What are Pinch Points? Tips to Enhance Your Story Structure
Tension and excitement are crucial to keeping readers engaged with your story. One of the ways writers achieve this in fiction is through a narrative technique called pinch points. In this post, we’ll break down the importance of pinch points and share how to develop the pinch points of your own story!
What are pinch points?
Imagine the feeling of being pinched— ouch! Rather than simply moving the plot forward, pinch points are events that put more pressure (or pain) on your heroes. In doing so, pinch points remind the reader of what’s at stake in the story. They rekindle the tension that may have waned by reminding us of the primary conflict and what it means for the characters. Without stakes, readers will quickly lose interest— therefore, pinch points are events of the plot that, strategically placed, keep the narrative from losing steam.
In the traditional Three-Act Structure, the first act introduces the characters, setting, and conflict, while the third act culminates in the resolution. The second act, which constitutes the middle portion of the story, is often the longest and contains the rising action. Pinch points punctuate this act to create a sense of urgency and drive the story forward.
How are pinch points different from plot points?
Plot points are the pivotal events that drive the story forward, forcing it in a specific direction so that your story doesn’t wander aimlessly. Plot points are like drops of super glue that hold the story together, connecting one act or beat to the next.
Pinch points, on the other hand, are smaller turning points that fulfill three main functions:
Advance the conflict and raise the stakes: Pinch points escalate the conflict, making it more challenging for the protagonist to reach their goal. By reinforcing the antagonist's power and intentions, these key scenes drive the story toward its climax.
Keep the reader engaged: In the vast middle section of a story, readers might lose interest if the tension dwindles. Pinch points reignite curiosity and suspense, compelling readers to stay invested in the narrative.
Add depth to characters and their motivations: As pinch points put pressure on the characters, their true personalities and motivations emerge. These challenges reveal their strengths, weaknesses, and growth throughout the story.
Where do you put pinch points in a story?
There are two pinch points in a story:
Pinch Point One
This occurs roughly at the midpoint of the second act. It reemphasizes the antagonistic force, showing its strength or influence on the protagonist's journey. It also deepens the stakes, making it clear that the main conflict is far from being resolved. With this pinch point, your main character becomes aware of the challenge they will be facing. Often, this is where character flaws are revealed as your main character reacts to the new development or information.
Pinch Point Two
This happens later in the second act, closer to the climax. It's another reminder of the challenges and obstacles the protagonist faces. Pinch Point 2 intensifies the tension even further, pushing the characters to their limits before the final confrontation.
Writing the first pinch point
When writing the first pinch point, think about how you can use it to foreshadow the upcoming plot conflict. Introduce the character, situation, or event that will serve as the catalyst that later forces your main character to react to a challenge. This pinch point sets the stage for the upcoming conflict.
In Rumaan Alam’s apocalyptic novel Leave the World Behind, the first pinch point occurs when the strangers, who are the owners of the country home Amanda and Clay have rented, show up unexpectedly at their door:
“We were driving back to the city. Home. Then something happened.” He wasn’t trying to be vague. Even in the car he and Ruth hadn’t spoken of it, because they were afraid.
“A blackout.” Amanda produced this, triumphant.
“How did you know?” G.H. was surprised. He had expected to have to explain. They’d seen nothing but darkness all the way out, and then, through the trees, the glow of their own house. They couldn’t believe it because it didn’t make sense, but they didn't care to make sense. The relief of light and its safety.
Up until this point in the story, Amanda and Clay's vacation with their children, Rose and Archie, seems idyllic, and they are enjoying a relaxing time away from the city. However, the arrival of the G.H. and Ruth disrupts their peaceful getaway and introduces a new and unexpected conflict. The sudden intrusion raises questions about the strangers' intentions, adding tension to the plot.
The strangers' panic about the blackout caused by mysterious sonic booms also hints at a larger and more significant problem outside the confines of the vacation home. This raises the stakes for Amanda and Clay, who must now confront the uncertainties and dangers that have impacted the city. The threat of the unknown amplifies the sense of danger and urgency.
When writing your own pinch points, be sure that the first pinch point introduces the opposing force that will challenge your main character. This pinch point sets the emotional tone for what is to come next.
Writing the second pinch point
Just like the first pinch point, the second pinch point raises the stakes and foreshadows what is to come in the final plot point. With the second pinch point, the stakes are even higher. If the first pinch point is the main character taking her first stand against her opponent, the second pinch point shows that the fight has not yet been won and the main character must rally forces again.
In Leave the World Behind, the second pinch point occurs when Amanda, Clay, G.H., and Ruth discover that Archie’s teeth have begun falling out and that Rose has gone missing:
“We have to go to the hospital.” George had decided. “We have to go now.”
“You can’t leave me.” Ruth unfolded the blanket on the sofa’s back and draped it over the boy’s body.
“He’s sick. You see that.”
“We can’t go without my daughter—”
“We’ll go. You and me. We’ll take Archie.”
“No. You can’t, George, you can’t leave.”
By this point in the story, tensions have been building as the characters deal with the uncertainty of the outside world and the global catastrophe. The second pinch point amplifies these tensions as the characters now face immediate, unexplained disruptions within their confined space, adding to their anxiety and feelings of vulnerability. The disappearance of Rose and Archie's mysterious condition adds to the characters' sense of isolation and claustrophobia within the vacation home. The lack of external communication and information further isolates them from the outside world, exacerbating their fear and uncertainty.
Ready to use pinch points in your story structure?
Incorporating well-crafted pinch points is a powerful technique to enhance the tension, pacing, and emotional depth of your storytelling. By strategically placing these plot points within your narrative, you'll keep readers hooked and eager to accompany your characters on their journey until the final page!