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In previous articles, we’ve examined how to structure a thriller with a strong opening and memorable first plot point. We’ve also reviewed how to introduce the antagonist in your thriller, via the first pinch point, and how to use the midpoint to give the audience a jolt and maintain your thriller’s pacing. 



Now, we’re going to talk about a key part of story structure and the thriller: the point where the protagonist decides to fight back.  This portion of the story is called the Part 3 Attack. Understanding the Part 3 attack, its importance, and how to craft it is critical to the success of your thriller.Let’s take a closer look at the Part 3 Attack.

What is the Part 3 Attack?

The Part 3 Attack is exactly what it sounds like. This is the point in the story where the protagonist “literally fights back, hatches a plan, enlists assistance, demonstrates courage, shows initiative. This is when [the heroes] step up.  They evolve from responder to attacker.  From wanderer to warrior.” The Part 3 Attack normally begins after the story’s midpoint, and leads into the second plot point – the place in your thriller where everything comes together for your protagonist.  We’ll discuss the second plot point in a future article.

The Part 3 Attack typically consists of several different scenes in a novel.  Most conventional thriller plots involve the character confronting or overcoming personal shortcomings or misgivings, making a decision to confront the antagonist, and then the actual confrontation itself. The Part 3 Attack should also include another glimpse of the antagonist’s power, motivation, or personal growth in the story as well, to heighten the tension; this scene within the Part 3 Attack is called the second pinch point.  Like the second plot point, this is another literary tool that we will look at on its own in a future article.

Part 3 Attack Examples

The Part 3 attack is quite easy to identify in popular fiction. Let’s look at a few examples in recent thrillers.

  • In the inventive science fiction film District 9, the Part 3 Attack occurs when protagonist Wikus  van der Merwe puts his selfishness aside and opts to risk his life to aid the alien Christopher Johnson’s escape attempt.
  • In Gillian Flynn’s thrilling novel Gone Girl the Part 3 Attack occurs when protagonist Nick concludes his wife Amy hasn’t been murdered or kidnapped, and is instead trying to frame him for her disappearance in an act of revenge. He works with his attorney to change his public image and convince the authorities he is not involved in his wife disappearance.
  • In the George Clooney thriller The American, the Part 3 attack begins when protagonist and assassin Jack (Clooney) deduces that the shadowy organization he works for has decided to kill him. Armed with that knowledge, and desiring to start a new life, he sabotages a rifle the organization had directed him to modify.


Crafting an Effective Part 3 Attack

The Part 3 Attack is an important part of any thriller. This is the point in story structure when the protagonists resolves to confront the antagonist – whether it is a person, monster, or force of nature – no matter what it takes. So how do you write a good one? Let’s lock at a couple of elements that every good Part 3 Attack should contain

Overcoming Demons

The Part 3 Attack’s beginning should coincide with the protagonist overcoming some personnel obstacle or shortcoming. In the aforementioned District 9, the meek bureaucrat protagonist Wikus set aside his selfishness and cowardice, and endeavored to help the aliens attempting to escape. In the American, protagonist and antihero Jack, dissatisfied with the solitary and violent life he’s led, pauses thoughtfully as he’s modifying another assassin’s weapon. Jack’s face, coupled with the film’s score, indicates that he has just made a life changing decision.

Show the Villain’s Power

The Part 3 Attack should also demonstrate the antagonist’s power as well. The scene where the antagonist’s power is displayed is commonly called the second pinch point. In the original Star Wars film, the second pinch point occurs when Darth Vader confronts the powerful (and last) Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi, and kills him. In The Dark Knight Rises, the treasonous Talia al-Ghul reveals herself as the mastermind behind the siege of Gotham City, stabbing Batman in the back with a dagger.

Increase the Pacing

As the Part 3 Attack begins, the tempo of the story should pick up. Readers should feel a palpable sense of the conflict drawing closer and increasing in intensity. In the previously mentioned Dark Knight Rises, the director accomplished this with a countdown clock on a neutron bomb, coupled with a phenomenal music score. In Gone Girl, scenes cutting back between Nick and Amy Dunne’s point of view, showing their increasingly desperate situations. Instilling a sense of heightened tension is what makes an effective Part 3 Attack.

Closing Thoughts

The Part 3 Attack is a critical part of any good thriller. It sets the protagonist on a final path to confront the antagonist, and ultimately resolve the conflict. A good Part 3 Attack increases the story’s tempo and heightens the overall tension. Readers look for and expect a satisfying Part 3 Attack, so make sure you put in the time and effort to craft an effective one.

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