The Breath of Dawn

Inciting Event: There isn’t a crystal clear Inciting Event that jumps out at me here. The obvious beginning of the conflict is the meeting of the two leads, Morgan and Quinn, but that happens very early in the story, far before the optimal placing of the First Act turning point at the 12% mark. What I’m going to identify as the Inciting Event, within that context, is the scene in which Morgan cuts his hand and Quinn doctors him. It’s a clear refusal of the Call to Adventure: Morgan is drawn to Quinn but backs away from the attraction, due to his continuing grief for the wife he lost two years earlier.

On a subplot level, the Inciting Event is clearly when Quinn learns that Markham—the man who was sent to prison on her testimony—has gotten out and is looking for her.

First Plot Point: Quinn cooks Thanksgiving dinner for Morgan and his brother’s family. She has to stay the night due to a blizzard. The delineation between First Act/Normal World and Second Act/adventure world is subtle here, but aside from the fact that this is a big “showcase” sequence (which major plot points should be), it’s also a definite turning point in the tentative relationship Quinn and Morgan have been forging. After this point, they’re clearly friends instead of just neighbors.

It’s also during this sequence that Morgan learns about Markham and begins having a vested interest in protecting Quinn.

First Pinch Point: Quinn discovers her house has been tossed—undoubtedly by Markham—which prompts her to accept Morgan’s “business” proposal that they should get married, so she can legally change her name and stop running.

This is a huge turning point within the story. In a lot of ways, it’s a much more obvious departure from the Normal World than is the Thanksgiving sequence. So why is this the First Pinch Point and not the First Plot Point? Timing aside, this is clearly an emphasis of the antagonist’s power and a reminder of the ultimate stakes in the conflict: both Quinn’s property and life and her relationship with Morgan (which she would have to sacrifice if she goes on the run again).

From the perspective of timing, it’s also important that this be the pinch point and not the plot point, because the story needed this much time to develop the relationship between Morgan and Quinn to the point where they could believably make the leap into a marriage of convenience. Had this happened at the 25% mark (where the First Plot Point belongs), the believable evolution of their relationship would have been compromised.

Although I would rarely recommend choosing a pinch point that’s stronger than your plot point, it is important to understand the timing requirements within your own individual story.

Midpoint: After returning home to Colorado from the marriage they unexpectedly decided to consummate, Quinn and Morgan discover Markham’s presence. They take Morgan’s daughter and run to his home in Santa Barbara. Here, we see a clear shift in the story. The change in setting—from Colorado to California—obviously and visually shifts the story into a new mode. This is also the first time the protagonists come face to face with the antagonist, which prompts them into a more obvious and radical form of action than the comparatively passive preventative measures they took in the first half.

Second Pinch Point: Morgan discovers the reason Markham is after Quinn is because she never turned over the money she discovered him stealing. She isn’t complicit in the crime and has no interest in keeping the money, but her lack of experience at the time means she’s now possibly a person of interest for the FBI.

This revelation comes on the heels of several other “pinchy” scenes: One in which Markham discovers Morgan is a famous business guru—and then uses those clues to try to locate him and Quinn—which emphasizes the threat of the antagonist himself. And another in which Quinn goes through Morgan’s first wife’s things and feels the pinch of Morgan’s great love for the first wife and the possibility that he will never love Quinn that much.

But we can tell that this scene is the actual Second Pinch Point, because it’s the scene that offers a clear turning point in the plot. After this, Morgan will shift his focus to collaborating with a lawyer and trying to clear Quinn so she can return the money.

Third Plot Point: The Third Act is definitely the weakest part of this story. The protagonists get their relationship squared away shortly after the Second Pinch Point, which would have created a great “false” victory to lead into the Third Plot Point—except there is no clear Third Plot Point.

The obvious candidate is the scene in which Markham (apparently) kills Quinn’s beloved grandfather with a rock to the head. The problem, however, is that this scene takes place “off stage” and away from Quinn’s knowledge of the event. She has no idea what Markham has done, so it can have no effect on her choices and actions—and definitely can’t bring her to a personal low. To be effective, plot points must immediately and irrevocably affect the protagonist.

Climax: Markham kidnaps Quinn and her sister and locks them in the basement of an old mental asylum. Morgan, who is now deeply in love with Quinn (who is pregnant with his child), rushes to get ransom money together. The mechanics of this Climax work just fine. But it suffers from one major problem: the conflict is all external. By this point in the story the main plot—the characters’ relationship—has been resolved. They’re in love; they’ve admitted they’re in love; and they have no more personal problems to overcome. Optimally, the inner and outer conflicts would have come to a head more less simultaneously in the Climax.

Climactic Moment: Markham accidentally blows himself up with a Molotov cocktail, and Morgan saves Quinn and her sister.

Resolution: Morgan and Quinn move to a new house and Morgan buys a horse for his wife and daughter.

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