As we continue to examine story structure, it is time for a closer look at the first pinch point. The first pinch point is a critical component of an effective thriller story. Get the first pinch point right, and you increase the reader’s understanding of the stakes on the conflict. Conversely, an ineffective first pinch point can disrupt the thriller’s pacing, and ultimately cause readers to lost interest in the story. Let’s take a close look at this literary device, and determine ways to craft effective first pinch points.
First Pinch Points: a Quick Review
So what is a first pinch point, and where can you find them in a typical thriller? As discussed in an earlier article, the first pinch point is normally defined as “a structural component within your story that gives the readers their first glimpse of the dark forces facing your character.” The first pinch point occurs roughly one-third of the way into the story, after the setup and during the beginning of the story response.
The first pinch point is sometimes confused with the first plot point. However, the first plot point is the point when the protagonist first experiences, and is affected by, the conflict that is the basis of the story. The first plot point also occurs earlier in the story, during the setup.
A good example may be helpful here. In the 1980 science fiction thriller Alien, the first plot point occurred when the “face hugger” alien attached itself to John Hurt’s character, changing the Nostromo crew’s lives forever. The first pinch point occurred later, when the evolving alien suddenly burst out of Hurt’s chest at the breakfast table.
Using the First Pinch Point Effectively
As you craft your thriller, and move from the setup to the response, the first pinch point can be a helpful literary tool. Let’s look at some of the ways the first pinch point can make your writing more effective.
As you move past the first plot point in the thriller’s setup, and your protagonist’s life is changed forever, there is often a lull in the action. You need to provide some exposition to develop the story a bit, introduce other characters, and so forth. The first pinch point can return the story (and the reader) back to the conflict. In the recent Superman film Man of Steel, the entire setup is an origin story of how Superman came to live on earth. It uses an effective first pinch point – General Zod commandeering all communication systems and demanding Earth turn over Superman to him, or else – get the story focused again on the conflict.
The first pinch point can help you further develop key characters as well. For example, if your antagonist is only going to appear a few times in the story, the first pinch point is a great place to illustrate that character’s power and motivation. When the xenomorph suddenly burst out of John Hurt’s chest in the previously mentioned Alien and rapidly slithered away, we were all aware that this creature was a force to be reckoned with; without speaking a single word of dialogue, we were terrified of what it would do next.
Similarly, in 1984s science fiction classic The Terminator, the eponymous cyborg’s attack on Sarah Connor in the dance club – with time traveler Kyle Reese’s seemingly fatal gun shots doing no real damage to it – was revealing. After this first pinch point, the audience had a better idea of who the good guys and bad guys were, and discovered that the terminator was more than he seemed.
A good pinch point not only provides readers a glimpse of the antagonist’s power or motivation; it also increases the tension, raises the stakes, and gets readers emotionally engaged with the story. In Star Wars Episode IV, a New Hope, we already know that the Empire is evil. However, when Luke Skywalker comes across the ruins of his homestead on Tattoine, and the charred remains of his uncle and aunt, the evil of the empire was palpable. This effective first pinch point raised the stakes for all of us.
A good first pinch point can also help provide insight or motivation to drive the plot towards the climax. Sometimes, this can be in the form of a clue. For example, in the superhero film Logan, the villains attack the compound where the protagonist Logan lives, along with Professor Xavier and the mutant Caliban, and where Logan’s daughter Laura is hiding. The audience gets to see the ruthlessness of the film’s chief antagonists during this effective first pinch point. However, in capturing Caliban, whose power is the ability to detect other mutants, the scene allows the plot to advance further as well. The antagonists use Caliban to locate and pursue Logan and his daughter over the next several scenes in the film.
The first pinch point is a powerful literary device. Writers who use it effectively can maintain good story pacing, develop their characters, ratchet up the tension, and advance their thriller’s plot. So take the time to develop an effective first pinch point as you craft your next story; your readers will appreciate it.