Plot Points in Fiction – An Exploration

Posted on Aug 14, 2023

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The utilization of plot points in literature holds significant importance in shaping narratives and engaging readers. These pivotal moments, strategically placed within a story’s progression, serve as critical junctures that drive the plot forward and contribute to character development. 

Plot points encompass events such as inciting incidents that initiate the central conflict, turning points that alter the trajectory of the story, and climactic moments that lead to resolution.

Exploring the function of plot points enables a deeper understanding of how authors structure their works to create tension, build suspense and evoke emotional responses. 

By dissecting these elements, readers and writers alike can appreciate the deliberate construction of narratives and the impact of well-defined plot points on the overall storytelling experience. 

This article will take a deep dive into the various types of plot points, their roles within literature and the ways in which they influence the reader’s engagement with the text.

This guide to plot points contains:

  1. What are plot points?
  2. How are plot points used?
  3. Types of plot points
  4. Notable examples of plot points
  5. Plot point mistakes to avoid

What are plot points?

A plot point in literature refers to a significant event or development within a story that drives the narrative forward, influences character actions and shapes the overall progression of the plot.

How are plot points used?

Plot points are used in literature to create structure, build tension and guide the development of the narrative.

They serve as key moments that propel the story forward and engage readers.

Here is how they are used.

Structural Framework: Plot points provide a framework for organizing the storyline. They help divide the narrative into distinct sections, such as the setup, rising action, climax and resolution.

Tension and Suspense: Plot points introduce conflict in a story, challenges and unexpected developments that keep readers invested in the story. They create suspense by presenting obstacles and uncertainties that characters must overcome.

Character Development: Plot points often trigger changes in characters’ beliefs, motivations and actions. Characters respond to challenges, making choices that reveal their personalities and drive the story’s progression.

Narrative Progression: Plot points maintain the pacing of the narrative, preventing stagnation and monotony. They offer turning points that shift the direction of the story, maintaining reader interest.

Emotional Impact: Significant plot points evoke emotional responses from readers, such as empathy, excitement, or tension. These emotional connections enhance the reading experience.

Resolution: Climactic plot points bring about the story’s resolution, answering central questions and providing closure to the narrative arc.

Theme Exploration: Plot points can highlight and explore themes by presenting situations that challenge characters’ beliefs or force them to confront moral dilemmas.

Types of plot points

Naturally, there are countless types of plot points that writers can select to include in their stories. But there are however a number that occur more frequently than others, creating somewhat of a pattern or trend. Below are five of the most common plot points readers can expect to find in the books they read.

Inciting Incident: This is the event that kicks off the main conflict of the story. It disrupts the protagonist’s ordinary life and sets the plot in motion, prompting them to take action.

Turning Point: These are pivotal moments that shift the direction of the story. Turning points often involve major revelations, decisions, or unexpected events that alter the characters’ goals or motivations.

Midpoint: Positioned roughly in the middle of the story, the midpoint marks a significant change in the protagonist’s journey. It can introduce new information, change alliances, or raise the stakes.

Climax: The climax in a story is the highest point of tension and conflict in the story. It is where the protagonist confronts the main obstacle and faces the most critical decision or conflict, leading to a resolution.

Resolution: This is the point where loose ends are tied up and the story’s conflicts are resolved. It provides closure to the narrative and offers insights into the characters’ futures.

Notable examples of plot points

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare – Inciting Incident: The inciting incident in this tragic play occurs when Romeo and Juliet meet at the Capulet’s ball. Their instant attraction sets the stage for their forbidden love and the ensuing conflicts between their families.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – Turning Point: A turning point in this novel is when Atticus Finch takes on the case of defending Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman. This decision challenges racial prejudices in the community and influences the novel’s events.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Midpoint: The midpoint of the novel occurs during Gatsby’s extravagant party at his mansion. The meeting between Gatsby and Daisy marks a crucial turning point, reigniting their romance and intensifying the conflicts within the story.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare – Climax: The climax of Hamlet takes place in Act III, when Hamlet confronts his mother in her chamber and accidentally kills Polonius. This event escalates the tension, leading to further complications and tragic consequences.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – Resolution: The final plot point of the trilogy occurs when Frodo destroys the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom. This resolution brings closure to the long and perilous journey and concludes the central conflict of the series.

Plot point mistakes to avoid

Writers often strive to create effective and engaging plot points, but there are some common mistakes that should be avoided to ensure a coherent and compelling storyline.

Weak Inciting Incident: A vague or unconvincing inciting incident can undermine the story’s foundation. It is essential to have a clear event that propels the plot forward and motivates the protagonist.

Predictable Turning Points: If turning points are too predictable, they can lead to a lack of suspense and reader engagement. Strive for unexpected twists or revelations that challenge expectations.

Lack of Conflict Escalation: Failing to escalate the conflict throughout the story can result in a flat or stagnant narrative. Gradually intensify challenges and obstacles to maintain reader interest.

Misplaced or Overused Climaxes: A climax that occurs too early or too late can disrupt the story’s pacing. Additionally, using multiple climactic moments can dilute their impact. Ensure the climax is appropriately positioned and singularly impactful.

Unearned Resolutions: A rushed or unsatisfying resolution can leave readers feeling unfulfilled. Avoid resolving conflicts too conveniently or without proper setup. Solutions should be consistent with the characters’ growth and choices.

Neglecting Character Motivations: Plot points should align with characters’ motivations and personalities. Inconsistent actions that don’t stem from well-developed characters can undermine the story’s authenticity.

Forced Coincidences: Reliance on unlikely coincidences to move the plot forward can weaken the story’s credibility. Strive for organic developments that arise from character decisions and actions.

Overloading with Plot Points: Introducing too many plot points can lead to confusion and a cluttered narrative. Focus on a select few key moments that have significant impact.

Neglecting Emotional Impact: A lack of emotional resonance in plot points can leave the story feeling shallow. Ensure that significant events evoke genuine emotional responses from characters and readers.

Ignoring Subplots: Subplots can enrich a story, but neglecting to tie them back into the main plot can create loose ends and detract from the story’s cohesion.

Plot points in literature – final thoughts

As we can see from the above, there are countless nuances and subtleties that constitute plot points and what separates the good from the bad. 

There are also an infinite number of ways plot points can be used in a story, so the above is by no means a definitive or exhaustive guide.

But it should provide good insight for both readers and writer and provide them with an overview on plot points so that they can both recognise as a reader when one is used and the motivations behind the writer’s choice, as well as know when best to deploy it and how in their own work as a writer.

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