Find out you are a wizard?
Or you inherit a mysterious golden ring?
What happens in the beginning of your story (conflict) that forces your character into his journey for the rest of the novel?
Now that you have your hook set and your reader is dying to know what is going on, the next critical point to establish in your novel is the first plot point.
And this critical point sets off the reason why, for the rest of your story, your reader should keep reading…
… no pressure.
Now granted, it doesn’t have to be something bad for character to experience to get them jump started in the story, but usually that is the case, and for this lesson we will stick with the negative conflict to motivate our character.
In this post we are going to discuss the First Plot Point, which is one of three critical points your story requires for a solid structure that moves the story forward.
Remember forward momentum is critical if your intent is to keep the reader engaged and turning pages. Nothing would be worse, if after a brilliant hook, your story lost its momentum and the story dragged out for another 400 pages.
Also to note, is that in the grand scheme of story structure, the first plot point comes after the inciting incident. I will explain more about the inciting incident and what it looks like as we go through the examples listed below.
Reality Check #1– No momentum; reader gets bored; reader stops reading.
What is the First Plot Point?
The first plot point is the journey starter. Let me put it another way. The first plot point is the reason your character is doing what he is doing for the remainder of the book.
The first major plot point changes everything. This is the point of no return for your characters. Often, this plot point will be the inciting event; if not, it will be the key event. ~ K.M. Weiland
Star Wars example:
Luke comes home to find his aunt and uncle dead and he joins Obi-Wan to fight back.
The first part of that sentence delivers the inciting incident (cause) and second half delivers the first plot point (effect).
Luke come home to find his aunt and uncle dead (inciting incident) and he joins Obi-Wan to fight back (first plot point).
Harry Potter example:
Harry finds out he is a wizard and he goes to Hogwarts to learn magic.
Again, if we break down this sentence we can see the inciting incident triggers the first plot point.
Harry finds out he is a wizard (inciting incident) and he goes to Hogwarts to learn magic (first plot point).
As you can see from these examples, the first plot point is huge in the structure of your novel and the inciting incident, usually, closely precedes it to trigger the action.
What if Luke the farmer came back home to find his aunt and uncle were still alive?
What if Harry Potter never found out he was a wizard so in turn never went to Hogwarts?
Where could the story go from there?
Short answer – nowhere.
The story would have no reason to continue. Luke would go about his time working on the farm, never learning the force to destroy the Death Star and poor Harry Potter, would still be locked under the Dursley’s stairs, not understanding why he feels different.
The first plot point carries a lot of weight with it, which as described above, provides your story momentum.
When Luke comes home to find he is alone now, we the observer, have completely bought in and ready to take the journey with him and Obi-Wan. We root for Harry after he finds out he is a wizard and want to see how his story will unfold.
Here is one more example to help solidify the weight of the first plot point.
Rocky Balboa is a down-and-out fighter making pocket change on local fights and breaking thumbs for Tony Gazzo, but one day Apollo Creed the World Heavyweight Champion chooses Rocky to fight against him for the title.
That turning point for Rocky set off his journey for the rest of the five movies – I don’t count Rocky 5. However, you can see that if Apollo didn’t pick Rocky, the story would have nowhere to go that held our interest.
Rocky would still be fighting Spider Rico and breaking thumbs, not winning titles and punching slabs of meat in a meat locker.
The inciting incident in this example is when Mickey gives Rocky’s locker away to another fighter. That was Rocky’s locker and always has been and that event coupled with all the other events leading up to that point helped Rocky make the decision to fight Apollo in order to prove to himself he wasn’t a bum.
Where does the first plot point go?
If you remember from one of my first posts on writing, I said there is one rule in writing … there are no rules. While that still holds true when it comes to first plot points, or all points for that matter, there are still some good practice guidelines when it comes to properly placing them in your story’s structure.
The first plot point usually should appear in your story around the 1/5th to 1/4th mark into your story.
To reiterate, there is no set rule that says it has to be 1/5th or 1/4th, but following these marks will help give the story the structure readers are familiar with.
Where did those marks come from?
Writers and screenwriters for years used the three-act structure formula for structuring their stories, and just as the name implies the story is broken down into three-acts – beginning, middle, and end.
However, a newer structuring method writers are using takes the three-acts and breaks them into four parts.
- Part 1: Hook to First Plot Point
- Part 2: First Plot Point to Mid-Point
- Part 3: Mid-Point to Second Plot Point
- Part 4: Second Plot Point through Resolution
Don’t worry if you don’t know or understand all the parts yet. We will be covering it all before this series of posts is complete.
Therefore, taking the above information, the 1/5th mark and the 1/4th mark would set the first plot point on the edge of Part 1 going into Part 2.
If you set the first plot point too early, the middle part of your story – Parts 2 and 3 – will begin to sag and slow your momentum down.
If you set the first plot point too late into your story, you begin to creep into your middle and the beginning section of your story will never really feel like it is taking off or going anywhere.
Larry Brooks, author of Story Engineering, related the critical three points — First Plot Point, Mid-Point, and Second Plot Point — to major tent poles. If you move one of those tent poles too far in or out the rest of the tent will suffer.
The poles need correct positioning in order for the tent to have proper structure and stand. It is the same with the major plot points; if you start to move them out of alignment, your story — the tent – will be affected.
That being said … although there are no set rules to writing, especially when it comes to structuring, following these set marks will help create a solid structure that your story can build on.
If the first plot point is the most important point in your story, having it placed correctly is critical.
What a first plot point introduces
Without it you don’t have a story.
A first plot point without conflict doesn’t propel the main character into his journey. If the main character can still go about his normal life after the first plot point happens then it isn’t the first plot point.
After you drop a major bomb of conflict on your character, he has no option but to go on his journey. The first plot point is really the point of no return. Life can’t go on the same now after what he just experienced.
That moment changes your story. And in doing so, it could be argued that this is when your story really begins. Everything that happened prior to it was just a set-up. It’s called the First Plot Point. And you can’t mess with it. ~ Larry Brooks
Here is one last example of a solid first plot point.
Lord of the Rings example:
Gandalf tells Frodo that the Ringwraithes know where he lives and knows that he has the one ring (inciting incident) and he must leave the Shire in order to protect it (first plot point).
Frodo has no choice but to leave.
That bit of information — conflict — forces him into his journey. There would be no way he would or could stay in the Shire living life like he always did, and that is the point of the first plot point.
It changes everything.
This post is part 3 in a series entitled Seven Points to Structure Your Story. You can find previous parts to this series below.
Next Week: The Mid-Point
Here’s The Next Step:
If you would like to dig deeper and outline your First Plot Point, you’re in for a treat … because I have a Free Bonus for this post.
Its a free workbook consisting of 10 actionable prompts that helps you outline and brainstorm your First Plot Point.
Click the link below and enter your email to get access to the free workbook.