Never Confuse the Key Event and the First Plot Point in Your Book Again!

Maybe you’ve heard of the Key Event as part of story structure. Maybe you haven’t. If you haven’t, then you just might belong to the less confused of the two parties. One of the questions I get most often about the Key Event is: What the heck is it?!

Screenplay Syd FieldThe first time I heard about the Key Event was while reading Syd Field’s awesome book Screenplay. He wrote:

The Inciting incident… sets the story in motion … [while] the key incident [is] what the story is about, and draws the main character into the story line.

This was a total light-bulb moment for me because it helped me finally understand the Inciting Event and its oft-controversial role in the story.

Okay, so the Inciting Event and the Key Event are two different things. Got it. (And if you don’t think you’ve quite got it, be sure to check out this post I wrote not too long ago on the Inciting Event).

But what about the Key Event and its relation to the First Plot Point? Are they different things? And if they are different, where does the Key Event belong in relation to the First Plot Point?

Basic Definitions: The Inciting Event, the Key Event, and the First Plot Point

Before we proceed any further in answering this extremely important question, let’s first take a moment to make sure we’re all on the same page regarding these three structural moments.

To begin with, they all belong in the First Act, which makes up the first 25% of your book. (I’m going include my First Act Timeline graphic here again for easy reference, although I know it’s a repeat for those of you who have already read the Inciting Event post.)

First Act Timeline

The Inciting Event

The Inciting Event is the major turning point halfway through your First Act, which places it right around the 12% mark. It’s the “Call to Adventure.” It’s your protagonist’s first serious brush with your story’s conflict. What it’s not is the moment when your character gets seriously and inextricably involved in that conflict. That comes later. This is just where the conflict catches your protagonist’s toe and trips him up a little.

The Key Event

As we just learned from Syd Field, the Key Event is the moment when the character can no longer escape involvement with the conflict he tripped over in the Inciting Event. This is where it gets personal.

The First Plot Point

The First Plot Point is a momentous event that marks the end of the First Act and the beginning of the Second. Basically, this is a point of no return for the protagonist. After this, there’s no going back. He’s involved with the conflict whether or not he wants to be, and his reactions to this event are what will create the rest of the story.

Are the Key Event and the First Plot Point the Same?

Notice anything? Like maybe how the Key Event and the First Plot Point sound quite similar? They’re both deeply personal moments. They both seem to be events from which the protagonist can’t walk away. And they both seem to be points of no return.

No wonder we experience all this confusion over the issue!

For a long time, I thought the Key Event and the First Plot Point were the same thing. This is an easy–and not entirely incorrect–assumption. Why? Because very often the Key Event and the First Plot Point are so closely linked as to be inextricable. To the naked eye, they definitely look like the same thing.

But they’re not.

The Key Event and the First Plot Point are two distinct and important sides of the same coin. In fact, the better analogy would be that they’re the two sides of a single doorway. As such, they occur one right after the other, usually in rapid succession.

Think about how you cross through a doorway. You do it in a single step–one fluid motion. The act of leaving one room and entering the next are two distinct events, but they both happen thanks to that one action on your part–that one step.

That’s how it happens in most stories, and that‘s why we often have a hard time figuring out the difference between the Key Event and the First Plot Point.

But it doesn’t always happen that way. There are stories in which the exit from the Normal World of the First Act and the entrance into the “adventure world” of the Second Act are two distinct moments–and these stories are the solution to figuring out how the Key Event and the First Plot Point each operate within the story.

The Key Event: Leaving the Normal World

The Key Event is when your character leaves the Normal World of the First Act. Often, this will be an actual physical departure from a physical setting:

  • In P.J. Hogan’s adaptation of Peter Pan, Wendy makes the hard decision to leave the Normal World of her London home and fly away with Peter Pan to Neverland, where she’ll “never have to think about grown-up things again.”
  • In Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, Scrooge leaves his Normal World when the Ghost of Christmas Past touches him and whisks him right out of his bedroom in the twinkling of an eye.

Never Confuse the Key Event and the First Plot Point in Your Book Again!

But sometimes the departure from the Normal World isn’t so much about leaving a physical setting as it is leaving a previously held mindset or complacent set of expectations:

  • In The Great Escape, Big X–the leader of the escape organization among the Allied POWs–leaves the previously established Normal World of the “perfect” prison camp by calling “Meeting X” and recruiting his lieutenants for the huge escape he is planning.

Never Confuse the Key Event and the First Plot Point in Your Book Again!

  • In How to Train Your Dragon, when Hiccup discovers the Night Fury dragon he shot down, he leaves behind the Normal World in which he had never been able to overcome a dragon and was, therefore, the worst Viking in the village.

By the very act of leaving the previously established, relatively safe, very familiar Normal World of the First Act, the protagonist becomes inextricably involved with the conflict. No matter how you slice and dice it, this departure is going to be extremely personal.

The First Plot Point: Entering the Adventure World

Then, right on the heels of this departure from the Normal World comes the First Plot Point. The First Plot Point is when your character enters the “adventure world” of the Second Act. It’s where he enters the main conflict. In some stories, this entrance will be obviously distinct from the Key Event’s exit:

  • In Peter Pan, Wendy and her brothers have a relatively long flight over the London rooftops and through the stars until finally they arrive in Neverland where the adventure revs into high gear and the main conflict with Captain Hook kicks off.

Never Confuse the Key Event and the First Plot Point in Your Book Again!

  • In The Great Escape, Big X and his men enter the the new adventure world of the Second Act the moment they begin digging their first escape tunnel.

But in other stories, the First Plot Point will come directly on the heels of the Key Event. They’re both part of the same scene, perhaps even the same moment, and are almost inextricable from one another:

  • In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge’s exit from his bedroom and his entrance into the supernatural adventure world of his own past happens all in one sentence: “…they passed through the wall, and stood upon an open country road, with fields on either hand.”
  • In How to Train Your Dragon, Hiccup’s finding of the dragon Toothless (his departure from his Normal World) and his decision to let the dragon go rather than killing him (the entrance into the adventure world of the main conflict) happens all in a single, seamless scene.

Never Confuse the Key Event and the First Plot Point in Your Book Again!

This entrance into the adventure world fully involves the character with the conflict. After this, he can’t turn around and re-enter his Normal World. He can only move forward in dealing with the main conflict.

A full understanding of the Key Event, its role in story structure, and its timing will help you write stronger, better defined First Plot Points–and that can only result in stronger, more powerful stories!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Can you distinguish the Key Event and First Plot Point in your work-in-progress? Tell me about them in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Thank you for clarifying this! Sometimes, the Key Event shows up naturally when I write, but sometimes I can’t seem to place it. I like the doorway analogy for the cases when Key Event is closely followed by the First Plot Point.

    In my current WIP, the heroine literally opens a door (she uses her magical power to do so) in a different world. So, if I understand correctly, the Key Event is the physical opening of the door (and all the mental process she goes through while doing it), while the First Plot Point is finding herself in the new setting. Is that correct?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Not necessarily. The Key Event is almost always something that *happens* to the character. She has no control over it. So I wouldn’t really liken to the physical action of *opening* the door. I like to think of the doorway as basically already open. The Normal World/First Act is on one side; the adventure world/Second Act is on the other. The motion of leaving the Normal World is the Key Event; the motion of entering the adventure world is the First Plot Point. And, as I said, sometimes that’s all going to be one seamless motion.

  2. Natasha says:

    I am speechless. I’ve never been hit with such a strong ray of light before! For the past months, since the first time I read your Story Structure series, I thought the First Plot Point was the same thing as the Key Event. It’s only now I get the difference and I can’t begin to describe how much it helped me in my current story. Thank you extremely much!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      That’s awesome to hear! I *love* those moments when the epiphany is so strong it practically smacks you off your feet. That’s what makes story theory so exciting!

    • spacechampion says:

      I like to think of the Key Event as the Antagonist’s Inciting Incident. That is, the first time they’ve acted on their plan, or the first time the protagonist is made aware of the antagonist’s actions. What caused the antagonist to act now and not before may be something the story covers.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        I like that! I don’t know that it would *always* be true (I’d have to think about it some more), but it would definitely be a useful viewpoint for some stories.

  3. This has really helped, thank you! I think I’ve got it now – my Key Event is when my Antagonist murders my Protagonist’s twin sister, whereas the First Plot Point is where the Protagonist gets the opportunity to pursue the Antagonist onto another world to get his revenge.

  4. I use a different approach. In my stories, the Inciting Event, the Key Event, and the First Plot Point are the same thing, and they all happen in the very first paragraph of the book, sometimes in the first sentence. I never cared about the “normal world”, so there’s no First Act.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Stories are all about innovation, so it’s always interesting to experiment with things like this. But in general, it’s useful realize that the Normal World in the First Act is important because this is the part of the story that grounds readers in their ability to relate to the characters, settings, and stakes that will be advanced when the main conflict kicks into high gear in the Second Act.

      • I prefer to introduce the problem first so that readers get hooked. The first and the second acts can be combined into one, this is a much better way of writing stories. My writing philosophy is that the reader has the right to know what the story’s about from the very beginning.

  5. Courtney says:

    Thanks for this! I’ve been thinking for a long time that I was incapable of understanding the difference between the Key Event and First Plot Point, so I decided they must be the same moment. Now I’m realizing they are actually two different scenes in my WIP (the Key Event being the death of a character the Protagonist subconsciously relied on, and the First Plot Point is the moment right after where she decides to take that character’s place requiring her to leave everything she’s known behind, which is different from the Inciting Event where she discovers that the antagonist is hunting her in the first place.)

    I hope I got that right…

    • spacechampion says:

      That sounds exactly right to me.

      • Courtney says:

        Thanks!

        Oh, and what about events that happened in the protagonist’s childhood that caused the events happening in the book now? Is that just considered prequel or could that also be considered an Inciting Incident since, without those events, the story could not take place?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          In answer to your second question, yep, events happening before the story proper are always backstory. If it’s a particularly important, traumatic event, then it’s probably your character’s motivating “Ghost”.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes! That sounds spot-on. This is actually a really good example of a distinct Key Event and First Plot Point. Good job!

  6. This was a fascinating post, but let me see if I understand this properly.

    Taking the example of a literal call to adventure: The Hook would be when the MC receives an offer that sets things into motion. The build up would be the conflict of whether or not to leap at the offer. The Inciting Incident would be the moment that propels the MC toward the inevitable path. The Key Event is the moment that tosses the question of whether or not to leap out the window, and the First Plot Point would be the first moment we see when this adventure is beginning?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The Call to Adventure is actually better placed at the Inciting Event, halfway through the First Act (at the 12% mark). But other than that, sounds good!

      • Finally! Got that down! Yay!

        But I still feel confused about the Hook vs Inciting Incident… I mean what understand the Hook is the thing that is supposed to draw readers in and give them an idea what they’re in for, and the inciting incident is where it begins to really get on the road to happening. And my Hook just happens to be a call to adventure….

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          The thing about placing the Call to Adventure/Inciting Event at the 12% mark is that doing so allows you to build your story in the first eighth. You get to introduce the characters, their goals, and what’s at stake for them. Most of the time we’re going to want the entirety of that space just to set things up, so that when the main conflict arrives at the 12% mark, everything’s in place for it.

          However, that doesn’t mean the main conflict *can’t* immediately impact the character in the Hook–as long as there’s some kind of escalation happening at the 12% mark.

          For example, consider How to Train Your Dragon:

          Hook: The Viking village is under attack by dragons, and Hiccup is trying really hard to kill one.

          That offers plenty of scene conflict, but it doesn’t yet offer the *main conflict* of the story. What it does do is an awesome job of setting up the characters, their world, and their motivations and stakes.

          Inciting Event: Hiccup shoots down a Night Fury.

          This is his Call to Adventure. This is his first brush with the *main* conflict. This is where the main story (i.e., his relationship with Toothless) starts rolling.

          First Plot Point: Hiccup discovers the Night Fury–but can’t bring himself to kill it like a good Viking should. Instead, he lets it go.

          This is where he leaves the Normal World and enters the Second Act. There’s no turning back from this moment.

          So you can see how the Hook is and should be conflict-laden with plot-pertinent details that *foreshdow* and lead right into the Inciting Event. But it isn’t yet the moment when the main story conflict actual impacts the protagonist’s life.

          And it’s really important to distinguish your *main* conflict. A story can have lots of conflicts and lots of stuff happening, but its main plot points will always be distinguished by their relation to the *main* conflict.

          If you’re not already aware of it, I encourage you to stop by my Story Structure Database. I show the structural breakdown of all kinds of stories, which will hopefully help you get a feel for how the Inciting Event works and distinguishes itself from the Hook. (I don’t address the Hooks in the breakdowns, but if you’re familiar with the stories, you can compare their openings to their listed Inciting Events.)

          • Yeah, I get it. I like to call my Hook the bait the Protag doesn’t take at first because of the central conflict in the story.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Yes! I like that a lot.

          • spacechampion says:

            I’ve been wondering if the Hook must be setting up the endgame for the main character too. ie. Demonstrating the one quality that main character has that justifies his/her ability to transform at the 75% mark towards being the person that can actually win in the climax; while doing a thing that needs to be repeated in the resolution (better or more successfully, or returning home) for the story to be actually over.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            I don’t know that I nail it down quite that specifically. The Hook is ultimately a very small portion of the story and can only accomplish so much by itself. But I do *love* it when stories do this. Whatever the Hook does, it definitely has to be setting up *something* that will be brought full circle by the end of the story.

          • I’d like to see examples drawn from The Wizard of Oz, because EVERYBODY has seen it, and it is blatantly a hero’s journey. So for example Dorothy leaves the Normal World when her house is picked up by the the tornado, and she arrives at the Adventure World when it lands (irreversibly!) on the WWE.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Yes! Great example.

  7. I’m still confused about the Inciting Event. In ‘Structuring Your Novel’, it seems to indicate that the Inciting Event can happen before the story proper even begins, or it can happen anywhere within the First Act. Apparently my Inciting Event happens on the first page, if it’s what gets the dominoes falling in the first place. Am I misunderstanding something? All the other structural pieces make sense, but this is just one thing I can’t seem to grasp, and I’ve read your blog posts and the section in your book about it 😛 Every time I think I get it, then it’s overturned by something else (like the 12% thing). I mean, I guess you could say that I have something about 12% into the first act that *could* be the Inciting Event, except that things have already happened that have put the story in motion before that.

    • Courtney says:

      That’s exactly how I feel. Glad to see I’m not the only one confused. I mean, I know I have something around the 12% mark that impacts the protagonist, but the story itself wouldn’t start if it weren’t for those first dominoes, which in my case was decades ago. This story structure sure is a fun process, huh? 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yep, I have to take total blame for your confusion. My understanding of the Inciting Event has evolved hugely since I wrote Structuring Your Novel; that section needs to be rewritten for the next edition. So ignore what’s in the book and pay attention to what’s in that recent post.

  8. If someone is writing a story with three viewpoint characters, how does any of this change, especially if each of the viewpoint characters are equally important to the storyline, and the three don’t interact with each other enough to even have dialogue between them, until near the end of the story? Should there be an inciting incident, key event and first plot point for each of these characters, all around the same place in the story?

    I’d started writing my debut novel with a fourth character as the protagonist and sole viewpoint character. Sadly, he didn’t make for a good protagonist, as my beta readers all told me. Beta readers liked most of the supporting characters more than my chosen main character. But none of the supporting characters were in a position for even a majority of the story to be told from their viewpoint. So I’m in the process of rewriting with three of those supporting characters as viewpoint characters. In making this change, I can see that my former main character was really too passive to be an effective protagonist, that things were happening to him and not so much because of him. The antagonist and supporting characters were the ones making decisions and moving the story forward.

    I like how the story is unfolding now with the three viewpoint characters instead of the one, but I’m worried about the story structure. I’ve read and enjoyed other stories with multiple viewpoint characters, so I know it can be done. But I’m not so good at analyzing these other stories to see how story structure was applied. I’d like to hear your thoughts on it.

    Thanks for the post!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I touch on the issues of plot points in multiple POV in this post on dual timelines. But the short answer is that you can handle this in two ways: either use the same plot point to drive the plot in both POVs – or time it so each POV gets its own structure-advancing plot point at the proper time. In the vast majority of cases, the first is preferable, since it will contribute to a much tighter story.

      • Thanks for your advice and the link to your other post. It’s good to hear your recommendations now, since I’ve only just started my current draft. I can make any necessary changes without much rewriting.

      • This is what I have leaned towards, as I am working with 3 POV characters as well. As it is, they don’t interact a whole lot, but their actions directly influence each other. They end up at the same place at the same time when an antagonistic force rolls through (to which they each have their own involvement and reason for opposition). The Key Event happens to them all, and they all react in their own ways, and are forced to carry on in a new world – an adventure to fix the problems caused not only in the Key Event, but throughout the first act.

        If there is some bit of advice that I have heard about multiple main characters that I’d like to regurgitate, it might be something along the lines of tightening the story by creating some type of correlation between their individual plots. I’ve made sure to do this in my WIP, and it’s gotten to the point where what seemed like such a big world now seems so small. It helps that, although there are a lot of antagonistic and contagonistic forces, there is a lot of direct and indirect correlation.

        I’ll tell you one thing though, it’s a lot to put on your plate, especially when it’s three books with one overarching plot.

    • To analyze those other stories, remove an event and see how that impacts the story (what if Dorothy hadn’t met the traveling huckster? What if the tornado hadn’t picked up the house? What if it hadn’t landed on the WWE? What if the Good Witch of the North hadn’t shown up?)

    • TWoO has a double POV during the time Dorothy is held captive in the castle: it follows her AND the three helpers.

  9. Great article on a new writers term: Key Event.
    Not sure just how to make it fit in and add anything to the story.
    I write Outdoor Action/Adventure of which much of it is actually true to life experiences.
    Sometimes it is difficult to manufacture events without straying from the real characters path of action. and the events he is reacting to.

    Just a thought. Thoroughly enjoy and appreciate you whole hearted efforts.

    Jim Curts

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      If you have a First Plot Point, then your Key Event is likely enmeshed with it. If you have trouble finding the Key Event, that’s almost always going to be the case.

  10. i like the Star Wars inciting incident of Luke Skywalker buying the Droids. It sets the story on the inevitable trajectory. The key event is directly caused by this, which is Luke’s aunt and uncle’s murder by the Empire as they search for the Droids. Luke is reluctantly thrust into the new world with his mentor. If the inciting incident doesn’t happen, the status quo would remain. Luke didn’t buy Droids looking to change anything, but the simple task given to him by his uncle set a series of events into play that changed everything.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes, great example (as Star Wars usually is). The Inciting Event is very often something the protagonist doesn’t even have to think much of at the time. It’s only in hindsight that he realizes it was the beginning of everything.

  11. JSchuler says:

    So, let’s see if I can accurately identify these three conflicts in my current story.

    My main character begins as a humble animal handler on a caravan: that’s the normal world.

    The inciting incident is when he has a run-in with a magic-using thief (wake-up call) in a trade city, which he fights, loses to, and returns to the caravan (refusal) poorer for it.

    The key event is when the same thief steals a great treasure from his caravan.

    The first plot point is when the main character takes up arms, abandons the caravan, and chases after the thief to reclaim what was stolen.

    Hijinks ensue.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Sounds excellent. Yours is a good example of how the refusal of the Call to Adventure isn’t always an actual *refusal.* Sometimes it’s a backing away from the main conflict for other reasons that persona hesitance.

  12. As always, I find these structure posts so helpful, especially in terms of revising. Right now I’m revising a short story romance. At the start of a Maine snowstorm, a woman goes to retrieve a box of things from her new friend’s allegedly awful ex (hook), but then a snowplow hits her car, stranding here there (inciting incident). She initially tries to wait for a ride outside, but her ride doesn’t show, and the snow’s getting thicker, so she make the decision to wait in his home, setting in motion her discovery of who he really is (what could be the key event). However, after entering, she stands by his door, and she only really settles once she changes into the warm, dry clothes he’s offered–which feels a bit more key event-flavored to me…

  13. This was very helpful! Thank you so much! The key event in my current WIP is the moment when two twin characters are mistakenly swapped (exiting their world), while the first plot point would be the first scene in each of their new places (entering each other’s worlds). Thank you for helping me pinpoint these two moments! 🙂

  14. Mark Williams says:

    It will confuse the readers. That’s why you need to edit.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Actually, “confuse” can correctly be used both in the way you’re talking about and to mean simply to “mix things up”–as in, “Never Mix Up the Key Event and the First Point…” 🙂

  15. Joe Long says:

    See if I have this right. My WIP is a romance

    THE HOOK
    His aunt and cousins move back to town

    INCITING EVENT
    A girl enters his life, and he has an immediate, intense reaction.

    KEY EVENT
    he’s shy, timid – and she’s his cousin, therefor off limits. But he wants her, doesn’t think he can ever have her – and does something inappropriate which scares himself.
    (It’s a big moment for the MC, but thinking about it now I don’t think it’s a turning point in the story.)

    or, is the KEY EVENT
    when he kisses her in the movie theater, which she doesn’t reject (leading immediately to the 1ST PLOT POINT)

    1ST PLOT POINT
    They become a (secret) couple, after which nothing is ever the same.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Most likely, the Key Event is the one closer to the First Plot Point. Sound more irrevocable too.

      • Joe Long says:

        I read the article, jotted down these major events in the first act, but right before posting I was seeing that although the one was very important for character development, as I said, it didn’t turn the story. The kiss, with her being a fully willing participant, is what became the irrevocable moment.

        Thanks!

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Yes! I think this is the secret to the pairing of the Key Event and the First Plot Point. They don’t *both* have to necessarily turn the plot. One may well be more character-centric than the other, so it gives us that one-two punch of character and plot.

          • Good way to put it. I see this in my WIP as well. There are 3 POV characters, and they are all affected by the same event. They each have a different reaction for different reasons and go their separate ways as a result. So as I say, one event is very plot-driven, which is the Key Event, and the different ways in which they react are individual character-driven points.

  16. Oh my gravy, two days late reading this but I wanted to say WELL SAID. You broke this down beautifully. Major respect here. Thanks all around for sharing this kind of info!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Glad you enjoyed it! (And anybody who says “oh gravy” gets extra brownie points from me. 😉 )

  17. So is this to say that if the Key Event and 25% Plot Point aren’t in direct succession, it’s because there is a section of the story in which the character(s) is in the process of passing through this doorway, as we shall call it?

    Or is the passage TO the adventure world part of the adventure? Or is it (perhaps not so) simply story dependant?

    And also, I suppose it is correct to say that in Act 2, the adventure begins.

    Also, I would like to say that the graphic you used, and the ones for act 2 and 3, I saved for myself. I had been hoping for something like that pretty much since I started reading your posts on structure. Excellent work. I’ve also gone to through the trouble of putting them together thrice for a three – book story and then applying an overall structure to that. It’s really pretty interesting. Figuring out the structure is almost as fun as the actual content and worldbuilding.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The Key Event and the First Plot Point will always be in direct succession. It’s just that sometimes they’re two distinct scenes, rather than both being a seamless flow one into the other in the same scene.

      • Well this article is great, because I too have gone some time thinking that a certain event in my story was the 25% point, and for some reason it just didn’t add up. Turns out it’s the Key Event.

        Is the 25% Plot Point generally a reaction scene, then? Reacting to the Key Event, now that the character is in a new setting (or mind-set, I guess?) and thinking differently or with a perhaps different focus?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          There will be a sequel scene (often an invisible one) in between the Key Event and the First Plot Point, since the character has to run through the whole gamut of reacting: reaction, dilemma, decision. But it’s the *goal* that sets up the next scene that is the focus of the First Plot Point.

  18. spacechampion says:

    Katie has called it a two-step. First step is on one side of the door, second step is on the other side. Lots of other metaphors can be used to describe it. Functionally, it’s about seeing a problem, and deciding to solve it, even if the character does not have any idea how. See the charging lion, shoot it with a gun. See the volcano exploding, decide to run in the other direction. See the dead body, decide to find the murderer. See the prize for a marathon is enough to buy you your dream, decide to enter the race.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Great way to put it. The Key Event is the dilemma; the First Plot Point is the decision.

    • The ol’ physics paradox where there is no such thing as an arrow travelling. At one point in time, it is in one spot. At another point in time, it’s in another spot. It is never stretched, it is never in two places at once.

  19. K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

    Actually, I think this is totally a worthwhile exercise even if you’re not intending to write about writing. Deconstructing the stories we love and figuring out what it is about them that makes us love them is a great way to better understand stories and how they tick.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      You know, I have to admit I’ve never watched Groundhog Day. Maybe I should take some time away from answering comments and go remedy that. 😉

  20. For the last month, I’ve been beating my head against my keyboard, pulling at my hair, and even, God help me, saying affirmations in the mirror. “You can do this, buddy. Where there is a will, there is a way. What is that? Where on earth did that random hair come from?” I had all of Act II and III plotted, but was utterly mind-boggled on the first act.

    I learned last night that part of my problem was some of the “good” writing I’d already done and some of the early story elements I’d already become attached to. Now, I know what they mean when they say, “Kill your darlings.” I said to myself, “Self, what if you just let go of that stuff and change the beginning entirely?” I had thousands of words written – some critiqued and polished, but somehow, I was still stuck. So, I did it. I let go and considered an entirely different set of circumstances for the first act.

    Then, reading this page carefully again last night, I started reworking the first act with my alternative approach and the pieces fell into place. Breakthrough! The approach I had been taking, it seems, was blocking me – the pieces just didn’t align well to the model expressed here. My attachment was my downfall. Now, with my revised approach, it seems so crystal clear. And here’s the kicker: it’s tons better. It is, I can tell already, a much better story.

    Thanks so much for this! More than any other text I’ve read on the craft, yours speaks to the very specific questions and struggles I’ve been having.

  21. Joleen Scott says:

    I know I have read this before, but sometimes clarification is best. So, my inciting event in my WIP is when the protagonists fiance is seriously injured during a Santerian ritual, allowing a demon to sneak in, And the key event is where the demon completely takes over, kidnapping the protagonists best friend (and possessing fiance), and now the antagonist has no choice but to save both friend and fiance from him.

  22. Freya Shipley says:

    Thank you so much for another incredibly helpful article. (The whole series is fantastic, as is your whole site! 🙂 )

    Until I read this piece, I was thinking that the Inciting Event was the event that sets the plot in motion — the first domino. In my WIP, that’s the writing of a bizarre will: something that happens before my heroine is even born. It’s the direct cause of her whole adventure, but it’s not her first brush with the conflict (as she doesn’t yet exist.)

    So now I’m thinking maybe the IE is when the heroine gets forcibly taken away from her happy home and separated from everyone who loves her. That’s the first time she knows anything’s wrong.

    But is that really the Key Event, followed immediately by Plot Point 1, where she arrives at her new “home” in the villain’s dark realm? In which case, should there be a separate Inciting Event somewhere earlier in the first act?

    Is the inciting event always defined with reference to the main character’s own personal experience?

    I don’t know whether this is enough plot info to enable you to comment. It would be great to hear your thoughts. Thank you!!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Your analysis of your story’s Hook, Key Event, and First Plot all sound correct to me. The Inciting Event should be the turning point halfway through the First Act (at roughly the 12% mark). It’s the Call to Adventure, where the protagonist first brushes, and, in some measure, rejects the main conflict. You can find more on that in my free e-book 5 Secrets of Story Structure.

      • Freya Shipley says:

        Thank you so much!

      • Freya Shipley says:

        So it goes like this?

        Hook: ??
        Key Event: Heroine is kidnapped from home.
        PP1: She arrives at her grim new “home” (@ 25% mark.)

        And the Inciting Event happens earlier, at 12%?

        I’ve got *Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys For Writing an Outstanding Story*, and I’ll definitely get *5 Secrets of Story Structure* as well.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          The Hook is the opening event that grabs your readers and kicks off the plot. From the sounds of it, this is the event that happened prior to your protagonist’s birth.

  23. Gabriela says:

    Okay, I’m honestly just confused about it still. For me I’ll just brand the Key Event and the First Plot Point as the same thing because it’s more convenient that way and won’t make much of a difference. But besides that, I think I know have a thorough understanding of the first act, but I’ve come to noticed that it doesn’t necessarily matter if your inciting event is during the 1% of the story, it just has to be before halfway of the first mark, but the placement that matters the most is the Key Event/Plot Point because it’s best for it to be around 25%.

  24. Gabriela says:

    Is it bad to not know the difference between Key Event and First Plot Point when writing a story? For me, it makes things too complicated, and I understand it way better if I just get rid of ‘Key Event’ and only focus on the First Plot Point, because I see it the same way anyway.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Not necessarily. In most stories, they will be so closely related as to almost be the same thing. They’re just two sides of the same coin. The Key Event is where the conflict smashes into the character; the First Plot Point is then where the character smashes *back* into the conflict (in short, he makes the decision to engage rather than walking away).

  25. Joe Nathan Scott says:

    I happened to stumble across your articles while I was doing some research to be more disciplined in my writing and I must say they’ve been a lifesaver. Thank you so much for these free articles and for taking the time to mentor aspiring writers. I’ve been working on a novel for some time now where the protagonist is raised in an academy and is sent to a military base when he graduates. His “call to adventure” occurs when there’s an attack on the base and in the heat of the moment (because he’s in the right place at the right time) he’s ordered by his superior to leave and protect a mysterious artifact. He doesn’t particularly believe in the cause (he longs for ‘freedom’) but since he’s been given a direct order he complies. My question is, does his lack of choice in the matter weaken my ‘inciting event’ any? I might be able to find a way to rework the scene if that’s the case.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Even if the character is being forced by outside circumstances, he still has to make an active choice to engage. Ideally, it should be a hard choice, with consequences either way. Although there will be a give and take, you want a plot in which your character causes things to happen, rather than a story in which things happen *to* him.

      Great to hear you’re enjoying the site!

  26. Romina Korte says:

    Thank you, this already helped me a lot! Maybe it’s just my story, but I’m still confused about what these parts would be in my story:

    In a nutshell, the protagonist attends an elitist university against his will, with some big names among the students. One night one of those big names actually pukes on him by accident (yes I know ^^) and therefore invites the protagonist to dinner in his close circle as an apology, which introduces the protagonist to his soon-to-be friends and the person the conflict will be about. At first the protagonist and his kind-of antagonist despise each other, until the antagonist becomes the tutor of the protagonist (which goes against both of their wills). But this new tutoring relationship forces them to spend time with each other and allows the protagonist to get to know the other person and start forming a bond with them over a lot of complications.

    So right now, I would say the inciting incident is the protagonist being puked on and then invited to the dinner? Because that drives him into a new direction and to the new acquaintances. Would the key event then be the dinner where he meets the other person he’s going to form a relationship with over the course of the story after initial mutual hatred? Because that has him befriend all those rich people and kind of exit his old world. Or is that also the First Plot Point, because it also has him enter a new world of abundance? Or is the First Plot Point when that other character becomes his tutor? Because that leads the protagonist into the crazy world of that other character and enables getting to know him past his built walls?

    Okay, I feel like I’ve now confused myself xD If you could give any insight into this you don’t know how much that would help me ^^

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Partly, it depends on timing:

      Inciting Event: 12%
      Key Event: 20-25%
      First Plot Point: 25%

      So with that understood, I’d say your original statement of events sounds right.

      Inciting Event: Puking.
      Key Event: Attending dinner.
      First Plot Point: Meeting the people realign his world at the dinner.

  27. I'm REALLY Confused says:

    Okay, first of all, like my name suggests, I’m really confused. I’ve been trying to study the Structuring Your Novel book but some parts of it frustrate me so much that I want to blow my brains out — well, not literally.

    But it’s been kind of the same for all of the other articles online on three act structure; I suppose my confusion is due partly to the fact that I’m thirteen and am not that experienced. Anyway (sorry for rambling!), I don’t quite understand your explanation of Key Event VS the First Plot Point.

    What I understand is that the key event “is what the story is about, and draws the main character into the story line.”

    Also, the First Plot Point is the lock-in, or the point of no return.

    To illustrate, in Legally Blonde, Elle Woods is dumped by Warner, the inciting event. I, however, correct me if I’m wrong, interpret that the Key Event is the scene when Elle is sitting on a couch with an old lady, when she reaches an epiphany. She thinks that she must attend Harvard Law School, proving that she’s not just blonde but smart, in order to win his heart back. I think this is the Key Event because this is when Elle is involved in the story line and drawn into the story. Even though no action is happening and it’s all in her mind, it’s essential because the whole story is about her trying to win Warner back by attending Harvard Law. The inciting event simply happens to the character but the key event is when the character actually cares about her situation and is characterized by an epiphany or sudden realization, or change of heart.

    Since, in my interpretation, the key event is the lock in, this would happen when Elle steps out of her car, the front doors of Harvard standing before her. Between the key event and first plot point, she has already studied rigorously and proved herself worthy when she got accepted. Now that she’s at Harvard, there’s no turning back now — or atleast that’s what I think.

    The reason my interpretation of Key Event strays from yours is because nowhere in the quote from Syd did it say that the character was in an inextricable situation, physically. I observed it more as something mental — where the character resigns themselves to take on the problem, because they realize that it has become personal and they have to do something about it. Sometimes in films, an inciting event happens, but the character isn’t engaged until they mentally decide to be so.

    To sum up, I think that the inciting event is an external event that happens to a character; or when the first domino tumbles over. Usually, the character just reacts to it, like how Elle Woods stayed in bed gorging herself with chocolates and soap operas, traumatized of the break up. But the Key Event doesn’t happen until the protagonist accepts her situation and decides to be proactive, which draws her into the story line. This is where Elle realizes she has to attend Harvard in order to win back Warner–and is what the story is all about. The lock in, or the first plot point, is the point of no escape, when Elle has already been accepted into Harvard and was standing before the front doors.

    PLEASE correct me on where I went wrong! I’m really confused and the Key Event and the First Plot Point really confuse me! Please help? :^(

    • I'm REALLY Confused says:

      In othker words, I think , similar to the First Plot Point, the Key Event is like a lock in — but a mental one, where the protagonist decides to tackle on the problem and is drawn into the story. The First Plot Point, however, is a physical lock in — it’s the point of literally no return, like when Elle arrives at Harvard.
      Jeez.
      I should have just posted this comment instead of that monster above, strangly I find that my thoughts become more distinct as I put type them out. Anyways, sorry for the word count!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Legally Blonde, so I can’t verify this 100%. But it all sounds spot on. The reason the Key Event is often confusing is that it’s very fluid. Sometimes it isn’t even a beat of its own, separate from the First Plot Point. The easiest way to think about it is like this: the Key Event is where the protagonist steps out of the Normal World of the First Act, and the First Plot Point is where she steps into the Adventure World of the Second Act.

Trackbacks

  1. […] novel. Kristen A. Kieffer has plot structures for building bestsellers, K.M. Weiland describes the difference between the key event and the first plot point, Kristen Lamb explains why flashbacks ruin fiction, and Linda Clare lays out exactly what to show […]

  2. […] Reading: “Never Confuse the Key Event and the First Plot Point in Your Book Again!” from Helping …, “What is the Call to Adventure?” from The Hero […]

  3. […] Blogpost: Never Confuse the Key Event and the First Plot Point in Your Book Again!  K.M. Weiland helps fiction writers understand the difference between the inciting incident, the […]

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