October 20, 2014

The Best Advice I’ve Learned On Story Structure: Part 2 — Plot Point 1

A quick re-cap: Larry Brooks’ fantastic resource, STORY ENGINEERING, defines 6 Core Competencies for novelists and screenwriters. Those are:

  • Concept
  • Character
  • Theme
  • Structure (Setup)
  • Scene Execution
  • Writing Voice

Today, I’m going through two main definitions:

  • PP1
  • First Pinch Point


Here’s my version of the four-part story structure for novelists from Story Engineering. The difference to the three-act structure for screenwriters is that the four-part story structure breaks down the process in an easier format.

Part 1 – Setup

Hook, introduce hero, establish stakes, foreshadow events to come, and prepare for PP1.

Part 2 – Response

Reluctance to accept the mission and/or failure to succeed at the mission.

Part 3 – Attack

Context shift from midpoint (information in hero’s favour). The mission begins to unfold in their favour.

Part 4 – Resolution

No new information enters the story. Hero is the catalyst for the ending (hero beats demons / weaknesses).


It should occur at twenty to twenty-five per cent into the story. As Larry says, if you place it too early you risk the reader not caring about your protagonist because you haven’t established empathy for the in the Setup; place PP1 too late and it won’t matter what you’ve done because the reader will get tired/bored of reading a book with no clear direction.

Direction is the key word there. Plot Point one is when your story really gets going. PP1 is the moment the hero’s goal in the story alters, and so the quest going forward changes completely or continues to a different goal. PP1 is directly driven into action by the antagonistic force (a person, a group of people, the sun, an alien, an inner demon).

An example from Collateral (movie with Tom Cruise):

Plot Point 1: Up until now, the killer has been killing multiple people; however, none of these are PP1 (if only, the hint is that they occur too early). The defining moment is when the killer informs the protagonist that he must drive him from victim to victim if he is to survive. This changes the protagonist’s needs, thus the moment when the quest for the story suddenly changes: Plot Point 1.

Part 2 — Response

Part 2 is about the response to PP1 and so up until the midpoint, the character’s progress in their quest should be reluctance, failure, cowardice, etc. If the hero does succeed in getting what he wants, he needs to lose it again or realise he was on the wrong path. Either way, he must not actually get what he wants, but if you fool the reader into thinking that he has, then you actually up the stakes.

In Part 2, your hero should regroup, explore options, hide, run, seek information.

In the Da Vinci Code, Langdon (protagonist) and Sophie (major character) are reacting to PP1. their actions are all reaction, responding to what has been thrown at them.

First Pinch Point (occurs around 37.5% mark in your story)

It sounds complicated but I’ll try to wrap your head around it:

  • An example or reminder of the antagonistic force that isn’t filtered by the protagonist’s experience.
  • The reader sees for himself the antagonistic force in its direct form.
  • It can be simple, quick: one character reminding the other of what’s going on … a glimpse of an approaching storm and its potential havoc.
  • In the Da Vinci Code, Langdon’s search for answers leads him to the Knights Templar and their search for the Holy Grail.


And to close, I’m giving you those usual checklist questions from Larry Brooks’ Single Most Powerful Writing Tool You’ll Ever See That Fits On One Page from Story Engineering. (See the related links below for an earlier post I’ve created on the three-act structure.)

What is the first plot point in your story?

  • Is it located properly within the story sequence?
  • How does it change the hero’s agenda going forward?
  • What is the nature of the hero’s new need/quest?
  • What is at stake relative to meeting that need?
  • What opposes the hero in meeting that need?
  • What does the antagonistic force have at stake?
  • Why will the reader empathize with the hero at this point?
  • How does the hero respond to the antagonistic force?

Next part of “Story Structure” will be the from the Midpoint onwards.

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Rebecca Berto

Rebecca Berto

Rebecca Berto runs a site called "Novel Girl" where she offers freelance editing services, and dedicates articles to practical advice for writers, comprehensive book reviews, and author interviews. She is currently writing her first novel. To discuss a project, email her at rebeccaberto@hotmail.com, or find out more at http://rebeccaberto.com.

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