TAP016, How to Write the First Plot Point Scene
So you’ve brainstormed ideas for the three plot points in the first act of your story, and you’re now wondering how to transition between act one and act two. How do you take your character into the core conflict of the story? The easiest way to do this is to set up a point of no return scene in your story. In this episode, I’ll discuss the point of no return scene and its position in the story. I’ll also share two important tips you need to consider as you write the point of no return scene.
TAP016, Plot and Story Structure: The First Plot Point/The Point of No Return
So, let’s get started.
What is the first plot point?
It’s the moment where everything changes for your protagonist. In essence, it’s the moment in which your main character can’t return to the ordinary world. They cannot go back it’s impossible. Events cannot be undone, and things cannot be unseen. The protagonist cannot go on as if all the events leading up to this point have ever happened. In amongst all of this change, the protagonist makes a shift in their priorities or goals. This change could result from their own free will or for survival. As a result, the stakes are raised, and they have the more to lose than ever before. The protagonist makes the shift in their priorities while aware of the consequences. Life will never be the same for the protagonist, and they are fully aware of this.
When should the first plot point take place?
The first plot point or the point of no return acts as a doorway between the first and second act of a story. Ideally, it sits at the 25% mark in the story.
So, why at the end of the first act? The first plot point acts as the climax of the first act. If this scene takes place too early, then the second act will drag on, and the story will lose its momentum. The reader will close the book and stop reading. As a writer, this is what you want to avoid. If the first plot point occurs at a later point in the story, the first act will drag on. There will be too much set up, and the reader will get bored because nothing of consequence will happen. Reading is an investment of time. A reader cannot ask for a refund on the time they spent on a novel. I’ve had moments where I’ve read books and been disappointed by the contents. I’m reading one of those books for research, and it’s sitting on my kindle, and I’m thinking of archiving it.
The Stakes Must be Raised
This is where the real story starts for the protagonist. Everything before this is just set up. It’s like your 21st birthday or the first day of university. Prior to this moment, you’re a child now you’re an adult with freedom and everything else that comes with that. Essentially, your story grows up. In the process of growing up the first plot point trigger the story’s main conflict. And it all starts on the other side of this doorway.
As the conflict increases so do the stakes. Prior to this, the protagonist makes an impulsive decision at the disruption to their ordinary world, hoping that everything returns to normal. But, it doesn’t. Their life goes from a little pain to a huge risk. If the protagonist doesn’t overcome and fails, there are huge consequences. These consequences are what’s a stake of the protagonist. An example of this is life or death stakes. One moment your protagonist is trying to solve a mystery behind a murder. The next moment someone is out to kill them before they can piece together the puzzle. This leads me to my next point.
A Change in Priorities and Goals
At this point in the story, your protagonist makes a personal transition from innocent bystander to a key player with something to lose. As we established in the previous point, this something to lose is big. These stakes force your protagonist to reevaluate their priorities. Following on from the previous example featuring the life and death stakes, your protagonist goal moves from collecting evidence and solving a crime to survival. The protagonist is on the run from an unknown entity and must collect the evidence to figure out who is the murder and reveal the identity of the people that are out to kill him. This isn’t just a change in goals. It’s a larger goal with a bigger risk.
An Example of the First Plot Point in literature
In the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone or Sorcerer’s stone as it’s referred to in America, the point of no return scene is when Harry boards the Hogwarts Express. I know there is a lot of debate over whether this moment is the first plot point but bear with me. Until this point in the story, Harry would have returned to Pivot Drive and carried on as per usual. But, this is the point where he steps into the magical world a second time and sees the train that will take him to the school. Everything is now real. Up to this point, he has gone from living under a staircase to experiencing the magical world where his parents lived and has met other magical children like him. And that’s before he reaches Hogwarts. It’s every orphan’s dream to reconnect with their parents or their history. He suddenly makes sense and fits in somewhere.
For those of you who want to dig deeper into writing a great point of no return scene than I recommend these two books:
1. Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story by K.M. Weiland.
Just to make reading a little easier for you, the information about the point of no return scene is in chapter six.
2. Write Great Fiction – Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting and Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Scott Bell.
I know I keep coming back to this book, but it’s so good. This book makes story structure easier to understand and apply. Chapter two is where all the great information about story structure can be found. Bell, refers to the first plot point or the point of no return scene as the first doorway. As he explains the scene transitions the protagonist from the first act to the second.
The point of no return scene is the climax of act one. It’s the moment when your protagonist cannot return to their ordinary world even if they wanted to. The key to creating an exciting act one climax is to place it at the 25% mark in the story. At the point in the story, you need to raise the stakes and create a moment where your protagonist changes their goal.
As always, I have to ask are you writing your first novel? Are you trying to figure out how you’re going to transition your character from the first act to the second? If so, which one of these tips did you find most helpful? Let me know by coming over to the blog post or the YouTube video and sharing in the comments section.
Thank you for listening and I’ll see you in the next episode of The Authorpreneur Podcast.
I’m Amelia. I write Mystery Novels under the pen name A. D. Hay. And, I’m the author of Missing, the first book in the James Lalonde series. On this blog, I help new writers to finish their first draft, prepare their manuscripts for professional editing, and when they get stuck in the first draft phase or are confused about the revision process. Right now, I’m editing and preparing my soon to be published mystery novels, Duplicity, 24 Hours, and Immunity for publication.