Inciting Event: Sophie is cursed when the Witch of the Waste (seemingly) shows up at random in Sophie’s hat shop, tells her to “stay away from what belongs to me,” and turns her into an old woman. Immediately after, Sophie goes to the Waste and takes shelter in Howl’s moving castle.
In the movie, we have the curse as the Inciting Event and Sophie’s entrance into Howl’s castle as the First Plot Point. I like this structure a lot better, since Howl’s castle is the adventure world of the story and her arrival there delineates the acts better. But it’s also true the movie is necessarily shorter and covers about the same amount of time between the Inciting Event and First Plot Point that the book does in just two chapters—so the timing ends up being completely different.
First Plot Point: Here the First Plot Point is Howl’s meltdown after Sophie messes up his beauty potions—turning his hair red-pink. He oozes slime all over the castle and announces that the girl whose heart he has been after is, in fact, Sophie’s sister Lettie.
In the movie, the meltdown is the First Pinch Point, and I like that timing better as well, since this moment (particularly with the added threats presented in the movie) is more suited to an antagonistic pinch. The revelation about Lettie does, more or less, set up Howl’s main conflict, but since this is Sophie’s story, it’s her conflict that should be taking center stage here.
First Pinch Point: Sophie and Howl’s apprentice Michael follow Howl to where he’s courting Lettie. This is an extremely subtle pinch. It emphasizes Howl’s fickle vanity and (under the surface) the threat to Sophie’s unspoken growing affection for Howl. It doesn’t do a whole lot to turn the plot, but it galvanizes Sophie in her actions.
Midpoint: While visiting Howl’s home in Wales, Sophie witnesses as the Witch of the Waste’s curse finally catches up to Howl and “takes hold.” I see this as properly the Midpoint in this story, but it’s followed up by the bigger scene in which Sophie meets with the king, tries to blacken Howl’s name to keep Howl from having to be the Royal Sorcerer—only to have the king be convinced of exactly the opposite when Sophie reveals all the aspects of Howl’s personality that she does, in fact, respect.
So we have two Moments of Truth here—the curse taking hold, and Sophie’s (still understated) realization that she actually likes and respects Howl.
Second Pinch Point: Howl and the Witch of the Waste do battle in the street and the skies. This is the first time Howl has come face to face with the antagonist, so this is a more than suitable choice for the Second Pinch Point. It also turns the plot by prompting Howl to “move house” so the Witch can’t find them.
Third Plot Point: After Sophie accidentally creates a mandrake root with a “baby”—thus fulfilling the next to last of the requirements for the Witch’s curse on Howl to take hold—she opens the door to admit what she believes is Howl’s latest lady-love: Miss Angorian. Furious with jealousy—even though she doesn’t want to admit that she’s fallen for Howl—Sophie throws Miss Angorian out and goes on a rampage through the house.
This plot point is worth taking note of. Compared to the dramatic (and often death-laden) Third Plot Points in some stories, this one is very quiet. Its effect comes largely from the tone the story takes in indicating how “down” Sophie is here.
Climax: The Witch decoys Howl into trying to protect his family back in Wales, while Sophie sets out to rescue (so she thinks) Miss Angorian from the Witch’s stronghold. The final confrontation between the Witch and her fire demon is set in motion—as well as the emotional reckoning between Howl and Sophie.
Climactic Moment: Sophie restores Howl’s heart, and Howl vanquishes Miss Angorian—who turned out to be the Witch’s fire demon.
Resolution: Howl and Sophie decide to have a “happily ever after.”.