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Monday, November 9, 2020

7 Point Story Structure Explained in 5 Minutes


Hi there! Today we are doing a basic introduction to and breakdown of 7 Point Story Structure--all in ~5 minutes.

This is a great story structure to learn when you already know the basic, basic story structure:


And are ready to go a little deeper, without doing a deep dive into more complex approaches like The Hero's Journey or Save the Cat! (Or other, more complicated renditions of 7 Point Story Structure.)

And a lot of best-selling writers stick to this structure alone.

It doesn't seem like anyone knows definitively where this structure originated. Some say here. Some say there. Dan Wells, a best-selling writer, is sort of famous for (and sometimes misattributed for having come up with) it, but he says he learned it from a role-playing guide book, but I've also seen it in other places. It's used a lot in screenwriting.

It's also worth noting that both Larry Brooks and K. M. Weiland use a rendition of this structure as well. 

While some, like Wells, use the term "Plot Turn," others, like Brooks and Weiland, use the term "Plot Point." (You know how writing terms are--not regulated 🙄) So please note that they mean the same thing, should you listen to people talk about this structure.

So let's get to it. 


7 Point Story Structure

Hook --This is the starting of the story. It includes the setup, which grounds the audience. Who is this story about? Where is this story taking place? Everything you need before problems really take a turn. 

Here, the protagonist will start in a state that is the opposite of where he ends up (typically).

Plot Point 1 -- At Plot Point 1, something enters the story that challenges the established normal and leads the protagonist to go a new direction. This shifts the story from the Hook section and gets it on course to hit the Resolution at the end. 

Pinch Point 1 -- A pinch point is what it sounds like. It's a key moment where the antagonistic forces apply pressure to ("pinch") the protagonist. It reveals to the audience that the antagonist is a legit force and foe. Typically, this pressure forces the protagonist to take further action. It forces her to step up and try to solve a problem.

Midpoint -- The midpoint is the moment the protagonist decides to move from responding to acting. Since Plot Point 1, he's been responding to what's happening. Here, an event leads the protagonist to become more proactive at defeating the antagonist. This happens at the middle of the story.

Pinch Point 2 -- Another pinch from antagonistic forces that is worse or more dangerous than the first. Now or eventually it leads to a moment where it feels like all is lost.

Plot Point 2 -- This is the final turn to the end. Here, the protagonist gains something significant that will help with the climax. He rushes to defeat the antagonistic forces. 

Resolution -- This is the climax of the story, where the protagonist achieves (or fails) in her goals. She usually ends the story in a state opposite of the Hook.


A Note on Ambiguity Concerning Plot Points 1 & 2

Story structure can be more complex than this (as I mentioned), and as a result, you may see places where Plot Point 1 and Plot Point 2 are defined a little differently by writers. For clarity, I'm going to break this down a touch further. 

Plot Point 1 Ambiguity:

After the story's setup, something unexpected enters the picture that disrupts what's "normal." You may have heard this called the "inciting incident," a "catalyst," or the "Call to Adventure."

This moment eventually leads the protagonist to choose a new path forward. 

In some cases, this happens back to back. Prim has her name called out, and almost immediately after, Katniss volunteers. 

In other stories, there may be entire scenes between those moments. In The Hobbit, Gandalf comes and invites Bilbo to go on an adventure, but Bilbo doesn't actually choose to go on the adventure until quite a bit later. 

I have heard some writers refer to the former as Plot Point 1, and others refer to the latter as Plot Point 1. 

What matters is that you understand that something enters the story and disrupts the normal, which leads the protagonist to choose a new path forward. This may happen back to back, or it may be spread out.

In some approaches, Plot Point 1 is seen as the moment where the protagonist definitively moves away from the established normal--when there is no turning back--and begins the new journey into the main conflict.  

Call them what you want, but understand these different moments.

 

Plot Point 2 Ambiguity:

Likewise, at the end of the middle, two things usually happen: 

The protagonist has an "all is lost" moment, where after a big loss, it seems like there is no way they can succeed. 

However, soon after this, they gain something that empowers them, and that allows them to move forward toward the climax. 

Some writers call the former Plot Point 2, while others call the latter Plot Point 2.

What matters is that you understand that the protagonist suffers a painful loss before gaining something empowering (usually).

 

Example: His Dark Materials

Hook -- The story starts in Oxford, England, with Lyra who has a daemon named Pantalaimon. We are introduced to her world, which is a parallel of our own.

Plot Point 1 -- Mrs. Coulter arrives to take Lyra to live with her in London. After Roger is kidnapped, Lyra chooses to go with Mrs. Coulter, in the hopes she'll help her find Roger. (Worth noting is that Lyra is also given the alethiometer and told it was her uncle's)

Pinch Point 1 -- Lyra discovers that Mrs. Coulter is actually the head of the General Oblation Board (a group linked to Roger's kidnapping), so she runs away.

Midpoint -- After gaining more allies (Iorek and Lee Scoresby), Lyra and the Gyptians are now more proactive on their quest to rescue those kidnapped (and for Lyra to reunite with her uncle).

Pinch Point 2 -- Lyra is captured by villains and sent to go through intercision.

Plot Point 2 -- When it seems like Lyra has no escape from intercision, she is rescued by Mrs. Coulter, which then allows her to rescue the other children, including Roger, who accompanies her on her journey to find her "uncle" (she is empowered by freedom and an ally).

Resolution -- Lyra helps Iorek regain his place as rightful king. She takes the alethiometer to Lord Asriel (her "uncle"), who later uses Roger for an experiment that opens a gateway to another world, which Lyra chooses to go through.




And that makes up our five-minute explanation. 

 

If you want to see the pros and cons of this structure, continue on. 


Strengths & Weaknesses of 7 Point Story Structure

One of the best things about 7 Point Story Structure is that is has clear moments that focus on the antagonist--the pinch points. This means it asks writers to consider what their antagonists are doing, which I think sort of gets clouded over in the other story structures.

When stripped down to the essential basics (like here), this structure is straightforward and easy to identify. I mean, two of the terms get reused. Simple.

But that leads me to what I consider are some of the problems. The term "Hook" is misleading, in my opinion, since not everything in that section is actually a hook. Writers are often told to begin "with a hook," which means an actual hook. Of course the Hook should have an actual hook (and multiple), but outside of this structure, nowhere else have I seen setup and exposition referred to with the word "hook." I think that makes it confusing, and it adds to the ambiguity of writing terms in the writing world.

Likewise, I think the term "Resolution" is problematic. Oh yeah, sure, there are other story structures that use that term to include the climax, but most I see these days, don't. I mean, I guess it makes sense, since much of the climax is about resolving problems, one after another, but I feel like it's misleading because it combines climax and falling action into one, and I feel like those are two very separate segments. And I think most of us today are taught that those are two different segments.

So overall, while it's a great structure to use, keep in mind it has ambiguity issues.


Other Story Structure Approaches

This is just one approach to story structure. However, in my opinion, all the structures actually overlap, more or less. In the future (likely months from now), I'll show how superimposing them will give you a more comprehensive and accurate view of structure--great for plotting, writing, revising and troubleshooting.

Learn about The Hero's Journey structure

Learn about the Save the Cat! structure

Learn about a hybrid version of 7 Point Story Structure


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