Monday, November 18

Dan Wells' Seven Point Story Structure: The Second Plot Turn And Pinch Points

Dan Wells' Seven Point Story Structure: The Second Plot Turn And Pinch Points


This post continues my series on story structure. Here are links to the earlier posts:


The First Plot Point/The First Plot Turn (25%)


Whatever you call it, the events at the end of the first quarter of the story prepare the reader for the events at the midpoint.

In the hero's journey, this--the first plot turn--is the place where the hero enters the Special World, it's where he crosses the first threshold.

Two things happen:

a. The hero accepts the quest, and
b. The hero is locked into the quest.

Let's take these one at a time.

a. The hero accepts the quest


This doesn't have to happen at exactly the 25% mark, it can happen at any time in the first act. But it needs to be clear that the hero is entering the Special World of Act Two of their own free will. It must be the hero's choice. 

This acceptance doesn't have to be long and involved. It can be a subtle as a head nod. But the hero must intentionally take up the quest. It's a choice. 

Even if the villain is blackmailing her by threatening all she holds dear, still, the hero has to be shown accepting the quest. She sees the dangers, she knows what taking up this quest could cost her--she knows the stakes--yet she accepts. She commits herself to a course of action.

b. The hero is locked into the adventure


Something happens to "lock in" the hero. For example, at the 25% mark, at the tail end of Act One, Neo (The Matrix) is presented with a choice between the red pill and the blue pill. If he takes the blue pill he'll go back to his regular life, his ordinary existence. He will turn aside from the Special World of the adventure. 

If, on the other hand, Neo takes the red pill then his life will be irreversibly transformed as he is ushered into the true world, the world of the adventure, the world where the scales will, finally, be removed from his eyes and he will, at long last, discover the answer to the question: What is The Matrix?

I think The Matrix is one of the clearest examples of the hero being locked in to their quest, but once you start looking for it you'll see it in practically every movie you watch. 

The Second Plot Turn (75% to 95%)


I think of the second point turn as the third act twist

Here's how Dan Wells explains it: At the midpoint, the hero resolved to do something. At the resolution/climax the hero does what he resolved to do. This point, the second plot turn, is where the hero gets the last piece of the puzzle to finish the quest.

The hero realizes "he has the power" or "the power is within him" or some such variant. 

As Dan Wells says, when you see this sentiment in an outline, or just say it aloud, the concept seems cornball to the extreme, but it's powerful; that's why it's used so often. That said, Dan Wells reassures us that all genre novel outlines sound a bit silly, so don't let that hold you back.

In The Matrix Trinity tells Neo "I love you. Now get up!" He gets up  and wipes the floor with the agents of the matrix. Why? Because he's the one. He has the power within him.

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Harry is the boy who lived. He's the boy who could find the philosopher's stone because he was pure of heart. He didn't want to use the stone, only to find it. He had the ability/power within him.

In Star Wars IV: A New Hope Luke is told to use the force, that the power is within him.

Pinch Points


Pinch points add zest to your story and help keep it on track. 

Pinch points are where we see, first-hand, the antagonistic force and the dastardly things it is capable of. Pinch points apply pressure on the hero. They remind us of the central conflict of the story. They help push the hero into action.

There are two pinch points. The first is halfway through the first part of the second act and the second is positioned halfway through the second part of the second act. (see: Using Pinch Points To Increase Narrative Drive. That article contains an illustration of where pinch points fall in the three act structure.)

Note: Though both pinch points have the same function, since the stakes are constantly increasing, your second pinch point is going to give the hero a 'pinch' that's more like a punch.

If you use a three act structure in your stories then you'll know that the middle of the Second Act can seem to stretch out before you like the great swampy middle of despair. Pinch points can go a long way to keeping the story on track and reminding your readers what it's all about, who the big bad is, and what the hero is fighting for.

Examples of pinch points


These examples are courtesy of Dan Wells:

Loss of mentor


For instance, Gandalf's apparent death in The Fellowship of the Ring. I re-watched this movie last night; "You ... shall not ... pass!" and then: "Run you fools!" Fabulous scene. 
This was a vivid pinch point. It showed us the power of the Dark by way of the formidable beasts of power which lived it in its depths. If a beast of the depths could claim the most powerful of them, Gandalf, then what chance did the rest of the fellowship have? A great way of showing the reader/watcher the strength of the opposition.

Loss of everything


In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone the second pinch is a sequence of events. It begins when the hero, Harry, and his two friends, Ron and  Hermione, go into the dungeon and are presented with a series of trials. The last trial takes Ron and Hermione away and Harry is forced to continue on, alone.

*  *  *  *

That's it! Or at least, that's the nuts and bolts of Dan Wells' 7-point system. He has a lot more to say in the videos, especially about how this system applies to romance stories. And a lot, lot, more. Highly recommended.

Till next time!

Photo credit: "beaver moon" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

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