The first plot point is the first major plot point or turning point in a novel. It’s the “point of no return” that forces the character away from the status quo. In today’s video I discuss how to write the first plot point. I also provide examples of four types of first plot points to help demonstrate the concepts.
- The first plot point marks the “point of no return.” After the first plot point, the character cannot return to the status quo.
- The first plot point should heighten, clarify, or define the stakes. In other words, the reader should now know what the character has to lose.
- The first plot point should occur between 20% and 25% into your novel.
Four Common First Plot Points
The first plot point comes in many shapes and sizes, but today I want to go over four common types of first plot points to help demonstrate how you might execute this element of story structure in your own novel.
1. The Character Becomes Trapped
If the character becomes physically trapped, either willingly (such as at a boarding school) or against their will (such as during a kidnapping or natural disaster), the character is inherently unable to return to the status quo.
2. The Character Becomes Obligated to do Something
When a character becomes obligated to do something (such as care for a child, or act in a play), the character cannot return to life before the first plot point. This forces the character to move forward. It’s important with this type of first plot point that there be some sort of inherent conflict in what the character is obligated to do.
3. The Character Receives an Ultimatum
If anyone with leverage in the character’s life (a villain, employer, partner, parent, etc.) gives an ultimatum, the character is then unable to return to the status quo because of the threat of losing something meaningful. An ultimatum can be as severe as “Bring me a million dollars or I will kill your wife” or as simple as “Bring up your grades in school or lose your football scholarship.”
4. The Character is Being Pursued
When a character realizes they are being pursued or discovers the identity of their pursuer, they are unable to move forward as if they are not being hunted, so this disrupts the status quo. The character could be pursued by the police, by criminals, or even by a ghost from a haunted painting.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of possible first plot points, but I hope the examples help to define a concept that can be difficult to grasp.
Questions to Ask About Your Novel
1. Is there a “point of no return” around the end of the first quarter?
Is your protagonist forced to move in a new direction without hope of easily returning to the way life was before the first plot point?
2. Are the stakes clarified or intensified at the first plot point?
The key to making the first plot point work is that the reader must have a sense of what the character has at stake. What could he/she lose in the central conflict? Without stakes, the conflict will not have enough strength to maintain the reader’s interest.
If you have any questions about writing the first plot point, please post it in the comments below.
Comment Question: Does your novel have a first plot point? Did it come naturally or did you have to brainstorm to figure it out?
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