If you’re a plotter, or if you read Heather’s O is for Outlines post, you know about tentpoles. These are crucial events in every story that give the plot a shape. Pinch points act like the secondary flanking poles on your tent. They prop up the story structure between the first plotpoint and the midpoint, and again between the midpoint and the climax.
Pinch points are used to make the intentions of the antagonistic force known to the protagonist. A pinch point helps drive the story narrative and creates reader interest in the protagonist winning.
3 Tips for using Pinch Points
Make them clear. Pinch points act as signposts. They need to reinforce who/what the antagonistic force is, and remind the reader why the protagonist needs to win. The first pinch often restates an aspect of the main conflict or ups the stakes. The second pinch point will focus on the remaining problems the protagonist needs to overcome before climax.
Make the complication hurt! A great pinch point should feel like the author squeezed the character’s head (or heart) in a vise. They are often used to increase the character’s internal conflict. Some writers believe they should only be used for internal stakes. Other writers feel any type stakes are fine as long as it brings the reader’s focus back to the antagonist.
There is no limit on pinch points. You can create a third (or even more) pinch points. However, you don’t want to omit the two traditional pinch points. These two points should fall around the 35% and 60% marks. Using more pinch points helps to keep the tension high. Thrillers use lots of pinch points.
2 Examples of Pinch Points
I picked HUNGER GAMES for both of my examples. The reason this book works so well is we’re seldom allowed to forget the stakes and pinch points abound.
The first pinch is when Katniss encounters an Avox. This is someone convicted of being a traitor to the Capital. The Capital has cut out their tongue and forced them into a life of slavery. The Avox is a symbol of Capital oppression and the barbarism that lingers behind the façade of civility and refinement. Meeting the Avox make Katniss aware of the price of defiance, a theme that will reappear later.
The second pinch point is after the Gamemakers change the rules to allow a District pair to win. Instead of a healthy partner, Katniss finds the injured Peeta. The Gamemakers reaffirm their barbarism by forcing Katniss to return to the killing zone at the cornucopia to get the supplies she needs to save Peeta’s life.
1 Link for more help
We’ve never written about pinch points before so I’m passing on a link from Story Fix. Here you will find an analysis of pinch points used in the novel in THE HELP.
14 thoughts on “P is for Pinch Points”
I’m playing catch up this weekend, so I’m way behind on my favourite blogs. Great post. Though not a planner per se, I do use pinch points in my outlining. It’s one of the few things I highlight, because they are important – as you said 🙂
Don’t even get me started on how far behind I am. I stumbled last week and now I will never catch up.
It’s funny you plot the pinch points but nothing else. I guess everyone really does have their own method that works for them. : )
Nice lesson. Thanks for sharing.
Oh no, lesson sounds so formal. I must need more cute photos or something (kittens for everyone) to keep things more fun. : )
I like that word, pinch points and tent poles.
Unfortunately, I can’t take credit for the term. I’m just passing it along. : ) Thanks for stopping by.
I never heard of pinch points before but they sound vital to good story-telling. Learning so much here!
Michele at Angels Bark
When I started to get serous about writing a thriller I noticed how many thriller writers were using pinch points effectively. I decided it seemed like a pretty smart thing to include for any genre and started using it myself. I didn’t realize how few writers knew about them until a few days ago.
I’d never heard of these, but they sound like a great extra thing to tweek and focus on during the development stage. Thanks for sharing!
You may just know them by another name. : ) Some writers also just do this without thinking about it, others can go on and on for hundreds of pages without the antagonist making an appearance. Having this as a planned appearance makes sure it get onto the page in the right zone to refresh the reader’s mind of the stakes.
This sounds like something I need to dig a little deeper into. Thanks for all the pointers. 🙂
If you like plotting, pinch point are your friends.
Aww, you used Larry’s site to reinforce your point. Love pinch points, course I’m a thriller writer so why wouldn’t I. Someone just asked me about them the other day. I think a post is in order. Pinch points are often misunderstood and are so important to structure, regardless of genre. Hmm… I think I will write a post on this. Thanks for the idea! Loved your post, by the way! Shared… everywhere.
You should write a post. : ) Not much out there on the subject. And in hindsight this was not a good topic to tackle in under 500 words, too complicated! I should have saved it for when we return to our normal posting schedule.