Pinch Points

In the three-act structure, pinch points come in Act II. Recall, Act I comprises the first 25% of your novel; Act II 50%; and Act III, the remaining 25 percent. Thus, Act II is twice as long as either Act I or Act III. The long wasteland of Act II cries out for help to avoid losing the reader in boredom and reading exhaustion.

Here’s a visual to locate both pinch points:

Act I0 to 25%
Act IIA26 to 36%
First Pinch Point37%
Balance of Act IIA38 to 49%
Act IIB51 to 61%
Second Pinch Point62%
Balance of Act IIB63 to 75%
Act III76 to 100%

Of course, these are approximations. It would be impossible to perfectly hit these marks.

Pinch points from the real world

The Dictionary defines a pinch point as, “a place or point where congestion occurs or is likely to occur, especially on a road.” It gives an example: “the planners have suggestions to ease traffic jams at ninety-two pinch points.”

In a manufacturing setting, OSHA defines a pinch point as, “any point other than the point of operation at which it is possible for a part of the body to be caught between the moving parts of a press or .…”

At one end of the spectrum, a pinch point can simply be an unpleasant and time-delaying experience. At the opposite end, it can cause injury or death.

Back to the Novel world

A pinch point, as defined by Larry Brooks in Story Engineering, is “an example, or a reminder, of the nature and implications of the antagonistic force.”

A pinch point reveals to the reader some aspect of the antagonist’s power, something about his badness, which naturally reveals what our hero (our protagonist) is up against. Often, a pinch point reveals the hero’s weakness or flaw that will be a constant problem. Readers become more aware of the difficulty of the challenge the hero has taken on and what will happen to him if he cannot accomplish his goal.

Pinch points are minor turning points, directional signs, used as set-ups or foreshadowing for the next major plot point.

Examples from C.S. Laskin (

The Hunger Games: Katniss enters the game and is attacked, flees, and discovers Peeta has abandoned her and joined a group of killers.

Raiders of the Lost Ark: Indy thinks Marion is dead. He confronts Balloq and threatens to kill him. Stakes go higher.

Top Gun: Right after Maverick (Tom Cruise) screws up big-time on a practice flight, Iceman (Val Kilmer) confronts him in the locker room, pointing out how he’s risking lives.

From my current work-in-progress

First Pinch Point: Lee (protagonist) learns Ray (antagonist) has hired an ex-con to do ‘a job’ before Christmas.

Second Pinch Point: Lee discovers Ray’s safe contains a missing girl’s dog tag and high school class ring.

Never forget: all good novels thrive on conflict. Use pinch points to raise the stakes and keep your reader interested.

Photo by Alex Green on

Author: Richard L. Fricks

Former CPA, attorney, and lifelong wanderer. I'm now a full-time skeptic and part-time novelist. The rest of my time I spend biking, gardening, meditating, photographing, reading, writing, and encouraging others to adopt The Pencil Driven Life.

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