Story Structure: Writing the First Plot Point [Novel Boot Camp #5]

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.

Video Highlights

  • 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?

Workshop #1 critiques will be posted later today and every day this week. If you didn’t get a chance to submit last week, the submission form is still open!

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10 thoughts on “Story Structure: Writing the First Plot Point [Novel Boot Camp #5]

  1. Brett Mumford says:

    Now that was interesting. I could see the points you made as soon as you spoke them, but I had not given it any conscious thought previously. As it turns out, I had built in a plot point about the 25 to 30% way though. Though after listening to you, I can see that I will need to emphasize some aspects of the story at that point to make the point clearer. Thanks.

  2. Suzy Ince says:

    It came naturally. I didn’t even realize is done it. It might need to be enhanced a bit but now that I know what it is in going to re read from there beginning to see if I have the ah ha moment.
    Thanks for these work shops, they’re awesome.

  3. Ellen says:

    My novel has a first plot point that came naturally as I wrote it. I did plan the scenes and chapters. I will be sure to check it over again after reviewing the video.
    Thank you for the tips for this and for the opening of the first chapter. I will revisit it and fix it and the beginnings of every chapter if needed.

  4. Pam Portland (@TruckingWriter) says:

    Argh! I’m not sure what I want my first plot point to be. I feel like I’m driving from New York to Los Angeles. I know I have to pick the cities where I’m going to stop to sleep, but I’m not sure in which direction I want to start. I feel like my plot points are similar. I could drive west and then south, or south then west. I’m not sure if I want my plot points to unfold chronologically or emotionally. Thoughts and feedback from other writers would be appreciated.

    • Brett Mumford says:

      Have you considered having the plot point revolve around the character choosing to travel by side roads, or deciding that only the highway is their path. Either decision can be a result of some epiphany or culmination of influences. Hope that helps.

      • Pam Portland (@TruckingWriter) says:

        Bjorn, my story revolves around a single woman who sets a travel goal for herself: to see all fifty states. But as she nears her goal, she finds the rest of her life unravelling. Ultimately she’ll have to decide if reaching her goal is worth the other sacrifices she has made along the way.

  5. Nicole L Ochoa says:

    I recently learned about Plot Points, as in last week. Embarrassing, and I call myself a writer. 🙂 I am a numbers person so I appreciate the 25% point. After reviewing a couple of blogs I compiled a chart to help me map out my novel, which has already been written…I also like to do things backwards.

    So, based on my chart, here’s what I discovered through Ellen’s questions:

    1. Goals & Stakes: 12% (by page 33ish) or 12,000 words
    Low and behold, they were there. It had been established that Sarah had to let go of her past to be able to move on with her life. The problem is, that by letting go of the past, she is letting go of Jeremy, her boyfriend who died unexpectedly. At this point she is getting rid of the t-shirt of his that she has slept in since he disappeared.

    2. First Plot Point: 25% (by page 69ish) or 25,000 words
    I opened up my project to this page and found Sarah had just been asked out on a blind date, one she had been avoiding. Because of her past with Jeremy she has avoided this set-up for some time, but her friend told her brother to call anyway. She must say yes, otherwise she will hurt her friend’s feelings.

    Here’s the link to the chart I am working with:

  6. Bjorn Schievers says:

    Ellen Brock: Does your novel have a first plot point? Did it come naturally or did you have to brainstorm to figure it out?

    I structured my novel and had to figure out which part was the actual first plot point.

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