How to get the biggest bang for your plot point.

The inciting incident, the first plot point, the midpoint, the second turning point, the climax – these scenes are the skeleton of your novel. Everything rests on these. Or I guess I should say hangs.

  • First turning point: At the end of Act I.
  • Midpoint: Middle of Act II or smack dab in the center of your novel.
  • Second turning point: At the end of Act II.

These scenes seem to be pretty important. But how do we make sure they are doing what they are supposed to do. And what the heck are they supposed to do?

Here’s what we know about them in a shallow, superficial kind of way:

  • After a plot point, the game should change.
  • The story heads in a new direction.
  • We should learn new information, secrets revealed, or a disaster happens – something that moves the story forward.
  • The main character, faced with a decision, moves forward and eventually deals with the consequences of her choice.
  • The reader should get excited, grip the book tighter, and start flipping pages – reading every word, of course.
  • The event should be big enough that if looking for it the reader can easily pick it out, but written well enough and blended with previous scenes so that it doesn’t stick out. Total contradiction, I know.
  • As Donald Maass says – go BIG!

That covers the basics. I’m sure you could add to it. But let’s dig deeper. These scenes hold incredible power in your book and are one of the reasons readers either fall in love or walk away saying, “Eh.”

Digging into the dark, muddy waters of plot points.

  • It’s not just about the action/event. It’s about what’s going on inside the head and heart of your character – technically, the internal arc.
  • Show the main character making a decision, but don’t just have her make it and move on.
  • Show the doubts. Your character should be conflicted.
  • Show the emotion and rationale behind the decision.
  • Show the risk she’s taking and the reason she makes the decision despite these risks.
  • In the preceding scenes, show the main character experiencing life in a way that when she/he makes the big decision, despite the risks, the reader understands. This will make it believable.
  • During the plot point, show the internal thoughts.
  • Show the visceral response using strong verbs and nouns and the five senses.
  • Use original, specific phrasing. Get rid of the blah.

More than anything you want your reader to connect with your character during these plot points. What I’m trying to say is it’s all about believable emotion.

Use and abuse these plot points, the scenes preceding them, and the scenes after them to endear your reader to your character. Go for it!

So, what’d I miss? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? (Okay, so you know what decade I was in high school. Big deal.)


31 Responses to How to get the biggest bang for your plot point.

  1. Jessica Bell February 9, 2011 at 11:31 am #

    What a wonderful post! I find it makes it easier to control a plot if you look at your story in FOUR parts. End of part one, first turning point, End of part two, cliffhanger to second turning point. End of part three, second turning point, Part four, denouement. Helps me pace things out a little better. For me! That’s just for me. Not saying it’ll work for everyone, though :o)

  2. Andrea February 9, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    I find that 4-part way of looking at the story helpful too. But one of the hard things is knowing how much time to spend on each part (i.e. they are not all the same in terms of length in the story).

    Laura, I think emotion is crucial. If I’m not feeling along with the main character, it is so much easier to put a book down.

    • Laura February 9, 2011 at 12:00 pm #

      Andrea – Structure is nothing if we don’t use it to show emotion. 🙂

      Jessica – I split a story up into 4 parts too, exactly the way you do. It helps a lot because there is a definite difference between the two parts of Act II.

  3. Heather Sunseri February 9, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

    This is an excellent post, Laura! The way you tell it made me think about the plot points in a whole different way. Thanks!!! Perfect timing for me, too.

  4. Meredith February 9, 2011 at 1:13 pm #

    What an awesome post! Thank you so much for this. It’s getting bookmarked for sure. 🙂

  5. Stina Lindenblatt February 9, 2011 at 1:22 pm #

    Great post as aways, Laura. LOL Apparently we were on the same wave length with our blog posts: emotions. 🙂

    • Laura February 9, 2011 at 1:31 pm #

      Heather – Thanks. I’ve been thinking about plot points in a whole different way too!

      Meredith – Thanks! It’s just me trying to figure stuff out.

      Stina – We hear it over and over again. A good story is about emotion. So I’ve been really working on that in my own writing.

  6. Angela Felsted February 9, 2011 at 2:09 pm #

    Internal conflict, got it, So, what I really need is to come over to your blog whenever my mind refuses to get organized because you so are!

  7. Susan Kaye Quinn February 9, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

    Motivating a character (emotional motivation, especially) through these turning points is definitely key! I’m trying to do that with one today… 🙂

  8. Susan R. Mills February 9, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    Great info here! I’m working on a plot point right now.

    • Laura February 9, 2011 at 4:07 pm #

      Susan – I feel like I’m always working on a plot point or building up to one!

      Susan Q. – I’ve been really focusing on the emotion through my big scenes. As if you couldn’t tell. 🙂

      Angela – Especially in books I end up loving – the internal conflict is strong.

  9. Patti Nielson February 9, 2011 at 4:17 pm #

    What’s going on inside the head and heart of your character – that’s what I struggle with the most. I think I need to do some more research on that.

    Great points on plot.

  10. Jackee February 9, 2011 at 5:38 pm #

    Laura, these are wonderful!! One of the most straight forward posts I’ve ever seen on plotting. I love it and am stealing liberally. Thanks!!

    P.S. I was in high school that decade too. LOL!

  11. T. Anne February 9, 2011 at 9:26 pm #

    In my novels the internal arc is pivotal and I’m wondering if I put too much leverage on it. I love how you break things down easily for me to catch at a glance. I hope you don’t mind, I’d love to take notes!

  12. Tana Adams February 9, 2011 at 9:27 pm #

    Oops forgot to sign in with my new name. *sigh* I must get used to this.

  13. Paul Greci February 10, 2011 at 2:08 am #

    Great post, Laura!
    Like you said: “Your character should be conflicted.” Yes, no easy decisions.

  14. Julie Musil February 10, 2011 at 3:07 am #

    “Shake it baby, now” I was right there with you during Bueller!

    Excellent plot points, Laura. This is why I have to outline, at least loosely, before I begin. I plan a version of these events ahead of time, then work my way between them. I’m still working on a system, though.

  15. Susan Sipal February 10, 2011 at 3:19 am #

    Laura, I have bookmarked this page because you’ve hit the essence of what I need to constantly remember — the emotional turmoil. I’m such a plot-driven writer, and sometimes I forget to hit the emotion hard, especially at these turning points.

    Thanks for a great post!

  16. Jennifer Lane February 10, 2011 at 3:21 am #

    Hi Laura,
    I love the advice to make the plot point big but seamless. Sounds like a challenge, and we writers love challenges!

  17. angela ackerman February 10, 2011 at 4:20 am #

    Very nice breakdown!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  18. Lydia K February 10, 2011 at 1:01 pm #

    As usual, great, great stuff! I’d tell a newbie writer/plotter to come here for excellent plot advice!

  19. V.V. Denman February 10, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    I’ve been working on plot structure lately. My brain is mushy. It seems so much easier to plot the action than the internal struggle. I’ve heard the internal will take care of itself if you show the emotion through the action. What do you think? Do you outline the internal conflict as well?

  20. Karen Lange February 10, 2011 at 2:36 pm #

    Okay, so may have to bookmark this one too! Thanks, good stuff! Had to laugh at the Bueller thing…Didn’t he pass out at 31 Flavors? 🙂

  21. Samantha Vérant February 10, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

    Nothing wrong with a little Ferris! You know, I wish they still made movies like that. What happened to John Hughes? And that was a tangent – something that should be avoided after a big event!

  22. Lisa Green February 10, 2011 at 3:59 pm #

    I’m coming back to this one when I finish the first draft of my current WIP and using it as a checklist!

  23. Jennifer Hoffine February 10, 2011 at 5:08 pm #

    Excellent stuff. I especially love that you use “show” in almost all the advice about how to dig deep. That’s where believable emotion comes from…in the showing of it.

  24. Chris Phillips February 10, 2011 at 6:07 pm #

    I like your point about believable emotion.

  25. Abby Annis February 10, 2011 at 9:51 pm #

    I am a firmer believer that most of the time, getting the emotion right is the key to making a scene work. Great post! 🙂

  26. Len February 24, 2011 at 4:40 am #

    A most informative article for a newbie like me. I appreciate you taking the time to post it. TY so much!


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