Using Plot Points to Outline Your NaNo Novel
With NaNo right around the corner, I thought these final weeks would be best spent looking at ways to prepare for the big event.
First up: Outlining.
Although I’ve become an plotter in recent years, I used to pants it all. (Pantser is the opposite of plotter in case you didn’t know.)
Now I try to have at least a bare bones outline before I begin writing. Sometimes this is a list of ideas and a plot summary. Other times this is a list of the major plot points in the story, which is what I’m going to share with you today.
If you develop these plot points prior to writing you first page, you will have a better idea of what you are writing toward, which will hopefully prevent you from going off on rabbit trails and into murky waters.
The hook is not the inciting event. The hook is what captures the reader on the first page(s). Generally, the hook should occur as soon as possible in the story.
The hook is “nothing more or less than a question.” (K.M. Weiland) It could be putting your MC in physical danger, or it could be asking an intriguing question for the reader which isn’t immediately answered.
Whatever it is, it should set up the stage for the novel that follows. If you’re writing a thriller, it should be thrilling. If you’re writing a literary novel, chances are it should be intriguing or captivating, but literary.
The inciting event is not the hook. You knew that was coming, right? The inciting event is what sets the story you are going to tell in motion. This can happen anywhere from the opening page to the 25% mark.
For a more in-depth discussion of Inciting Events and Key Events, see K.M. Weiland’s several post discussion on plot structure or else check out her books on plot structure (Structuring Your Novel and Outlining Your Novel) on Amazon. They’re worth it, trust me.
Plot Point 1/Entry to Act 2
This is also called the first turning or pivot point. It occurs around the 25% mark of the story, and marks the shift of the MC leaving act 1 and entering into act 2.
What makes this point significant is that the MC is willingly stepping into the unknown and committing herself to the “call to adventure.”
The MC begins her story in the “ordinary world” (Joseph Campbell), and the inciting event pushes her into an extraordinary world, or a world that is changing. But that push isn’t what puts her into the second act–what gets her into the second act is her acceptance of the adventure she’s being called to.
Pinch point 1
The pinch point is not the same as a plot point. A pinch point is an act which reminds the MC (and reader) of the antagonist’s power.
This occurs in between the Plot Point 1 and the Midpoint, at about the 37% mark. This event can be something like one character reminding another character of the antagonistic force in conversation, or the antagonist making a little jab at the protagonist to remind her who is really running the game.
This is a moment in the novel that showcases your antagonist’s power in a way that also sets up the protagonist’s change of tactics in the Midpoint (K.M. Weiland). In other words, it reminds the reader and the MC of the point of this story. In a thriller, maybe the MC is reminded of the stakes, why she’s been captured and is being tortured in the first place. In Pride & Prejudice, Lizzy runs into Darcy at Rosings Park.
If you guessed that this is supposed to happen at the 50% mark, way to go! You are awesome, and you definitely should be writing stories.
The midpoint is what you hang your novel upon. This is a significant plot point, where your MC goes from being a reactive character to a proactive character. Consider this a personal turning point for the MC. No longer will your MC sit around and let things happen to her, no, she’s now going out of her way to make things happen.
The Midpoint can take many different forms: It could be the death of a character, it could be the revelation of a significant, life-changing piece of information, it could be a battle, a loss, a win, but it could also be something less dramatic like a speech, a decision, or simply the character realizing that she can’t go through life reacting to events.
Pinch point 2
This occurs midway between the midpoint and the beginning of Act 3, at around the 62% mark. This comes amidst the MC’s personal turning point (The Midpoint) and the constant, rising action of Act 2.
This is another moment where the protagonist is reminded of the antagonist’s power. Again, a conversation, a fight or some kind of flexing of the muscles to remind everyone who the antagonist is and what it is he can do.
In Pride & Prejudice, Lizzy tours Pemberly, and this time, runs into Mr. Darcy on his own turf, a task that is more feared than deserved.
Coming into the third act, the story should be heating up with the sense that the reader doesn’t want to put down the novel but has to see how the story ends.
Pivot point 2/Entry to Act 3
At this point, about 75% of the way into the story, something happens to set the protagonist squarely on the road to the Climax.
This plot point may be less well defined than the pivot point 1 or the midpoint, but it’s not any less important. It must be an event that casts the character on the road to self-discovery or on the road to the showdown with the antagonist, possibly both.
This is why we read the book. This is often the big showdown between protagonist and antagonist, in a thriller usually a fight, or an epic like Lord of the Rings, a battle.
If it were Pride & Prejudice, it’d be the moment Darcy and Lizzy declare their love for each other and formally affiance themselves. Not a hugely climactic scene is it? But for the story, it is.
This is the last scene of the book, where you tie up any loose ends that remain after the climax (and there shouldn’t be many), and leave the reader with the feeling you want them to walk away with (romance=feel good, happily ever after; thriller=got the bad guy, the world is safe and goes back to normal).
This can all get as complicated as you want. There’s a subtle line between complex and too complex. While complexity adds to a reader’s enjoyment, especially when they feel smart for having figured something out or been kept guessing to the end (think Gone Girl)
Subplots should all adhere to this same structure. You can have several subplots, and working them in amidst the main plot can be challenging.