Skip to content

On Story Structure: How to Design and Write a Plot Point

Yesterday I explained why you need to know the plot points in your work-in-progress. If you use them right, they can make your story easier to tell and for more compelling to read.

Design a Plot Point

Like most aspects of writing, all that power and convenience while you’re writing comes directly from the amount of thought you put in beforehand. Plot points will happen organically, whether you plan them or not. They’ll be a lot more effective, though, if you implement them with deliberate design.

So, how do you design a plot point? Look at its purpose, and make conscious choices about how this plot point will fill the role I described for it in yesterday’s post.

That means you’re working to make sure the plot point is a clear, discrete event, and one that changes the direction of the plot in a compelling way. Early in your story, that might mean switching your protagonist from passive observer to active participant. Later in the story, it might mean reso9lving your protagonist’s indecision and sending him rushing straight toward resolution.

Writing a Plot Point

Most writers spend a lot of time thinking about that resolution, about the climax of the novel. But the climax is just one of several plot points, and it’s possible to bring the same intensity to all of them. To do that, though, you have to know what they are.

You also need to set them up a little. That’s how they bring the story’s action rushing toward them, and also how they help make writing easier. Since you know which direction your story is going now, you know (with your plot point) what is coming up that’s going to change that direction, and you know which direction it’ll be going afterward…with those three elements in sight, it’s a relatively simple matter to play into it.

Lean heavy on the current direction so the reversal will feel strong. Seed in foreshadowing with the protagonist bemoaning that his fate will never allow him to do such-and-such a thing (or noting with relief that, even as bad as things are, at least he doesn’t have to deal with X).

If you’re in the first act (before the first plot point), you’re probably still introducing your protagonist and haven’t ruined his life yet. Right now he’s passive, idle, drifting along, but in a few pages, aliens are going to arrive or he’s going to come home from work an hour early, or his doctor is going to call. In whatever way, everything is going to change.

That’s a plot point. And you can make it strong by writing the now in the way that best emphasizes that change once it happens. That’s where suspense and tension and foreshadowing all come into play, and they all exist to make the moment of change as sharp as possible.

Trying It Out (Creative Writing Exercise)

The lovely Kelley, writing at a coffee shopAnd if you’ve done the setup right, writing the plot point is easy. It’s like telling the climax — the funnest part of writing a story. Handle it well and you can have three to five of those per book, instead of rushing through the motions to get to one single payoff at the end.

Sound fun? Try it out! Even if you don’t have a work-in-progress ready for a plot point, you can start working toward it right now. Pretend it’s NaNoWriMo and launch into a brand new story tomorrow, but before you get started, come up with your first plot point.

Figure out the setting, the character’s normal life before your story, and then design a first plot point that’s as good as a climax, and start writing toward it. Just watch what happens, and see how fun writing early words can really be.

Comments are closed.