Of Human Bondage

Inciting Event: After spending the first eighth of book as a child under the control of his cold uncle and simplistic aunt, Philip makes a bid for freedom and convinces them to let him leave his boarding school in England and instead go abroad to Germany.

This is both a turning point halfway through the First Act, and the Inciting Event in the sense that it introduces Philip’s main conflict: his personal and ideological struggles as an individual.

First Plot Point: After his first romantic fling (which was not serious on his own part), Philip leaves behind the Normal World of England and goes to Paris to learn to be an artist. At this point, he is an “adult” and must begin fending for himself in earnest.

First Pinch Point: Philip’s artist “friend” Fanny commits suicide. This both prompts and coincides with Philip’s realization that he has no true talent for art. He heroically decides to give it up and return to England to become a doctor. Once there, he meets the waitress Mildred and becomes obsessively infatuated with her, despite his logical recognition of her many character flaws.

These are all separate events. Mildred’s introduction—although arguably the most important scene in the first half—doesn’t fit particularly well within the overall structure. But I’m grouping it with the overall “pinch and turn” of this section.

Midpoint: Mildred tells Philip she’s going to marry a Mr. Miller. Philip, in despair, believes it’s all up between them. He finally moves on with his life, realizing he’s better off without her, even though he still loves her.

Second Pinch Point: After reentering Philip’s life and revealing that Miller (who never did marry her) abandoned her after discovering she was pregnant, Mildred allows Philip to spend his small budget in helping her. Philip is overjoyed since he believes Mildred will now grow to love him. But she casually betrays him by starting a passionate affair with Philip’s friend. This time, Philip ponders suicide, but finally comes to a point where he believes he no longer loves her.

Third Plot Point: After once again going out of his way to save Mildred (this time from prostitution), even though he no longer loves her, Philip refuses her advances. In revenge, she systematically destroys his flat. In an attempt to rectify his finances, he loses everything on the stock market and finds himself homeless, starving, and unable to finish his schooling.

Climax: After working for months at a degrading job, Philip finally gets his financial feet back under him when his uncle dies, leaving him enough money to start again. Philip sees Mildred (once again a prostitute) for the last time. He finds himself in an affair with the daughter of a good friend.

Climactic Moment: Philip finally realizes the thing he has wanted all along is simply a wife and family.

Resolution: He asks the girl to marry him, and she agrees, and he is happy.

Comments: This is exactly the sort of book that inspires people to say structure is unnecessary to good stories. Indeed, the plot in this classic is decidedly episodic and even rambling. The Mildred subplot at its center is only loosely connected to the early events of Philip’s life, as are his successes in the latter part of the book.

Still, this book is actually a rather good example of how the structural points exist in almost every type of story, even those that are not, in any sense, plot driven.

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s monthly e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

Email: