Screenwriters often use a technique called pinch points to help the audience experience for themselves the antagonistic force of the story. Novelists use the same idea, but many novel writers aren’t exactly sure what pinch points are or how to use them.
Writing Tip for Today: Let’s demystify pinch points for novel writers.
What are Pinch Points?
Pinch points aren’t elaborate, but they are very necessary to a good story. You set up your character and show us his quest, or what he’s looking for or wants. You introduce opposing forces in the form of antagonist, bad guy/girl or some kind of obstacle. After you do this, the story contains this confrontational force in some way in every scene. You don’t want readers to forget why your character is acting the way she is! But by about the middle of the second act, readers will stop feeling (on a gut level) this threat. It’s as if we feel safe as long as we are only watching our character. In order to keep readers begging for more, it’s necessary to bring them back to where it’s as if they are living or reliving this challenge to their own safety. And you can do this with a pinch point, which according to Larry Brooks is “An example, a reminder of the nature and implications of the antagonistic force.” Readers are forced to experience your opposing force directly, instead of merely observing the character’s experience. If you deliver this emotional gut punch at the right moment in the story, readers will be more likely to feel as though they are part of the story.
Where Do Pinch Points Go?
Pinch points are all about reminders. If you insert one too soon in the story, readers may feel it’s redundant. Place pinch points (all two of them) in the midpoint between the major occurrences in the novel. The first Pinch Point comes in the middle of Part II. This is what sets the character on the path to attain the goal and to overcome what or whomever blocks him (the opposing force or obstacle, which can be person, a group, animals, aliens, the weather or the self). By the numbers, this Pinch comes around the three-eighths mark or a little more than a quarter of the way through the story. The second Pinch Point needs to come about five-eighths through the story, or just past the midpoint. This second reminder helps readers experience the threat directly, and thereby become more than observers for the climax scene ahead.
What Are Pinch Points Like?
The most important rule for these Pinch places is that they be simple and quick. A pinch point sometimes needs a set-up scene—to illustrate a character flaw for instance—but not always. By simple, I mean a brief picture of a looming storm, the quick cut away to a love interest in the arms of another, or any brief reminder of what has been a festering problem in the story. The difference between the First and Second Pinch Points will be mostly in how they are perceived. That is, by the time readers experience the second point, they will be more invested in the story and more emotional about its outcome. Readers will care more, and that helps to raise the tension. Take a look at your own work-in-progress and see if you can identify where these two points should occur and if in fact you’ve already placed them in the correct part of the story. Remember, this is not a formula—more of a format—so variations will occur. Even so, I believe your story will benefit from understanding the role pinch points play and putting them into action.