Using Conflict to Create Plot Points in Your Thriller

There are many different types of writers, with varying preferences of writing. Some will outline every detail of the story before even writing the first word. Others will sit down with their idea and just get started, flying entirely by the seat of their pants. A lot of people are somewhere in between. There is something to be said for sitting down and letting your imagination take over for a while, but an idea without at least a little bit of structure likely won’t end up as a finished story. A solid outline can be especially useful when writing a thriller, as these types of stories often contain a lot of phycological elements and essential details that need to be kept straight. You risk some major plot holes by writing without a plan. There are many components to creating a strong outline; one of these are the plot points.

What is a plot point?

What is a plot point? Put just, a plot point is an event that turns the plot of your story in a different direction. Most often this will be a point of no return; the protagonist simply cannot turn back, even if they so desperately want to. In theory, a story can have any number of plot points. Ultimately it will depend on the length, the genre, and the pace of the story. A fast-paced phycological thriller may have many critical turning points, whereas a pure, light-hearted romantic comedy may only have a handful.

While the number of plot points can differ from story to story, there are always 2 main plot points that should receive special attention as they are what will hold the structure together.

First and Second Plot Points

Your first plot point happens at around the 25% mark. At this point, your protagonist is so invested in the conflict that they can no longer deny or turn away from it. The first plot point marks the transition from the set-up stage of your story, into the reaction stage. The protagonist must now decide what to do about the conflict.

Another significant plot point takes place around the 75% mark of your story – after the midpoint. The midpoint will have marked a huge turning point for your character and will have carried them through to this second major plot point. This is usually the part where things begin to come together for your protagonist. They finally add all the pieces up, or they discover the last bit of information that determines how to resolve the conflict. This final big event is what will carry them through to the end.

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Creating Quality Plot Points

What is a plot point in an exciting thriller without some oomph? Some shock value? Or some crazy twists? Plot points are crucial to the overall quality of your story. If your plot points are uninspiring, your characters will fall flat, and your audience will lose interest. Especially when it comes to a thriller, it’s all about the twists, the betrayals, and the shocking reveal!

There are many ways you can find inspiration for a good plot point. Conflict is key to any good story, and good plot points will draw from the conflict. Some examples of ways you can use conflict to start creating a plot point in your thriller:

Let your characters fail. Your characters will inevitably be met with some big decisions and high-pressure situations. It is exciting and satisfying for the audience to ultimately see their favorite characters succeed, but if it happens right away with minimal effort, there isn’t much of a story. For example, if your protagonist is tailing a serial killer, let a few victims die before they find any helpful leads.

Give your characters strong and controversial opinions. Everyone has views, and sometimes they can be extremely passionate about them. A radical difference of opinion can even be a motive to kill, destroy, or get revenge.

Give your characters’ dreams and aspirations. After some struggle and hard work, grant them their desire, but with a twist. For example, your character finally gets the promotion they have been after at work, only to find out that something terribly dangerous and illegal is going on at the top of the company.

Final Thoughts

In addition to conflict, you can also draw from the character themselves. Characters are much more relatable and believable when we can understand their motives, their emotions, and their desires. It is usually obvious which characters are inherently “good” and which are “bad,” but in a good story, surface level knowledge isn’t enough.  Why does your character want what he wants? Is he acting out of fear? Is he being selfish? Prideful? Compassionate? Dive deep into their personality and create character-driven plot points. Your audience will become invested in characters that they understand.

Don’t be afraid to dig in and really ask yourself – what is a plot point? Think about the conflict, think about your character, and create events that are unforgettable. Thrillers can be action-packed, or they can be deeply phycological, but they are never slow. You want plot points that invoke excitement and create mystery. You want to ask questions, and then answer them in unexpected ways. You want your story to live up to its name – you want it to be a thrill! 

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