The first plot point in a story – what is it and where does it go?


Story structure – it is beginning, middle and an end as we were taught at school isn’t it?
Maybe if the middle is recognised as being half the length of the story with two distinct halves to it, you could say it is the middle of three acts. I am really talking about a story having four main parts.
A story created with the well-used structure we all see at play in movies we watch, whether we are aware of it or not, means that the essence of a plot can be captured in nine key sentences or at least short paragraphs. Around 20% to 25% of the way into a story (and no later or you are keeping the audience waiting too long) there is something called the first plot point. It is the moment when the protagonist changes their plans and responds to the antagonistic force in the plot – and at first, not very successfully. If you are watching a two-hour movie that starts at 9pm watch out at around 9.30pm, probably just after a commercial break, and you’ll see it.

Some examples:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerers (or Philosiphers) Stone – Harry boards the train to Hogwarts for the first time.

In the first Star Wars film “A New Hope” – Luke Skywalker finds his aunt and uncle burnt to death by Storm Troopers pursuing the droids he has bought and announces to Ben Kenobi that he wants to join the rebellion against the empire and become a Jedi like his father.

Ground Hog Day – The newsman Phil wakes up and re-experiences ground hog day for the first time.

Spiderman – Peter Parker realises he has spider superpowers for the first time and has to start coming to terms with them.

Back to the Future part 1 – Marty McFly, escaping from the Libyan terrorists, hits 88mph in the DeLorean and heads back in time for the first time.

Accidental Hero – Dustin Hoffman’s character Bernie Laplante, a no-good swindler, witnesses a plane crash and pulls numerous people out of the burning wreckage saving their lives. When the press goes hunting for the hero, someone else takes the credit.

Knowing – Nicolas Cage’s character John Koestler finally realises the significance of all the numbers on a mystery piece of paper taken from a time capsule buried in 1959. He already suspects they predict the date and numbers of deaths in accidents. When the date of a new predicted event arrives, he is stuck in a traffic accident and notices the latitude and longitude on his cars navigation system corresponds with the numbers he did not understand before on the sheet. When he leaves the car to enquire how many people died in the traffic accident, an airliner skims the road and crashes into a nearby field killing the predicted number of people. Now he is in no doubt what the numbers mean.


2 thoughts on “The first plot point in a story – what is it and where does it go?

  1. First off I would like to say great blog! I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.
    I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear your thoughts before writing.

    I’ve had difficulty clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts
    out. I do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first
    10 to 15 minutes are wasted just trying to figure out how
    to begin. Any suggestions or hints? Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There are a few tactics I have for getting productive quickly. The first I have in common with many authors. Identify one or two time periods in the day that will be your protected writing time free from other distractions. Consistently sit down and write at these times even if you don’t feel like it. This will train your brain to be in writing mode at these times. Some days are bad days and nothing you do will help. Accept that and sit down again in your next time slot.
    My time periods are 7.15am for an hour and 6pm for an hour on the train if I am working in London, or as close to that as I can get when working nearer to home.
    Another full time author I know writes from 8am until midday every day. Experiment and find the time periods that work for you.
    I also ensure I have a clear definition of my characters, settings and where the plot is going. If I get blocked it is usually because one of those things is lacking.
    I have been editing, paying attention to marketing and planning the next book for a year now. I’m struggling to get back into a writing pattern. I might try going back to hand writing in a notebook for a while as that is how I started my first story.
    Thank you for your interest.
    PS. A quick tweet especially for when you are finding it hard to get going 😉


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