In Parts One and Two of our review of thriller plot structure, we looked very closely at the setup of a story. Now, we will look at another critical phase of the thriller you are preparing to write: the response. While setting up your story is absolutely critical to gaining your audience’s attention, the response is what will keep them turning page after page as the action unfolds. Let’s take a look at what the response is, and how you can captivate your readers by designing a good one.
The Response: Definition and Components
The response is best defined as the group of scenes and actions that occur after the setup of the story, and that drive that story towards the conclusion. In the setup, as discussed previously, you established the framework of the story. The setup confirmed the story’s tone, introduced the protagonist and other key characters, and (via the first plot point) gave readers an understanding of the thriller’s key conflict. Once the setup is complete, you must carefully craft and connect the scenes that will carry your thriller forward. These scenes are the story’s response. The response has two critical components in it: the first pinch point and the mid point. Understanding them both is critical to writing an effective story response.
The First Pinch Point
As we discussed earlier, the first pinch point is the moment in your thriller that the protagonist get a glimpse of the dark forces that are driving the conflict. For example, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy adventure the Fellowship of the Ring, the first pinch point occurs shortly after Frodo Baggins and party depart the town of Bree. On a bare hill in the wilderness, the Ringwraiths seriously wound Frodo and he gets a glimpse of their undead power for the first time.
Along with the first pinch point, the response also contains the midpoint, or midpoint milestone. The midpoint is best defined as “the location in the story where new information enters the story . . .that changes the contextual experience and understanding of either the reader, the hero, or both.” In Gillian Flynn’s riveting thriller Gone Girl, the midpoint occurs when readers learn that protagonist Nick Dunne’s missing (and presumed murdered up until this point, possibly by Nick) wife Amy is still alive, and has set Nick up in a twisted revenge plot due to his infidelity.
The midpoint is not always a twist, however; the key is that it must change the reader’s contextual experience within the story. In the 1973 dystopian thriller Soylent Green, Detective Frank Thorn spends the first half of the film investigating the murder of a wealthy man in an overcrowded, dismal New York City. Initially believing the murder is a burglary gone wrong, Thorn discovers at the midpoint that that the victim was assassinated to cover up a terrifying fact: the earth is dying, and the corporation i
Getting Story Response Right
Like setup, crafting a story response effectively is critical to writing a memorable thriller. Failing to do so can sabotage an effective setup, and make the plot seem uneven, or the characters’ actions contrived. Here are some things to consider to help you draft a great story response.
Begin with the Midpoint in Mind
Once you have drafted your thriller’s setup, think about the midpoint; what is going to be the action/event that triggers the reader’s change in context? When you determine the midpoint, work backwards to the end of the story setup; what scenes must occur in order to for the characters (and the reader) to be logically prepared for the midpoint to occur? Jot down summaries for those scenes, and begin drafting them.
Always Consider the Pacing
As you review the scenes that lead your thriller from the setup to the midpoint, evaluate the pacing. Is the plot advancing fast enough to keep readers interested? Remember, you’re writing a thriller here, so it should be exciting. If you think the plot is plodding along, or taking to long to unfold, consider combining the actions that occur in multiple scenes, or deleting unnecessary ones, so that the thriller stays on track.
Keep it Real
You should also consider the actions that are occurring to advance the plot. Do the character’s actions stay true to their motivations, or does it seem that they are acting solely to advance the plot? If the characters’ actions seem contrived, revise the thriller accordingly. Fake characters bore readers.
The story response is a critical part of your thriller. An effective story response helps maintain the thriller’s tension as events unfold. Understanding the key components of the response, such as the pinch point and the midpoint, will help you drive your thriller’s conflict, and keep readers engaged. Get the response right, and your audience will keep turning page after page, the true mark of a memorable thriller.