We’ve talked about Turning Points. Now let’s dive into Pinch Points. (See the quick video on Pinch Points) They are crucial structural elements in fiction writing that are, essentially small turning points. They enhance tension, deepen conflict, and drive the narrative forward.

When you insert them strategically into your story, they become pressure points that escalate the stakes for the protagonist. At the same time, they increase reader engagement. So, here we go. Pinch Points 101.

What Are Pinch Points?

The main purpose of a pinch point is to remind the reader of the antagonist’s presence and power in the story. It’s a reminder of the obstacles facing the protagonist, and/or the central conflict. The most effective places to insert pinch points are:

Pinch Point #1: Place the first pinch point about halfway between the beginning of the story and the midpoint (about 37-42%). This is the moment to reinforce the threat the antagonist poses or the challenges the protagonist faces. It serves as a reminder of the looming conflict and raises the stakes.

Pinch Point #2: Place the second pinch point after the midpoint, about 62-67% point in the story. Similar to the first pinch point, the second pinch point serves to further escalate the tension. It usually presents the protagonist with a significant setback or revelation. In The Hero’s Journey, the second pinch point coincides with the Road Back. The Central Ordeal was a false win, and during the Road Back, the protagonist realizes this because of the second pinch point. It leads the hero to confront their fears and/or weaknesses, ultimately forcing them to the resurrection where they earn the reward.

What Pinch Points Do

  1. Intensify Conflict: Pinch points introduce new obstacles or challenges in the narrative. They heighten the conflict between the protagonist and antagonist because they remind the protagonist (and reader) of the villain’s existence. It can happen through a confrontation, a setback, or a revelation. They escalate the tension and propel the story forward. The first pinch point moves the story toward the Central Ordeal (false win); the second pinch point moves the story toward the climax.
  2. Raise Stakes: By emphasizing the antagonist’s threat or the potential and subsequent consequences of failure, pinch points increase the stakes for the protagonist. This serves to keep the reader invested in the protagonist’s journey.
  3. Reinforce Themes: By highlighting core elements of the conflict or character dynamics, pinch points can underscore the story’s central themes or motifs. They give the author opportunities to really dig into deeper layers of meaning in ways that will resonate with readers.
  4. Character Development: Pinch points often serve to challenge the protagonist’s beliefs, values, or abilities. This forces them to confront their flaws and ultimately evolve in response to the escalating conflict (the Resurrection in The Hero’s Journey). This character growth leads to emotional growth for the character, which enhances the reader’s emotional investment in the protagonist’s journey.

Examples of Pinch Points:

  1. In a mystery novel, Pinch Point 1 could involve the discovery of new evidence that incriminates the protagonist or strengthens the antagonist’s alibi. It could be the introduction of a new clue or red herring. The sleuth/protagonist may doubt their ability to solve the case.
  2. In a fantasy epic, Pinch Point 2 might occur when the protagonist’s mentor is captured or killed by the antagonist. This forces the protagonist to confront their own limitations and take greater responsibility for their quest.
  3. In a romance story, Pinch Point 1 could derail the love story by inserting a misunderstanding or betrayal. This, of course, drives a wedge between the protagonist and love interest, complicating their relationship and raising doubts about their future together.
  4. In a paranormal story, if your protagonist is on a quest to save the world from an evil sorcerer, a pinch point might involve the sorcerer unleashing a powerful minion or revealing a new, sinister plan.

Key Differences Between Pinch Points and Turning Points

  • Focus:
    • Pinch points emphasize the antagonist’s actions and the external threats to the protagonist.
    • Turning points focus more on internal or external shifts that alter the protagonist’s journey.
  • Timing:
    • Pinch points often occur around the middle of the story and just before the climax.
    • Turning points can occur at various stages, each serving to take the plot/narrative in a new direction.
  • Effect:
    • Pinch points keep the tension high by showcasing the antagonist’s influence.
    • Turning points create pivotal moments that shape the overall narrative.

In essence, while pinch points keep the external conflict alive, turning points drive the overall narrative, each of which marks significant shifts in the protagonist’s journey. You need both for a well-rounded and engaging story.

Tips for Writing Great Pinch Points:

  1. Keep them Focused on Conflict: Keep the pinch points connected directly to the central conflict of the story. They reinforce the protagonist’s struggle against the antagonist or the obstacles they face.
  2. Build Momentum: Use pinch points to build momentum and tension. This will keep readers engaged and invested in the outcome of the story.
  3. Provide Resolution: Make sure pinch points advance the plot and move the story closer to its resolution. Try to avoid introducing unnecessary complications, conflicts, or distractions that will take away from the main conflict.
  4. Connect Pinch Points to Character Arcs: Pinch points should challenge the protagonist’s beliefs, motivations, or goals. They drive their character development toward their overall arc.
  5. Bring Surprise: Pinch points should take the reader by surprise. Keeping them on their toes keeps them reading.

Wrapping Up

Use pinch points in your narrative to intensify conflict and drive character development. Be strategic by placing them throughout the story, leveraging them to reinforce themes, raise stakes, and challenge your protagonist. Using them effectively can help you bring the reader along on a wild and ultimately satisfying ride.

Read more about turning points HERE.

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