The first plot point is the first major plot point or turning point in your story. It occurs around the 20 to 25% mark. It’s the point that the character gets to where they can no longer back out of the central conflict, and they’re forced to move forward at that point. They can’t go back to the status quo and pretend like the beginning events of the story never happened. In other words, the character becomes locked into the central conflict.
The key to making the first plot point work is in the stakes. No matter how much your character is locked into a conflict or locked into a situation if they don’t care about the outcome, then the reader isn’t going to care either. The situation’s outcome or threat must be something the character feels strongly about. Ideally, it should be something that the character believes they can’t live without, even if the character might be overly or unnecessarily invested in the outcome or the result. The character still needs to feel like they can’t live without this.
How to write the first plot point? (With Example)
A plot point is a significant event that changes the story’s direction in a well-structured story. Two major plot points divide into three. The first plot point we’re talking about today is the point of no return. It’s where your character crosses the threshold and leaves their ordinary world to enter a new and special one. It’s also where they leave Act One and enter Act two.
Act One is our hook and our inciting incident. The first central plot point is when the setup ends, and the character has reached a point where they cannot change a decision or course of action. Unlike the inciting incident, which generally happens to the character, the first central plot point is the character’s choice. Often it happens in response to or in reaction to a major event, such as the inciting incident.
The first central plot point is almost always about a quarter of the story’s length. Or in other words, it is at the 25% mark. So if you’re ever watching a movie and think you might know what it is, pause it, do the division and figure out this is at 25%. If it is, you’ve got your first central plot point. Let me show you a few examples of the first central plot point I found.
I’ll also include the hook and inciting incident to help you understand how the entire first act goes. Let’s first take a look at Lord of the Rings. The hook in Lord of the Rings describes how the rings were made, including the one ring to rule them all. The inciting incident is when Bilbo Baggins puts on the ring and disappears from his party. The first major plot point in Lord of the Rings only happens once Frodo learns about the ring and is forced to leave the shire.
Let’s try another one, Leap year, A romantic comedy about a girl who wants to propose to her boyfriend on a leap year. The hook is when she thinks she will get proposed to the inciting incident is when her father tells her about the Irish tradition of girls proposing to boys. Our first major plot point happens when Anna embarks on a journey with the handsome Irish stranger to get to her future fiancee.
Let’s do one more example: Pirates of the Caribbean, The Curse of the Black Pearl. Our hook in Pirates of the Caribbean is when the ship that carries young Elizabeth finds a shipwreck and finds will. The inciting incident is when Elizabeth falls into the ocean wearing the medallion and calls out to the ghost ship. Our first central plot point is when Will breaks jack out of jail, and they embark on a journey to save Elizabeth. Do you see how the first central plot point in all three examples is “the time” when the character cannot return? It’s the point of no return.
To clarify what the first plot point looks like, I will go over four common types of first plot points, giving you a better idea of how they might play out in your novel. So these are the four common first plot points I will go over. This is by no means an exhaustive list of the first plot points. These examples will help you understand what you want to do with your first plot point.
So the first is the character becomes trapped. The second is the character becomes obligated to do something. The third is the character receives an ultimatum, and the fourth is the character is being pursued. I will go over these four types in depth regarding how they might play out in a novel. Let’s go!
1. Physically trapped
So the first type that I want to cover is the character becoming physically trapped. If the character becomes trapped, they cannot return to the status quo or their old way of life. In that way, they become almost forced to get involved in the conflict regardless of whether they would choose to or not. To be trapped could mean that the character is willingly somewhere. For example, a child could be trapped at a boarding school because the parent dropped them off, and now they can’t leave. So they’re locked in at the boarding school.
It could also be entirely by force, such as a kidnapping or abduction or being held by a group. It could also be a natural disaster or an accident could, there could be a cave-in, or there could be a tornado. There are lots of ways the character could become trapped. The exciting thing about the first plot point is that it doesn’t have to be when the character becomes locked into the conflict. It must be when the character realizes they’re locked into the conflict.
The first plot point is when the character goes to the cave exit, sees a cave-in, and sees no way to escape. That doesn’t mean the character hasn’t been trapped from the beginning. The character could have been trapped in the cave the entire time, the whole first quarter of the novel, but only realized it in the first plot point.
The second common type of first plot point is when the character becomes obligated to do something. It can take a lot of different forms. It could be a person realizing they have a child they didn’t know they had. Suddenly, they become responsible for that child, and now they have this new obligation they didn’t have before. That changes the status quo. They can’t get rid of that obligation or easily shirk the responsibility.
So, they become forced into a new situation and get pushed away from their ordinary life. An obligation could also be much less severe, depending on the type of person. So if you have a child and you’re writing a middle grade, a mother, forcing the child to get a job, babysit, or act in a play could be an obligation they have to fulfill.
- The key to writing an obligation that works well as the first plot point is that the character needs to have some reason why this obligation is difficult for them or some reason why it creates conflict.
If the character wants to do something and then gets that thing, it works out as planned. It doesn’t work well because you need more room for conflict. It’s possible to write an obligation where the character wants to do something and then obtain it. Or, they become obligated in some way to do it and then realize this isn’t what I expected. That’s another way you could go about the obligation if you want the character to have been pursuing it purposefully.
3. An ultimatum
The third common type of first plot point is the ultimatum. An ultimatum can come from any power source in the character’s life. So it could be a romantic partner, a parent, a teacher, an employer, or almost anyone with any leverage, emotional or literal power over the protagonist.
So you might have a situation that would be very common, especially in a thriller, where somebody says, If you don’t do this, then this horrible thing is going to happen. If you don’t do what I want, then you’re going to pay for it in some way. It could be as simple as bringing up your grades in school, or you’re going to lose your football scholarship.
There are many different types of ultimatums, but they can work very well because they’re a literal first plot point. The character has an apparent objective at that point for what they’re supposed to do. If you don’t do this and this bad thing happens, it is easy for the reader to connect with what the character has to do and what they’ll lose if they don’t.
4. Being pursued
The last type of first plot point that I’m going to go over is when the character becomes pursued. It can happen for a variety of reasons. There are many different ways you can execute them in the novel. So a character could be a criminal. They committed a crime and are now being pursued by the police.
Alternatively, the character could have witnessed a crime, and now they’re being pursued by the bad guys. You could even have something supernatural where the character bought a possessed painting, and now they’re being pursued by a ghost. The key is less than the character being pursued for the first time. So previously, there may have been clues, but they didn’t know what was going on, or they didn’t know who or what was pursuing them.
I hope you can write an excellent first plot point because I explained everything with examples and types. If you have any questions, then leave them in the comment below. Happy story writing!
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