Let’s Talk the Plot Points of a Story…
When people talk about the plot of a story, what do they really mean? Isn’t plot just what happens? Boy meets girl, they fall in love, and they live happily ever after. Someone is murdered, detective investigates, finds killer just in the nick of time, case closed.
But plot is much more than “this happened, then this happened, then that happened.” It must be about a journey that a protagonist (or protagonists) takes involving external and internal conflict.
The structure of a story is vital to telling a good story, and while there are many ways to graph that structure, the five plot points of the three-act story structure are the most common way of looking at things and are the basis for a good story arc. As Kristina Stanley writes in this article, plotting a story along the story arc resonates with readers and has done so since written story began.
Let’s look at the five main plot points; what they are and some examples. We’ll start with the first of the plot points.
The Inciting Incident
A story starts with the main character, the protagonist, in their everyday world. They probably aren’t fully satisfied here, and readers get to see how they are living with their circumstances. Somewhere in the first 15% of the story something happens. This may be a choice the protagonist makes, or it may be something done to them, but whatever it is will set them off on a journey that will change their world and change who they are. That is the inciting incident.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: The setup for the story is four siblings being sent from London to live in the country during World War 2. We see their relationships with one another, and how they are coping with their new surroundings. When Lucy finds her way into Narnia through the wardrobe while playing hide and seek, she and her siblings are literally on a journey into a new world.
Romeo and Juliet: All is well in the very separate worlds of the Montagues and the Capulets until Romeo sees the beautiful Juliet and is smitten, and he decides he must know who she is, sending them both on a journey of love and tragedy.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Sorcerer’s Stone in the UK): Harry Potter, unhappily living in his room under the stairway in the Dursley’s house, is bullied and uncared for. Strange things happen from time to time that Harry can’t explain, but it seems his lot in life is not a good one…until Hagrid arrives on his 11th birthday to tell Harry he’s a wizard! Harry is about to start a journey that will involve more conflict than he can imagine.
Star Wars: Luke lives with his aunt and uncle on a desert planet, dreaming of a different life. Then he purchases a droid that contains a message from a beautiful princess, and his decision to help her sends him on a journey of discovery and danger.
Let’s move on to the second of the plot points.
Plot Point 1
Plot Point 1 is the point of no return. There is a compelling reason that the protagonist must fully enter the journey, and there is no going back. This is the end of Act 1, and usually happens 20-30% of the way through the story.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: Edmund finds his way into Narnia and is enchanted by the White Witch, who instructs him to bring his siblings to meet her and she will make him a prince.
Romeo and Juliet: Romeo and Juliet discover the identity of each other, realizing that they have fallen in love with someone who has been a sworn enemy. To go back means denying their love.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Harry arrives at Hogwarts. If he gets back on the train, he goes back to his status quo life of living with the Dursleys.
Star Wars: Luke returns from delivering his message to Obi-wan Kenobi to find his aunt and uncle murdered. This is the event that drives him to travel with Obi-wan to rescue Princess Leia – he literally cannot go back to life the way it was.
And now, the third of the plot points.
The Midpoint or Middle Plot Point
The protagonist is half-way through their journey. So far, they have reacted to the things that have happened along the way; now they become proactive, re-engaging with the conflict. This happens, unsurprisingly, at 45-55% of the way through the novel.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: Edmund deserts his brother and sisters and goes to the castle of the White Witch to betray them. Peter, Susan, and Lucy flee to meet Aslan, realizing he is the only one who can save Edmund.
Romeo and Juliet: Romeo, who has just married Juliet, kills her cousin Tybalt in a duel. He is banished from Verona. How will the young couple reunite? Plans are made…
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: During a quidditch match, Harry’s bewitched broom tries to shake him off, and it becomes obvious that someone is trying to kill him.
Star Wars: Luke, Obi-wan, Han Solo, and Chewbacca arrive at Alderaan to find it destroyed. There is no help for them – they must go on alone. They are captured by the Death Star but hide in the Millennium Falcon’s smuggling area. They find out Leia is on board and go to rescue her.
We’re almost there. The fourth of the plot points is next.
Plot Point 2:
This is the low point for the protagonist. All seems lost, and they have to confront their inner fears and conflicts to find the way to move forward.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: Aslan offers himself instead of Edmund to pay for Edmund’s crime of betrayal, and he is killed on the stone table, leaving the children to fight the White Witch without him.
The 2005 film adaptation of CS Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Romeo and Juliet: Juliet, newly married to Romeo, is being forced to marry Paris by her unknowing parents. Friar Lawrence has come up with a plan to allow a way for Juliet to escape and be with Romeo, but it involves faking her own death. Juliet struggles with the decision, but eventually takes the poison.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Harry encounters Voldemort in the Dark Woods. Voldemort tries to kill Harry. Harry knows he will have to confront Voldemort.
Star Wars: Luke, Han, and Chewie have found Leia and are heading for the Millennium Falcon to escape, when Luke sees Obi-wan and Darth Vader fighting. Obi-wan is killed. Luke has lost his mentor, and will have to carry on alone.
And finally, we reach the fifth of the plot points.
The climax of the story is the culmination of all the conflict that has come before. Masterclass writes “the climax of a story is a dramatic turning point in a narrative—a pivotal moment at the peak of the story arc that pits the protagonist against an opposing force in order to resolve the main conflict once and for all.” The Climax should come near the end of the story, between 85-95% through the story.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: The final battle against the White Witch is not going well, when Aslan appears with reinforcements. The battle turns, and Aslan kills the White Witch.
Romeo and Juliet: Romeo discovers Juliet in her tomb – he didn’t get the note explaining that her death is merely a ruse. He cannot live without her, and he drinks poison to join her in death. Juliet awakes to find Romeo dead beside her, and likewise takes her own life to avoid the pain of life without him.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: After making it through all the spells and enchantments guarding the stone, Harry must leave Ron and Hermione and face Quirrell/Voldemort on his own. Quirrell is killed, but Voldemort’s spirit escapes.
Star Wars: R2D2 has smuggled the plans to the rebels, and they know how to destroy the Death Star. Luke has joined the fighter pilots, and he finally learns to use the Force and makes the perfect shot to cause the Death Star’s destruction.
After the climax the story should have a few scenes of Resolution/Denouement, showing the protagonist in their new world and how they are reacting to it after the lessons they have learned.
Written by Kara Henderson
Kara Henderson is a Fictionary Certified StoryCoach Editor and a content creator for Fictionary. She attended Simon Fraser University for editing courses and is a member of the Editors Association of Canada. She edits blogs, creative non-fiction books, non-fiction books, and fiction novels.
She is excited about living life as a Fictionary Certified StoryCoach Editor and helping writers make novels the best they can be.