Sanity Snippet #10

It’s time to determine our story’s first act break. But first, let’s summarize.

We are using the three-act structure to develop our novel. Why? Because all stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It is well-established the beginning (Act I) comprises 25% of our story; the middle (Act II) is 50%; and the ending (Act III) fills the remaining 25%.

Act I is the setup, where we introduce our protagonist in his ordinary world. It’s where we learn a lot about him and develop a favorable attachment. He has an external problem and is called to do something about it. Even though, at first, he is reluctant, a mentor convinces him to go forward.

We are now at the end of Act I, close to the 25% mark. This is where our protagonist commits to the journey. In other words, he reacts to the Call to Action/Inciting Incident that occurred around the 12% mark. The first plot point is the point of no return. Some say this is when our hero crosses his personal Rubicon (Dictionary: “a line that when crossed permits of no return and typically results in irrevocable commitment”). Everything changes. It is a personal turning point for the protagonist. Often, it involves a change in physical setting.

Here’s an example provided by K.M. Weiland’s website:
“It’s a Wonderful Life directed by Frank Capra (1947): Throughout the first quarter of the story, George Bailey’s plans for his life have progressed uninterrupted. Despite his various misadventures in Bedford Falls, he’s on the fast track to a European vacation and a college education. Then the first plot point hits, and his life is forever changed. When his father dies of a stroke, George’s plans are dashed. As in Pride & Prejudice, the standards that have already been established in the story are dramatically altered. This is no longer a story about a carefree young man freewheeling around town. From here on out, this is a story about a man forced to take responsibility by working at the Bailey Brothers’ Building & Loan.”

Notice, the protagonist thought his life was on one path (European vacation and on to college), then his father dies and the family business lands in our hero’s lap, an inescapable personal turning point. George’s life will never be the same.

What about you? What’s your novel’s first plot point? Take out pencil and paper and do some brainstorming.

Here’s more about the First Plot Point:

Photo by Pixabay on

The First Plot Point

The First Plot Point is the protagonist’s point of no return (aka, ‘crossing the threshold’). It is a major event that changes everything, especially for our protagonist. He leaves his ordinary life and steps solidly into the world of the antagonist. Our main character has no choice but to react to what’s just happened.

Often the story’s setting changes during this event. For example, Harry Potter boards a train at Kings Cross station and leaves his ordinary world behind. When he arrives at Hogwarts school, he enters the extraordinary world and his life changes forever.

The First Plot Point belongs at the end of Act I (around the 25% mark). It marks the end of the setup of our story. It serves as a passageway to Act II.

Have you watched the movie Taken? It’s the movie starring Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills, an ex-CIA agent. He is on the phone with his daughter, Kim, when she is kidnapped by Albanian sex traffickers. This is the First Plot Point. This is where everything changes. This is Bryan’s point of no return.

How about Mystic River? Sean, a homicide detective, discovers Jimmy’s daughter, Katie. She’s dead, murdered. Everything changes for all the key characters. Their normal world has ended.

Let’s look at a couple of well-known novels. In Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Nick’s wife, Amy, has gone missing. Is this serious? Or just her little treasure hunt? The First Plot Point is when the investigators discover Amy’s first clue. They trail along behind Nick.

Everyone has either read or heard of To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. The First Plot Point is when Atticus’ children learn he has agreed to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman, and the entire community is in an uproar.

In developing your First Plot Point it is imperative to create a causal relationship: A causes B, where A is your Inciting Incident and B is your First Plot Point. If you have trouble, consider working backwards. Say you know what event so entangles your Protagonist that he cannot walk away. Something solidly locked him into his point of no return. Then, ask yourself, what caused him to reach this point?

In my current work in progress, Lee’s point of no return is his decision to travel from his home in New Haven, Connecticut to Boaz, Alabama, his childhood stomping ground. The cause of Lee’s decision is his deceased wife’s diaries (and her parents request for Lee’s legal help). The diaries revelation is my Inciting Incident.

If you have a story idea in mind, engage yourself in a brainstorming exercise. First, list a few possibilities for your First Plot Point making sure your Protagonist is leaving his ordinary world and entering the extraordinary. Then, think of two or more Inciting Incidents that could cause each of these First Plot Points.

Your First Plot Point is a lot like your protagonist jumping off a cliff.

Photo by j.mt_photography on

Next week, we’ll look at the First Pinch Point.

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