcome? 

For a real deep dive into plot points and character arcs, I would definitely recommend Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc by Dara Marks. 

Without being too formulaic – because who wants to zap creativity? – plot points can act as a great template on which to write. They are signposts on your writing journey.

Figuring out your main plot points, and deciding when your plot points occur, at the outlining stage is definitely the easiest way.

I’m a pantser, but I will always hold these key moments and turning points in my head (or write them down if I am feeling wild!) as I am drafting.

As you’re writing, having some idea of what your next plot point will be can be really helpful, as it gives you something to build towards and can lessen the amount of writer’s block you experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is A Plot Point In A Story?

A plot point is a moment in your story that impacts your character or the direction of the story in some way. It links directly to your character arc, giving them conflict to overcome on their journey to enlightenment and change. 

What Is A Plot Point Example?

A plot point example from Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You, is when Lou moves in with her ‘safe’ boyfriend before realising that she doesn’t love him. This pushes her closer to Will who, in turn, shows her that life shouldn’t be ‘safe’ and that she should go out into the world and live it. 

How Many Plot Points Are In A Story?

The number of plot points in a story varies, but most agree that there are seven main plot points – hook, first plot point/inciting incident, first pinch point, midpoint, second pinch point, second plot point, and resolution. 

Plot Point Crafting

Plot points are key to engaging your readers. They are also key to achieving both narrative and character arcs. Think of each plot point as a bolt linking one part of your story to the next and you will take your readers on an unputdownable ride that they will strap themselves in for. 


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