Story Structure: The First Pinch Point

Photo by eko tavkhelidze on Unsplash

Welcome back! Last week, we talked about the Reaction. Today, we’re breaking down the First Pinch Point as we head deeper into the Second Act.

Let’s get into this!

Where Does the First Pinch Point Belong?

The First Pinch Point falls at approximately the 37% mark of your story, right after the Reaction ends. It’s a short, relatively simple beat.

What is the First Pinch Point?

The First Pinch Point is a reminder of the villain’s/antagonistic force’s power and presence in the story. It raises the stakes and shows how unprepared the protagonist still is. It also creates tension and stops the story from dragging during its weighty Second Act.

The First Pinch Point is a Reminder

The protagonist entered an exciting new world not long ago. They and the reader are caught up in the excitement/adventure of it, so the reality of the villain/antagonistic force might have slipped their minds slightly.

The First Pinch Point serves to rectify that. It brings the protagonist back down to earth and shows how unequipped they are to handle this conflict (don’t worry — they’ll be prepared eventually).

The First Pinch Point might manifest as the villain/antagonistic force closing in on the protagonist and forcing them to run again, or it might simply be a showcase of power.

Generally, it can be anything that helps the protagonist and reader remember what/who they’re up against.

(SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE AHEAD)

This movie has two Pinch Points near the beginning of the Second Act, one small and one big. The small one comes when Luke escapes Tatooine on the Millennium Falcon while the ship is being attacked by the Empire. This moment serves to underline that Luke is being chased by a force that’s far more powerful than he is.

The other Pinch Point comes when the Death Star destroys Alderaan. This Pinch is more impactful because it showcases the ruthlessness of the Empire as well as its total dominance over the galaxy.

(END SPOILERS)

Whatever your First Pinch Point is, use it to remind the reader what the protagonist is up against — be it a literal villain, a metaphorical one, or something else.

The First Pinch Point is Stakes

The First Pinch Point serves to raise the stakes. Like we discussed above, it reminds the protagonist of what/who they’re facing and the consequences of losing. The First Pinch Point gives the protagonist a clear goal: avoid the villain/antagonistic force.

As I said, the protagonist is in no way ready to engage in the main conflict in a meaningful way. Mostly, they’re reacting to what’s happening to them, rather than taking action against it.

The time from the First Plot Point to the Midpoint involves the protagonist trying to avoid the main conflict, even as they begin to grow into a person who can and will face it.

(SPOILERS FOR TANGLED AHEAD)

The First Pinch Point in Tangled occurs when the palace guards come to the Snuggly Duckling in search of Flynn, with the Stabbington brothers in tow. Rapunzel and Flynn manage to escape through a secret passage, but the guards give chase.

This moment showcases that neither Flynn nor Rapunzel are at their Midpoints yet. They’re both still unwilling to confront their fears and demons. Rapunzel is learning to be more confident, but she’s still not ready to stand up to Mother Gothel. Flynn is slowly becoming a better man and figuring out that it’s okay to be himself, but he’s not quite ready for his Midpoint either.

(END SPOILERS)

Use your First Pinch Point to raise the stakes and show where your characters are in their arcs. They may have changed since the beginning, but they still have growing to do.

The First Pinch Point is Tension

The First Pinch Point serves to, well, pinch. It gives the readers the feeling that the bad guy/main conflict is closing in on the protagonist. It gives a sneak peek at the inevitable confrontation at the climax and creates a sense that is time running out, which keeps the reader hooked.

(SPOILERS FOR TREASURE PLANET AHEAD)

This movie’s First Pinch Point occurs when the ship encounters a black hole. Jim is made responsible for securing the crew’s safety lines, but Mr. Scroop takes revenge on the first mate by secretly cutting his line and causing his death.

This moment ramps up the tension significantly because it reminds us that the ship has been infiltrated by pirates who care nothing for the lives of our main characters. It also brings us closer to an inevitable mutiny.

In addition, this Pinch, when coupled with the moment where Jim stops Silver from falling into the black hole, makes us dread the coming mutiny because it will put Jim and Silver at odds with each other. The movie allowed us to see their relationship grow and made us care about it, so we know how crushed Jim will be when Silver betrays him.

All this works together to make us very tense going forward.

(END SPOILERS)

Tension keeps readers turning pages. Use your First Pinch Point to put them on the edge of their seats.

So… What is the First Pinch Point?

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