Writing a novel requires a writer to keep the story fresh and moving toward its climax and resolution. That’s a challenging proposition, so it helps to have at least a rough plan. This post covers the first plot point, which I like to call “engagement.” (If you missed my prior posts on plotting, start there: Plotting a Novel with a Theme and Story Problem, Plotting a Novel by the Numbers, Plotting a Novel in Three Acts, Plotting a Novel: Scarlet O’Hara and the Inciting Incident. )
Plotting a Novel in Three Acts: First Plot Point
Every story is made up of a series of minor and major events that turn the action. Called plot points, these incidents make up a series of turning points that cause the plot to change course, raise the stakes, and generate action.
The First Plot Point in Aristotle’s Incline story structure is a bit of a misnomer, since this scene is not actually the first plot point that occurs in the story. It is, however, a point of no return for the protagonist and the second key scene of Aristotle’s method for plotting a novel in three acts.
How Do the Inciting Incident and First Plot Point Differ?
The inciting incident disrupts the main character’s reality so radically that life will never be the same. This scene introduces the main story problem and creates the need for change. The first plot point is the point of no return when the main character actively engages the change that has occurred and sets out to solve the story problem.
The inciting incident in Gone With The Wind, as an example, has Ashley Wilkes telling Scarlett O’Hara he plans to marry Melanie while Rhett Butler unwittingly eavesdrops. This effectively introduces the story problem: how will Scarlett find love and happiness? The first plot point takes place when Scarlett marries Charles Hamilton. By doing this, she engages the change brought about by Ashley’s intent to marry Melanie and tries to solve the story problem but only makes matters worse. For Scarlett, there is now no going back to the life she knew before. The reader turns pages, deeply concerned and wanting to know what happens next.
Where Does The First Plot Point Fit in the Plot Structure?
The first plot point occurs at around the 25% mark in a story. It closes the story’s first act, while the main character’s reaction to it raises the curtain on the second act.
Characteristics of the First Plot Point
Frustrated Desire: Fulfillment of the main character’s greatest desire is threatened and seems impossible.
Life-Changing Event: The main character can’t return to his or her normal life and so is forced to act on the change brought about by the inciting incident.
A New Reality: The first plot point brings about drastic change and often causes the setting to change as well.
The First Plot Point is the point of no return where the protagonist engages the change brought about by the inciting incident. This major scene occurs about a quarter of the way into a story. In it, the protagonist’s defining desire is thwarted, calling for a life-changing decision that creates drastic change and often moves the story to another location.