The Secrets of Story Structure, Pt. 4: The First Plot Point

Stories are a series of scenes. Some of those scenes are expected, some of them are even purposefully repetitious for the sake of emphasis. But some scenes change everything. These game changers are the plot points. They introduce significant elements and events that alter the subsequent course of the story. Your story can have any number of plot points, some relatively minor, some shockingly huge. Plot points are what keep your story moving forward. They mix things up, keep the conflict fresh, and propel your character far away from any possibility of stagnancy.

The first major plot point (which occurs around the 25% mark in your story) is a bit of a misnomer, since your story may have any number of plot points within the first quarter of the story. For example, in the film Changeling, we have several cataclysmic plot points (including the kidnapping of the heroine’s son, the return of the wrong boy, and the police department’s insistence that she accept the child anyway) before her decision, at the quarter mark, to fight back against the corrupt police department. Following, we’ll take a look at what differentiates the 25%-mark plot point from any that preceded it.

What is the first plot point?

The first major plot point changes everything. This is the point of no return for your characters. Often, this plot point will be the Key Event. The first plot point is the moment when the setup ends, and your character crosses his personal Rubicon. But this isn’t just an event that happens to him (such as the kidnapping of the heroine’s son in Changeling). This is an event that either incorporates or is directly followed by the character’s reacting in a strong and irrevocable way (for example, Changeling’s heroine’s decision to fight back against the police). We’ll be discussing the reaction in more detail in a future post.

Where does the first plot point belong?

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The first plot point marks the finish of the first act, and the character’s reaction to it marks the beginning of the second. In a sense, the first plot point is the climax of the first act, and, as such, it should be placed approximately around the 20-25% mark. Generally, the exact placement of plot points in a novel allows more flexibility than what we find in a film. If you pay attention while watching a movie, you can time the major plot points down to the minute (which makes film an especially valuable medium for studying structure, since we can view the entire story structure in one sitting and identify the plot points with precision by dividing the total running time into fourths).

So what’s the reason for this seemingly arbitrary placement of the first plot point? Why the 25% mark and not the 10% or 40%? Simply, because this is the point at which a reader’s innately human story sense tells him something big is supposed to happen. If you’ve ever watched or read a poorly plotted story that skipped or postponed the first plot point, you probably instinctively sensed the story was dragging. Likely, you grew bored and got up to do something else without finishing the story. No first plot point means no turning point means the first act drags on too long—or, conversely, if the first plot point takes place too early, the second act drags on.

Examples from film and literature

As one of the most dynamic moments in any story, the first plot point is both one of easiest to spot and one of the most exciting to study. So let’s take a peek at what happens roundabout the 25% mark in our four example stories.

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813): After the ball at Netherfield Park, Darcy and Caroline Bingley convince Bingley to return to London and forget all about his growing affection for Jane. Much has happened in the story up to this point. Lydia and Kitty have become enamored of the militia. Wickham has turned Lizzy against Darcy. Jane and Lizzy have stayed over at Netherfield during Jane’s convalescence. And Mr. Collins has proposed to Lizzy. But everything changes at the 25% mark when Darcy and the Bingleys leave. This is the event that breaks Jane’s heart and infuriates Lizzy against Darcy. Character motivations and reactions aside, it also changes the landscape of the story, since several prominent characters are no longer in the neighborhood for the Bennets to interact with as they did throughout the first quarter of the book.

It’s a Wonderful Life directed by Frank Capra (1947): Throughout the first quarter of the story, George Bailey’s plans for his life have progressed uninterrupted. Despite his various misadventures in Bedford Falls, he’s on the fast track to a European vacation and a college education. Then the first plot point hits, and his life is forever changed. When his father dies of a stroke, George’s plans are dashed. As in Pride & Prejudice, the standards that have already been established in the story are dramatically altered. This is no longer a story about a carefree young man freewheeling around town. From here on out, this is a story about a man forced to take responsibility by working at the Bailey Brothers’ Building & Loan.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1977): The quarter mark of Ender’s Game finds Ender graduating from his launch group to Salamander Army after a victorious confrontation with the bully Bernard. Aside from Ender’s personal assertion of brains, tenacity, and leadership qualities, with which he claims his spot at Battle School and makes it clear to himself, the other children, and the watching instructors that he will do whatever he has to do to survive, this first major plot point also changes the game (no pun intended!) by once again moving Ender to new surroundings. As a member of Salamander Army, he’s dropped into a new place, a new social stratum, and a new set of challenges.

Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World directed by Peter Weir (2004): After refitting the Surprise and heading back out to sea to look for their opponent, the French privateer Acheron, Captain Jack Aubrey is confident everything will go according to his plans. But he (and the viewers) are thrown for a loop by the first major plot point. Instead of the Surprise finding the Acheron, the captain abruptly wakes to discover the enemy bearing down on his much smaller ship. Suddenly, he’s not only not assured of an easy victory—or any victory at all, for that matter—he and his crew are also in dire danger of being captured. They scramble to escape, and the game of cat-and-mouse that will comprise the rest of the film begins in earnest.

Takeaway value

So what do the masterful plot points in these books and films teach us?

1. The first major plot point occurs almost on the dot at the 25% mark (Pride & Prejudice is the only one that was late and even then it was only by a few pages).

2. The first plot point is an event that changes everything and becomes a personal turning point for the main character.

3. The first major plot point almost always changes the story so irrevocably that even the character’s surroundings (either the physical setting or the cast of supporting characters) alters.

4. The first major plot point is something to which the main character must be able to react strongly and irretrievably.

The first major plot point is one of the most exciting moments in any story. Milk yours for all it’s worth! Choose a strong, cataclysmic event to which your character has no choice but to react with everything he’s got. Hit readers so hard at the end of the first act that they won’t even think about closing the book.

Stay tuned: Next week, we’ll talk about the Inciting Event and the Key Event.

Tell me your opinion: What happens at your first major plot point?

Related Posts: The Secrets of Story Structure, Pt. 1: Why Should Authors Care?
The Secrets of Story Structure, Pt. 2: The Hook
The Secrets of Story Structure, Pt. 3: The First Act

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. I agree. This first major plot point is important to the story and seeing it helps the reader want to keep reading. Great post.

  2. Good timing with this post! Our YA book group was just discussing plot points and how difficult they can be to pin down. I think I have it in my sights now, though, thanks!

  3. @Natalie: And as writers, we want nothing more than to keep those readers reading!

    @Angelica: The more often we can spot then books we’re reading and movies we’re watching, the easier it gets to figure them out. So keep watching that quarter mark!

  4. I have just posted in my Facebook that I finished the first chapter at about 3895 words and the first major plot point was established there early on shifting events from normal to the fantasy setting. I remarked how I probably wanted this portion proofread this before investing in the second chapter before starting to write it by getting an objective opinion if the first chapter was utter crap and if it was worth pursuing and going forward from someone not married to the work.

  5. As I mentioned in the Changeling example, having a major plot point happen that early isn’t necessarily a structural no-no. So long as you have a game changer at the quarter mark as well, you should be fine.

  6. I have been working on the placement of major plot point in my book. I have the book start off with a fairly big bang, as in a cataclysmic event that changes the entire world, and at first I was struggling with this because I read a book recently that talks about what you are saying in this post. I was concerned that my cataclysmic event should happen at the 25% mark rather than in the first few moments of the book. But when I went over what I had I realized that I had instinctively placed a major plot point at the 25% mark already. That is the point at which all the characters have been introduced and the new way the world is has been made clear and an event occurs that forces the characters to realize that the world is not changing back and that they have to make changes in how they live their lives in this new world if they are going to survive. Now that I have identified that plot point I can work a little bit more on beefing it up to give it the attention it deserves.

  7. The idea that the inciting event has to take place at the 25% mark is a common misconception (one I suffered under myself for a while). Next week, I’ll be discussing inciting events in more detail and talking about when they should happen in the story and how they differ from “key events.”

  8. The idea that movies are rigid about the 25% mark and books are more flexible made me smile. Perhaps that’s why the popular viewpoint that ‘the book was so much better than the movie’ persists.

  9. The very fact a two-hour movie has much less room to work in means it has to adhere to tighter guidelines (same with a short story). The sheer heft of a novel gives us a greater margin for error simply because the reader’s inner clock isn’t going to be ticking with as much precision as it would be in a shorter work.

  10. A wonderful post. You’ve made it so clear to understand the First Plot Point, which many writers find a hard concept to grasp at first. I read Larry Brook’s Story Engineering and like him, you gave fantastic examples in storytelling (fiction/movies).

    I wrote a post on this topic too, all about story structure and focused one post on the First Plot Point. It’s here if you’d like to see:

  11. I have been following your Secrets of Story Structure posts. They have been a wonderful read.

    This one in particular was timely, as I am at around the 25% mark in my book and was feeling out how to pace my major plot shift.

    What really struck me was how you emphasized this plot point as “a personal turning point” at which the main character can “react strongly and irretrievably.” This sounds like the Critical Choice stage of the story structure 8-point arch, but the arch makes it sound like it should happen much later in the book. I like the 25% in timing, though.

    Does this plot timing tie in with the 8-point arch? Any other thoughts on the arch?


  12. Now I’m going to figure out where the plot points of my long (15–30k word) short stories are. It wasn’t until I had to throw away 60k words of the first draft of my working novel that I started giving structure any thought. Fortunately, my pivot point (or first plot point) looks like it will end up between the 25–30% marks.

    Do you have any advice for people who don’t like to outline? I know you’re a huge advocate of outlining, but it’s not for everyone, yet nearly every novelist needs a classic structure.

  13. I’ve never thought about where I put the first major plot point… I’ve always just put it where it “seems” to flow the smoothest.

    Thanks for giving me an idea on where it works.. 😀

  14. Great post; these series on story structure have been so helpful. And I love how concisely and well-written they are! A lot of the time, these kinds of posts can get very technical and go on forever, but I like how yours are written in very clear language.

    I also really appreciate the specific examples. It’s good to see the idea in a tangible way like that.

    Keep up the great work 🙂

  15. Great post. This is a lesson I particularly find useful. I love plot points but didn’t realize there’s one major one at the beginning that’s you’re turning point. I look at the book I’m editing now though and see that that plot point comes just as scheduled 25% of the way in the book. And it’s a good one, so I think I’ve chosen well. I just didn’t realize I guess, that you distinguish one from the other but you’re right, this one off-sets the others to follow and brings about great change. Thanks for the teaching, it’s very helpful!!

  16. Mine comes early, at about 22% through. Being the OCD I am, I calculated exactly 25% and it did come up in the middle of an exciting and important scene — for a secondary character. But the protag Haydren’s main event (as far as I understand main events now) is when a complete stranger recognizes his sword, freaks out about it, slips and starts to say something he shouldn’t (it would seem) and subsequently pulls out a dagger and slits his own throat (the stranger, not the protag). This is the first moment that indicates much larger events being orchestrated around Haydren. Looking back later in the novel, this scene provides fodder for the idea that Haydren is being acted upon rather than acting — an idea that, of course, Haydren rebels strongly against. It indicates for the reader as well that there will be much more difficulty ahead than the normal trouble attending a journey across a dangerous land.

  17. I’ve read a lot about the 25% mark and the first plot point, but this makes it far clearer. I find that a lot of writers who write about writing assume that there’s this common vocabulary out there, and because of that, they don’t explain a lot of the basics. Writers, however, come from such varied backgrounds that it’s impossible to assume everyone follows some magical writer’s handbook. The clarity of this helps make that more possible–thanks!

  18. @Rebecca: Good post! Story Engineering does an excellent job at presenting story structure in a simple and easily applicable way. It’s definitely influenced my viewpoints on the subject.

    @Christopher: The 25% plot point we’re talking about here would correlate to the “Trigger” in the 8-point arch. Of course, characters are faced with “critical choices” throughout the story, so just because they might have to make one here doesn’t rule out later choices. However, I will point out that the “turning point” in the first plot point isn’t so much the result of an active decision on the character’s part as it as a reactive one. Characters spend the first half of the story in one state of reaction or the other, and grow into active choices as the story progresses. I’ll be discussing that more in later posts.

    @London: My advice for non-outliners: outline! Okay, just kidding. 😉 If possible, I would suggest trying to identify at least the major plot points (hook, first plot point, mid-point, climax entry, climax) before writing. Then you’ll know approximately how much story you have to write in between each point. But if even that turns out to be too much outlining, I would just wing it (trusting to the surprisingly accurate instincts of a writer), then go back and edit as needed.

    @Gideon: Chances are good that where your plot point seemed to “flow” was exactly where it belonged. When I first learned about the notion of story structure, I went back through all the books I’d written previously and was astounded to discover I had all the major plot points exactly where they belonged. Humans are instinctive storytellers, and as such we have a good sense for how a story is supposed to be structured, even when we don’t *know* how it’s supposed to structured.

    @Lalammar: So glad you’re enjoying the posts! Choosing and analyzing the examples has been one of the most enjoyable parts for me as well.

    @Traci: I have to admit I *love* the first major plot point. I love discovering it in every book I read and every movie I watch. It’s just such an exciting and galvanizing moment. And, once you know what to look for, it’s always so beautifully obvious.

    @David: Don’t sweat the extra 3%. As I mentioned in the post, a novel can safely place it’s plot point anywhere from the 20-25% (and, in some cases, maybe even a few percentages on either side of that). As long you’re roughly hitting the quarter mark, you’re safe.

    @L.B.: That varied vocabulary seems to be especially prevalent when discussing structure. There are so many systems out there – and every system describes itself in a slightly different way, even though they’re all addressing essentially the same thing. Glad I was able to clear some things up for you!

    • I was confused when I’ve read what the key incident was but you clarified it on this blog post. On my WIP (still on drafting phase, but I already have the outline on both my head and paper), there would be two first plot points occurring for two PoVs. The two PoVs have similar inciting event and key event/first plot point, and they would eventually meet at the second half act.

      Anyways, I hope I’m not off the 20%-25% mark!

      Thanks for the insight again, Katie.

  19. In one project, about the 20% point, my MC’s best friend professes his love for her, then right at the 25% point, there’s a second murder. Yeah, I think I’ve got that covered. 😉 For both the plot and major subplot.

    With my other projects, I’m not sure… there’s too much reworking to do. 🙂

  20. Yep, sounds spot on. Good work!

  21. Another very interesting post. 🙂

    The end of my First Act is when the heroine confronts a man she has thought of as her enemy, who now claims to be a friend. She has to decide whether to risk everything by trusting him – what will she do? And where does the true danger lie? 😀

  22. From the sounds of it, your first plot point is not only a game changer for the plot, but it also does a good job altering the “landscape” of the story by shifting the relationship between two key characters.

  23. Yes, it certainly does that. In fact, to some extent, it changes the relationships between FOUR key characters, who are all involved, and have to respond to the situation. But the heroine’s choice and response are the most critical. 🙂

    And the physical setting changes shortly afterwards, as a result of her decision. This is where the story REALLY starts. 🙂

  24. Awesome! You get shiny A+ stickers all the way around!

  25. Hi K.M. Excellent post. I’d never thought about percentages, but it makes sense. I love to write in scenes and agree that studying movies is a great way to study structure. I mainly write flash fiction so I have to get straight into it but your post may help me administer moutn-to-mouth on my three unfinished novels!


  26. Flash fiction is art unto itself – one I have yet to attempt myself, although I have a lot of fun reading it.

  27. Hi. I’m trying to learn about writing, and I’m having trouble identifying the first plot point in the screenplay for a few good men. I think it’s intentionally understated. I think it’s when Danny Kaffee is at Guantanamo Bay and begins to suspect a cover-up. But he doesn’t react to his suspicions to let the audience know he suspects it. (When Joanne reacts, he tries to shut her down to keep Colonel Jessep from finding out what he suspects.) Is that the first plot point? Does anyone here have thoughts on that? Here’s the link to the screenplay.

    • A. T. Decker says

      I apologize that this a a long post, but I wanted to go through “A Few Good Men” and figure out the First Plot Point. I wasn’t satisfied with the Cuba scene. Here was my breakdown. I think… the First Plot Point comes quite late (41%) – here is my rundown:

      A Few Good Men
      ~137 minutes
      20% = 27.4 minutes
      ~ 26 min to ~29 min: discussion with defendants:
      Kaffe: “The Gov’t of the US wants to charge you two with murder, and you want me to go to the prosecutor with ‘Unit, Corps, God, Country?'” Kaffe is still strongly recommending a plea bargain. Doesn’t see another path to success.
      ~ 29 min to ~30 min: discussion with Jack Ross (prosecutor), debating elements of the case and Code Reds. Is offered the plea bargain he wants.
      Kaffe: “I’ll talk to you when I get back.” Uncommitted.
      ~30 min to ~32 min: discussion with CMDR Joanne Galloway regarding representation of the clients; Joanne is coming to Cuba.
      ~32 min to ~32+ min: magazine rack; set up for later
      ~32 min to ~35 min: discussion with Lt. Weinberg. “Jack Ross came to see me today and offered me the 12 years.”
      “Oh, it’s what you wanted, right?”
      “I know, and I’ll… I mean, I guess… I’ll take it. …I’ll take it.”
      Kaffe is suspicious due to Ross telling him about the Kendrick order, and how quickly Ross gave in on jail time bargaining. But aside from some confusion/suspicion, there’s no decision point here.
      ~35 min to ~36 min:in Cuba
      ~36 min to ~38 min:meeting in Col Jessup’s office
      ~38 min to ~40 min:meeting with Lt. Kendrick, HMMWV(vehicle) and barracks; Joanne: “are you planning on doing any investigating, or are you just going to take the guided tour?”
      Kaffe: “I’m pacing myself.”
      ~40 min to ~46 min:lunch at the officers club; Kaffe: “Colonel, I’ll just need a copy of Santiago’s transfer order…”
      Col Jessup: “The Corporal will take you by the flight line, and you can have all of the transfer order you want.”
      Kaffe: “Let’s go.”
      Col Jessup: [challenging, angry] “But you have to ask me nicely.” This sets up the animosity, and the protagonist/antagonist conflict for later.
      Kaffe: “I beg your pardon?”
      Col Jessup: “You have to ask me nicely. You see Danny, I can deal with the bullets and the bombs and the blood. I don’t want money and I don’t want medals. What I do want, is for you to stand there in that [*&^%] white uniform, and with your Harvard mouth, extend me some [*^%&^] courtesy. You gotta ask me nicely.”
      Kaffe, diffidently: “Colonel Jessup, if it’s not too much trouble, I would like a copy of the transfer order. Sir.”
      Col Jessup: “No problem.” Kaffe has confirmed his suspicions that they don’t know everything, and things are not all as they seem, but not this doesn’t change his course of action…. yet.
      46 minutes = 33% (so, we’re already late)
      ~46 min to ~48 min: Joanne comes to Kaffe’s house; Markinson disappeared;
      Joanne: “I think Kendrick ordered the code red, and so do you.”
      Kaffe: “Let’s go.”
      ~48 min to ~49 min: at the jailhouse.
      Kaffe: “Did Lt. Kendrick order you guys to order the code red?”
      Cpl Dawson: “Yes, sir.” (this opens up the new, alternative course of action – the argument for Dawson/Downey’s innocence.
      ~49 min to ~51 min: Jack Ross, playing basketball. Jack gives Danny the EXACT plea bargain that he was looking for – involuntary manslaughter; his clients will be home in 6 months. It’s a gift. The best possible home run of an outcome for his deal-making persona. This wins him the set of steak knives (prize for so many plea bargains).
      ~51 min to ~54 min: advocating for the plea bargain offer with Dawson and Downey; Dawson & Downey – “we can’t make a deal; we did nothing wrong.”
      Kaffe advocates, strongly, taking the deal.
      Dawson: “You are such a coward. I can’t believe they let you wear a uniform.”
      Kaffe: “I’m not going to be responsible for this, Harold, I did everything I could. You are going to Levenworth for the better part of your life, and you know what? I don’t give a [$&*&].” Kaffe, though clearly seeing that all is not kosher, is still on his original path. He has not made a decision, and has yet to see the comparative virtues of the decision. He is not questioning whether it is right or wrong to badger his clients into choosing the plea bargain.
      ~54 min to ~56 min: office discussion with Joanne and Lt. Weinberg.
      Kaffe: “What do you want from me?”
      Joanne: “I want you to let them be judged, I want you stand up and make an argument.” …
      Kaffe: “Tomorrow morning, I get them a new attorney.”… He would quit the trial, rather than risk taking on a losing argument.
      Joanne: “Another lawyer won’t be good enough. They need you! You know how to win. You know they have a case, and you know how to win. If you walk away from this now, you seal their fate.”
      Kaffe: “Their fate was sealed the moment Santiago died.” …
      Joanne: “You know nothing about the law. You’re a used car salesman, Daniel. You’re an ambulance chaser with a rank. You’re nothing. Live with that.”
      This is the crucial challenge Kaffe has to accept or decline. If he declines, he continues as he has been. If he accepts, he risks almost certain failure, and changes the fundamental way in which he is interacting with the world – skating by on talent, or engaging in the fundamental arguments of right and wrong, steak knives be damned.
      ~56 min :bar scene: the discussion of the corporate lawyers in the background shows Kaffe, listening, the emptiness of declining the challenge.
      ~56 min :Kaffe thinking/pondering what he’s going to do.
      ~57 min: in the courtroom.
      Ross: “United States versus Lance Corporal Harold W. Dawson, and Private First Class Lowden Downey. The accused are charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and conduct unbecoming a United States Marine.”
      Judge: “Does defense wish to enter a plea?”
      Kaffe: “Yeah. The’re not guilty.” Challenge accepted!
      41% of the way into the movie.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        Yeah, that does seem really late. I have yet to see the film, but my guess is that what you’re identifying as the First is actually the Midpoint. But you never know. The timing is ultimately just guideline, and stories definitely break the “rules” on that one quite often. I’ll have to watch it one of these days and see what I think.

      • A. T. Decker says

        Correction: 39% of the way through – the first plot point is the challenge by Joanne. The strong reaction (and acceptance) is the … uh… “strong reaction.”

        • A. T. Decker says

          Right – I was dubious when I first identified it as that late. The reason I do think it is the 1st Plot Point is because nothing prior to that alters his personal course. There is, essentially, no conflict with the unseen antagonist of the plot (those who put him in place to do exactly what he does best – make it all go away by plea bargaining). Until he accepts the challenge, he’s just on the course of a better plea deal and winning his set of steak knives (i.e. the Setup, I believe)
          The scene prior to the 20% mark is a confrontation between Joanne and Kaffe. It doesn’t change his mind, but it peaks his interest. It is the first mention of a Code Red. But there is no strong reaction – that’s my dilemma with this one.
          My hypothesis is that Sorkin is sufficiently a master that his pacing in the setup is so good he delays the 1st Plot Point for a better payoff…?
          I would be very interested in your assessment if you do see the movie. I recommend it for those who like good movies (even for those who don’t like legal, and don’t like Tom Cruise (count me in both of those)). Cheers!

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

            Hah. Count me for both of those too. :p Which is why I’ve never seen it (didn’t realize Sorkin was the author). But now you’ve got me curious about that First Plot Point. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for it.

  28. I haven’t seen the movie (and can’t accurately measure percentages on the script, since it doesn’t have page numbers). If that’s what happens at the 25% mark and if it directly influences all the story to follow, then that’s probably the first plot point.

  29. Thanks for the quick response, KMW. I just watched the film, after reading your comment, and I did a little math. This moment is at the 31% mark, but it’s the only moment anywhere near the 25% mark that could be it. What interests me about it is that, instead of a big reaction that calls attention to the change Tom Cruise makes at that point, Cruise tries to hide the fact that he’s figured it out. The audience is given clues though (he makes a seemingly innocuous comment to Jack Nicholson to see his reaction, and shuts down Demi Moore when she tries to go into it with Jack.) And that moment turns Cruise from standard military lawyer into a man with a cause. But that doesn’t become crystal clear immediately.
    Also, it’s a great movie: written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Rob Reiner, with a consultant credit to William Goldman. And a great cast, not only with Cruise, Moore, and Nicholson, but also Kevin Bacon, Keifer Sutherland, Kevin Pollack, and J.T. Walsh. Thanks again for your response.

  30. Now, you’ve got me curious. I’m not generally a big fan of legal movies (or Tom Cruise), but I’m going to have to check it out.

  31. Thanks K.M. for another brillant post. Before starting my own writing adventure I believed the ending would always be the bigger part of the story, but the more I researched and studied the writing craft, I changed my view. Now, like you, I believe the first plot point really sets off the entire story.

    The Harry Potter series would be non-existent if Harry didn’t find out he was a wizard and go to Hogwarts. Luke Skywalker would have no reason to go with Obi-Wan Kenobi and defeat the Death Star if he didn’t go home to find his aunt and uncle murdered. The Lord of the Rings might have been a single volume series if Froto didn’t leave the Shire to protect the ring.

    A good First Plot Point carries a lot of weight with it.

    Thanks again!

  32. It’s difficult to say that any one part of a story is more important than another, but the First Plot Point absolutely carries its share of weight. It’s also one of the most exciting and interesting parts to craft.

  33. There is some tweaking to be done in my current WIP 🙂
    Since, I don’t find a good first plot point in my story at the moment. 🙁

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      At least you realized it before it was too late! I just finished reading an otherwise amazing book that totally blew it when it came to the plot points. They were weak to the point of nonexistence, and it really damaged what might otherwise have been an insanely good book.

  34. Thank you for your great podcasts!

    I have a story structure question, which relates to shifts in timeline. I’m outlining the third book of a three book series. I’m considering having the first major plot point be a big reveal, in which something shocking is discovered about the main character and a love interest from the previous book. This surprising reveal drives the plot forward for the rest of the book.

    Immediately following the reveal I want to go to the POV of the “love interest” and have the story jump back in time to fill the reader in on what had happened between the two (forbidden) lovers, and other relevant information, which led to the big reveal in act one.

    Here’s my question. In your podcast you talked about how immediately following the first major plot point, the story should go to the main character’s reaction to the plot point at the start of act two.

    It seems that going back in time and showing what led to the plot point reveal might extend the plot point longer than it should, before getting the the main character’s reaction.

    Would you agree? Is this way playing with the timeline at the end of Act One and the start of Act Two weird or unorthodox, or maybe just hokey?

    I know you must be busy, so no need for a lengthy response. If you can just respond something quick like, “Yes, that’s hokey”, or “No, don’t sweat it”, I won’t be offended.

    P.S. Your podcast is awesome! Seriously awesome.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Glad you’re enjoying the podcast! Short answer is: yes, you can totally do that. But I would still try to maintain the timeline as much as possible, with the Midpoint still falling at the 50% mark. Readers need that timing to keep them engaged in a plot that’s always moving forward.

  35. “So what’s the reason for this seemingly arbitrary placement of the first plot point? Why the 25% mark and not the 10% or 40%? Simply, because this is the point at which a reader’s innately human story sense tells him something big is supposed to happen.”

    That’s because the reader’s story sense has been trained on scripts and books written by authors who were told to place the first plot point at the 25% mark.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Theoretically, that makes total sense, especially since we definitely do learn stories through osmosis, so to speak. However, the theory (very interestingly) falls apart when we realize that the three-act timing can be found *throughout* the history of storytelling, long before it was taught by screenwriters. Everybody from Charlotte Bronte to Charles Dickens to Homer (of all people) accurately time their plot points according to this model. It’s fascinating stuff.

  36. Different than how I approach the “point of no return.” Worth the read! Thank you!

  37. Your series on story structure, scene structure, and character arcs have become my favorite go-to resources while planning my WIP! Thank you so much!

    I have a question about the timing of the 1st plot point. In my story, the events that encompass this actually take up quite a bit of space (possibly a few chapters), and I’m having trouble pinpointing where exactly the 25% point should be. The most dramatic moment is when my protagonist is captured by her enemies. But the actions of her friends in trying to save her and the things she encounters while in captivity are what set the rest of the story in motion. They define each characters’ story goal and get the protagonist to the “point of no return.” I’m not sure whether the capture should happen at the 25% mark with all the other events following, or if I should start the ball rolling earlier so that the moment of decision for her (to join the group in their mission) falls at that point. Do you have any advice?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Keep in mind that the First Plot Point is actually two-sided. We have the Key Event (which is where the protag leaves the Normal World of the First Act) and the First Plot Point itself (which is where the protag enters the adventure world of the Second Act). Think of them as two sides of the same doorway. In some stories, the Key Event and First Plot Point will be so closely linked as to be almost inextricable from each other. In other stories, they’re obviously distinct events.

      From what I’m hearing here, it seems to me like perhaps the capture is the Key Event and your protag’s decision to join the group is the First Plot Point. As such, the timing is actually pretty flexible, as long as one or the other is landing pretty near the 25% mark. I would recommend placing whichever is the larger event (probably the capture) at the 25% mark, since that’s the event that’s going to effect your pacing most. *But* keep in mind that when your Key Event and First Plot Point are distinct events, they still need to happen one after the other.

  38. Great website, and awesome post!

    This has been incredibly helpful with my current work-in-progress.
    I’ve just blogged about it on my blog, here:

    I just wanted to say thanks!

  39. Madelaine Bauman says

    Working on my outline and a bit stuck on the First Plot Point. If I have it correct, the Set up (Opening and Call to Adventure and Refusal) is the character still in his Normal World, doesn’t want to leave. He still has ties to “home”.

    The antagonist does something at the First Plot Plot and those actions force the main character to accept his journey and leave the Normal World.
    The antagonist forces the MC’s hand, forces him to take action which requires leaving his Normal World.

    In my work, I have the Call to Adventure and the Refusal after what might be considered the First Plot Point. It’s backwards (or at least looks backwards)

    The MC starts out trying to escape slavery by stealing documents from a king. She finds more documents related to prophecy and takes them due to something magical (related to main quest plot). She’s discovered and the king gives chase.

    During this she is helped out by the mentor and they have to escape the city. Once they are safe, the mentor explains the quest.

    Would escaping the city be the First Plot Point? Because they leave the antagonist and the old, Normal World behind? Or is it still in the Inciting Incident piece of structure?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It sounds to me like leaving the city is the First Plot Point, but timing is a big factor here as well. The Inciting Event should take place around the 12% mark; the First Plot Point should take place around the 25% mark. If you have a solid turning point halfway through the First Act, at that 12% mark, that’s your Inciting Event (or at least the basis for it). If not, then you’ve either left it out or timed it too late.

  40. I used to trick my son into watching classic movies with me. I’d tell him to just watch the first 20 minutes. After that, if he still wanted, he could leave. He always stayed. 😉

  41. DirectorNoah says

    Hi K.M,
    I’ve been working on my Story Structure outline, and I’m unsure about the First Plot Point. All my other plot points are mapped out fine. I understand that the First Plot Point is the major event at the beginning, where the protagonist’s world is turned upside down, or when the hero sets out on the journey or quest, for example.

    However, my story takes place and is centered entirely around a village. The protagonist arrives there in the first chapter, which I think is the Inciting Event. The first interesting thing that happens, is when she enters the local pub, which is about the 25% mark.
    Here, she is introduced (unknowingly) to the antagonist, the supporting characters meet her, and this is her first attempt at dealing with the current conflict.

    But this event in the plot, which does affect the protagonist in some way, and which she reacts to afterwards, isn’t the dramatically exciting and cataclysmic event of a First Plot Point that throws her off balance, or is so powerful that her life is changed and things are never the same again. Although this does happen, it happens throughout the course of the story, not at the beginning of the plot.

    So I was wondering: is there enough important things happening in the pub event for it to be considered the First Plot Point, or must there be more excitment and upheaval for the protagonist at this plot mark?
    Many thanks in advance! ?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I can’t say, definitively, of course, but this does sound symptomatic of a weak or missing First Plot Point. This should be a major turning point in the story, which sets up the protagonist’s main plot goal (and thus his forward momentum) and the obstacles that will get in his way and create the conflict.

      • DirectorNoah says

        Well, the main plot goal is to find a way home and get out of the village, so you could say this is present as soon as the protagonist arrives in the village. She went into the pub for information and help, which wasn’t forthcoming. This drove her to try and find another way to get home, which moves the plot forward, while the antagonist discreetly places obstacales in her way.
        With my story being a mystery novel, I don’t know what else I could do. Every other plot point is figured out, including the First Pinch Point. The pub scene does kind of foreshadow and setup the conflict, but isn’t a spectacular event with action.
        Any thoughts? ?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          The fact that the main antag is introduced here does suggest that it could be an appropriate First Plot Point. The character’s desire does not have to change at this moment (e.g., she wants to go home), but the goal must be distilled into that of the primary conflict (so, perhaps, “defeat the antagonist so she *can* go home”?).

  42. Jessica S. (Robin) says

    Well that answers my question of what’s going on in the first chapter of my wip. First chapter endkng has to be thecall to action. I got confused a bit as it really kick starts her journey in the story. Now to figure out where the firzt plot point is and what it is. Welp, finush that outline first. So many things to fix. My advice: Don’t wing it. Gah.

  43. NANCY L WHITE says

    I’m using the Michael Hauge six stage plot structure and plot points are no where to be found. There are Turning Points, 5 of them. Would this first plot point be interchangeable with turning points?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Probably. It’s been a while since I’ve read Hauge’s system. I’d examine the timing and compare the two systems.


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