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Monday, September 6, 2021

Pinch Point 1: Key Features

I've been thinking more in depth about Pinch Point 1 lately, and have been wanting to expand the basic concept on my blog. The term "pinch point" originates from 7 Point Story Structure. A pinch point relates to the antagonistic force, and it's what you might imagine: It's the equivalent of the protagonist getting pinched by the antagonist. It might be a small pinch or it might be one that leaves a nasty bruise. Whatever the case, it reveals to the audience that the antagonist is a legit force and foe.

Most stories will actually have multiple pinch points, but in 7 Point Story Structure (and its variations), there are two pinch points that are critical: Pinch Point 1 and Pinch Point 2. These are simply beats that show the audience the power of the antagonist. Pinch Point 1 comes about halfway through the first half of the middle--or perhaps better said, about 37% into the story. Pinch Point 2 comes about halfway through the second half of the middle--or perhaps better said, about 63% into the story. But of course, the percentages are just guidelines.

I like and appreciate the concept of pinch points because it puts emphasis on the antagonist. In contrast, some story structures don't acknowledge the existence of pinch points, making it easier for the writer to overlook necessary antagonistic beats. But regardless of what story structure you prefer, every story should have the critical two pinch points--Pinch Point 1 and Pinch Point 2--even if you are "blind" to them.

Let's talk about Pinch Point 1 in more depth. 

Pinch Point 1

Must have . . . 

By definition, Pinch Point 1 must relay the power of the primary antagonistic force(s) to the audience.

If the antagonistic force has already been introduced, this moment heightens the sense of pain, pressure, or tension and reveals the antagonist to be worse or "more" than what we gleaned prior.

If the antagonistic force hasn't yet been introduced, then this is his/her/its introduction.

Doesn't have to . . .

Almost always, the critical points in a story feature the protagonist: Plot Point 1 (the inciting incident + the protagonist's choice to go on the journey), the Midpoint, Plot Point 2 (the "Dark Night of the Soul" lull + the "Rewarding" final turn), and the climax.

Pinch Point 1 is different because while it often does include the protagonist in the scene, it doesn't have to. It must relay the power of the primary antagonistic force(s) to the audience. This means it can be in a scene that doesn't contain the protagonist. 

In The Hunger Games (film version), Pinch Point 1 happens when Seneca is talking to President Snow in a rose garden. President Snow implies to Seneca that he will need to keep a tight leash on Katniss. He will need to control the Games so she doesn't get out of hand. This reminds the audience that the odds are stacked against Katniss, and to take it a step further, the Gamemaker is prepared to throw deadly obstacles her way with a press of a button--in fact, he's being told to by the nation's president. 

Additionally, the primary antagonist doesn't actually have to be present either, but their presence is somehow there. The pinch point could come from the antagonist's henchman who is acting on the antagonist's behalf,  or it may simply come from another character telling the protagonist about the antagonist. 

In Spirited Away, Pinch Point 1 happens when Chihiro meets up with Haku, who takes her to see her parents (who have been turned into pigs). Haku tells Chihiro more about Yubaba (the antagonist) and what she can do. He explains that Chihiro's parents no longer remember being human, that she could get turned into a pig too, and that Yubaba controls people by stealing their names so they can never leave the bathhouse. 

Should have . . . 

When we relay the power of the antagonist, it usually entails revealing the stakes. Pinch Point 1 should probably convey the stakes. Stakes are potential consequences that can fit into an "If . . . then . . . " statement (even if they aren't worded that way on the page). To learn more about them, check out "How to Write Stakes in Storytelling."

In The Hunger Games example above, it's conveyed that if Katniss gets out of hand, then Seneca will have to mortally harm her with the press of a button. 

In Spirited Away, Haku warns Chihiro that if she's found here, then she could be turned into a pig, and if she forgets what her parents look like, then she won't be able to pick them out from the other pigs, and if she forgets her real name, then she'll never find her way home and be stuck working for Yubaba forever.

If the stakes related to the primary antagonist were introduced earlier, they will escalate in Pinch Point 1, like we see in our examples. We already know Katniss could die. But knowing that Snow and Seneca plan to have her on a tight leash, ups the ante. Likewise, we already know Chihiro doesn't know how to get home and has to watch out for Yubaba, but knowing that Yubaba can forever force her to work at the bathhouse if she forgets her real name, takes things to another level.

If the antagonistic force is being introduced for the first time, then we'll likely get a sense of what he/she/it means for the protagonist (stakes)

The protagonist has a goal, and we know the antagonist will be in the way of that goal. Pinch Point 1 will probably at least imply a potential outcome (stake) that could happen (i.e. have the odds even more stacked against Katniss, being stuck working at the bathhouse forever).

Seeing something threatening is effective, but implying that something has the potential to change an important outcome related to the protagonist's goal is even more effective. If the purpose is to show the antagonist is a legitimate foe for the protagonist, then that probably means conveying how the antagonist has the potential to affect outcomes, even if that is only hinted at.

Pinch Point 1 will convey how it will be even harder for the protagonist to get his goal. 

Probably reveals . . . 

If the antagonistic force is an entity that can think for itself, chances are that Pinch Point 1 will reveal a motive. 

If no clear antagonistic motive has been revealed yet, this is probably the latest moment it can come into the story. Otherwise, the story will start feeling "off."

Now, with that said, it may be that the protagonist or audience comes up with a motive that is inaccurate. For example, in a mystery, the characters may not know the true motive until the end of the story (heck, they may not even know the true antagonist until the end of the story), but they will likely still come up with a possible motive. 

In many stories, the antagonist's motive will be revealed before this. It's possible Pinch Point 1 adds another motive or deepens/strengthens the motive, but the story usually needs a sense of a motive by the end of Pinch Point 1.

If you are working with an antagonist that doesn't think for itself, you can still imply a potential course for the antagonist--for example, the characters might discover the predicted course of a tornado or the heroine might learn the expected progression of her disease. This concept does overlap with stakes, because it's looking at potential outcomes, but basically, there is a sense of what the antagonist "wants."

As a possible motive for the antagonist becomes clearer, often the protagonist's motive and goal are sharpened, specified, and/or refined. For example, it was Chihiro's goal to get home--but how does she really do that? Pinch Point 1 gives her more specific goals (remember which pigs are your parents, don't forget your name) that play into her overarching goal.

Likely includes . . .

Similarly, Pinch Point 1 will likely provide new insight into the protagonist's journey and what he is up against. Or, as K. M. Weiland says it, it includes "new clues" as to what is going on. 

If the protagonist is present, then this means he will begin to better understand the opposing force, and while he's still "reacting" to what's going on, he's now having "realizations" about what this journey is possibly going to entail. As Weiland states, "In itself, the First Pinch Point does not reveal the true nature of the conflict to the protagonist. Rather, it foreshadows it by providing a peek at facts the protagonist has barely grasped as yet."

Chihiro has been thrown into a new world with dangerous forces and is barely getting a handle on the situation she finds herself in. Haku's words to her about Yubaba allow her a "peek" of what she's going to be dealing with, even though she doesn't totally understand everything yet. She's having realizations about what her journey may entail, but hasn't yet "found her footing."

Additionally, according to C. S. Laken, Pinch Point 1 will likely draw attention to the protagonist's weakness, flaw, or misbelief. This may be THE flaw/weakness/misbelief (i.e. the anti-theme/lie in a positive change arc), or it may just be something the character needs to improve on (perhaps particularly in a positive steadfast arc). We're seeing the antagonist is formidable, and we're seeing the protagonist may not yet be capable of defeating the force. After Haku tells Chihiro about Yubaba, Chihiro starts crying. She hasn't yet learned how to face this new world (which is a metaphor for her inability and unwillingness to face her new neighborhood and school in the real world). 

Often starts a trajectory for . . .

For a while now, I've felt like Pinch Point 2 kicks off a trajectory that takes us to the climactic moment of the middle and the subsequent lull, Plot Point 2.

But lately I've been realizing that often Pinch Point 1 kicks off a trajectory that takes us to the Midpoint--something that K. M. Weiland has already talked about. 

Pinch Point 1 provides a "peek" of the power of the antagonist, and usually at the Midpoint, the protagonist will gain a greater understanding of what's "actually" going on--the true nature of the conflict. Likewise, Pinch Point 1 often touches on a motive for the antagonist, while the midpoint often reveals the bigger motive of the antagonist. (Though this is all generally speaking of course.)

Pinch Point 1 usually leads to the protagonist having realizations about the situation and main conflict. They don't have a full grasp of what's going on, but as they are having realizations, they are able to start making somewhat more informed decisions. They have some idea of the stakes and motive now, but it's not the whole picture. As they move forward with these things in mind, they'll naturally come into the Midpoint--a significant event or revelation that will fully swing them from reacting to becoming proactive (because they'll then understand the true nature of the conflict).

Ready to take Pinch Point 1 to the next level? Hope these things help!


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