As we continue to look at all the elements of the plot of a thriller, another key component we must examine is the first plot point. As we’ll soon discuss, the first plot point is a critical part of your story’s setup. If you get the first plot point right, the rest of your story– from the conflict, to the climax, to the denouement – will flow well and keep readers engaged. However, if your first plot point is constructed haphazardly, you may lose your readers before they get through the first few pages of your story.
Defining the First Plot Point
The first plot point is best understood as when the protagonist first experiences, and is affected by, the conflict that is the basis for your thriller. Once the protagonist becomes engaged with the conflict, that conflict will drive the story until the climax. The appearance of the first plot point effectively ends the story’s setup. Once it appears, the plot moves into the conflict stage.
In terms of story structure, the first plot point typically occurs at the 20-25 percent mark of a thriller, and serves as a bridge. As one writing instructor notes, “everything that comes before [the first plot point] is a set-up for it, and everything that comes after is a response to it.”
Examples of What a First Plot Point is. And isn’t
A first plot point is sometimes confused with a pinch point. However, a pinch point is best defined as “a structure component within your story that gives the reader a glimpse of the dark forces facing your character. “ Here a few examples to help you better identify the first plot point, and use it in your own writing.
In Robert Ludlum’s classic thriller The Bourne Identity, the first plot point occurs when the amnesiac protagonist discovers that he possesses fearsome hand-to-hand combat skills and a microfiche containing bank account information surgically implanted in his hip. Once Bourne experiences these things, he embarks on a quest to find out who he is, which drives the story all the way to its climax.
The pinch point in Bourne occurs shortly after that journey begins, when the protagonist, tracking down the bank account, is attacked and nearly killed by a number of well-trained assailants. At that point, the protagonist gets a glimpse of the evil he is facing, and the stakes of the conflict he is embroiled in.
The Significance of the First Plot Point
Developing a good first plot point is critical to crafting a compelling thriller. The first plot point will take your protagonist out of a default, everyday existence, and place that character on a journey that will cause permanent change. It is also the point where you introduce readers to the conflict that will drive the story. If you write the first plot point well, readers will likely be hooked until the end of the story; get it wrong and they may bail out before they get through the first quarter of the book.
Developing a Great First Plot Point
So how do you craft an effective first plot point for your thriller? The best way to visualize what your story’s first plot point is to think of it as a point of no return. Once the protagonist experiences the first plot point, that character is dramatically changed, and will begin a journey that will continue until the story’s conclusion.
So, think of ways to change your protagonist’s status quo. Perhaps the character assumes a major, unexpected obligation. For example, in the film Logan, the eponymous character reluctantly assumed responsibility for caring for the young mutant X-23 after her guardian was murdered, an obligation which drove the conflict of that film.
Another way to establish an effective first plot point is to have the protagonist realize that he or she is trapped in an untenable situation. In Andy Weir’s amazing novel The Martian, protagonist Mark Watney, accidentally marooned on Mars with limited resources, takes stock of his dire situation. As he realizes the tremendous forces he’s up against (the story’s antagonist is Mars’ harsh environment itself), he embarks on a quest to stay alive. This was an effective first plot point, and helped set the conditions for an effective thriller.
You can also use the clock to establish an effective first plot point; that is, you can establish some sort of ultimatum or time constraint the protagonist has to struggle against to bring the conflict to a close. For example, in the 1949 film noir classic D.O.A, protagonist Frank Bigelow discovers he’s been fatally poisoned, and only has a few days to live. Upon that realization, and with the clock ticking, he races against time to solve his own murder. This was an original first plot point, which firmly established the pace and the stakes for this classic suspense film.
As you strive to write a compelling thriller, you should take stock of the work you’ve done so far. Does your thriller have a definitive first plot point? If so, does it help set the tone for the remainder of the story, and reinforce readers’ interest in the conflict? If not, consider some of the advice and examples mentioned in this article, and use them to craft a memorable first plot point. Good luck!