Some of my students have asked about plot points. I like to think of them as something the Protag tries that fails, forcing that character to go to Plan B. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about plot points: “In television and film, a plot point is a significant event within a plot that digs into the action and spins it around in another direction.”
Writing Tip for Today: In every scene there should be a goal and in that scene the character could win, lose or draw. Draw isn’t exciting and neither is winning, because if the character wins too much, the story’s over. Most effective scenes feature the character trying to win the scene goal, only to be foiled and then forced to think up a new goal or direction to get the original goal. Indeed, the message many novels shout is, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Test your scenes and plot points against these elements:
- Give it a Goal. If the scene’s goal isn’t clear and pointing to the overall story’s goal, it is likely to be an extraneous scene. The scene itself may have conflict, action and movement, but if it doesn’t have much to do with your character’s goals (either objective or subjective), then consider either trimming or reworking so it does reflect those goals.
- The Cat Came Back. If you have scene after scene of the character trying the same method over and over, it will not be as effective as making the plot points different in some way. Think of these plot points as a neighbor cat who’s trying to get into your house. If you block one way, that cat will try another, and another. Believe me, the cat will keep coming back. Likewise, plot points should be treated from least significant to most significant, and they should reflect imaginative ways to get at the goal. If you don’t have a pesky neighbor cat, I have one I could lend you. That kitty is determined to move into my place!
- Work Backwards. To help you decide where the plot points come in your novel, start with the Climax scene. That’s your highest plot point. Now, think of at least two others that are less desperate but do demonstrate the character’s guile and passion for obtaining the goal. Take a look at novels you read: Where do these major points occur? Chances are, the first is somewhere near 1/4 of the way through, the second 1/2 way and the Climax near the end. Happy Plot Pointing!