Writer's Workbook: Pinch Points

March 31, 2015

April's Camp NaNoWriMo is almost upon us and I'm not ashamed to admit that I have no idea what I'm doing this time around.

For those of you who don't NaNo, think of an online community of people who've pledged to write a novel in one month, prodding and cheering each other on to meet a word count goal, usually 50,000 words.  That's NaNoWriMo.  It happens in November, but for addicts fans like me, there are mini-NaNoWriMos in April and July.

Now, don't be a doofus.  At the end of the month, you will not have a polished, mind-blowing, world-changing novel. You will have a steaming pile of crap zero draft that, with diligent revision and ruthless editing, has the potential to become a novel. This process becomes easier if you plan out your novel beforehand.

Two kinds of writers live in the NaNo-verse: Plotters, who outline their book beforehand, and Pantsers, who sit in the chair and write it as it comes.

I'm not confident enough to be a Pantser. There's something very Zen about Pantsing, and I'm the opposite of Zen.  I'm like George from Seinfeld.  Everything rattles me.  Everything is the end of the world.

In light of my naturally nervous demeanor, I've employed the brilliant Cathy Yardley's Rock Your Writing series to help me map out my plots before I begin my manuscripts for NaNo.  Her eight plots points really resonate with me.  I highly recommend her work.

In addition to traditional romance beats like an inciting incident and black moment, she discusses the importance of something called pinch points. 

Before Yardley, I could never get a handle on what those were, exactly.  Here's my clearest understanding.

A pinch point is a moment in your story when you remind your reader how dangerous the bad guy is and why it's important that--despite everything else that's happening in the story--your protagonist has to keep his or her eye on the ball.

Conflict and suspense drive your story forward.  Never let your reader forget what your protagonist is up against.

According to Yardley, your plot should have two pinch points: the first one is in the middle of the second quarter of your book (around the 37% mark).  The second one is in the middle of the third quarter of your book (about the 62% mark).

 The first pinch point is the first clear demonstration of the antagonist's power.  Cinderella's evil stepmother forces her to do chores while her stepsisters get to party and shop.  In The Little Mermaid, Ariel's father destroys his daughter's collection of human artifacts.

The second pinch point is a newer, more impressive demonstration of the antagonist's power.  After learning her step-daughter is clever enough to sneak out of the house and woo a prince, Cinderella's stepmother locks her in the attic during the visit of the Grand Duke. In the Little Mermaid, Scuttle the seagull realizes that Ursula is a shapeshifter who's about to marry Prince Eric and undermine her agreement with Ariel.

Notice that the antagonist is not necessarily a person like it is in Cinderella.  Sometimes it's an abstract idea. In The Little Mermaid, it's the Collective Force that Keeps Ariel from Being Herself: her father's expectations, a sea witch's ambitions.

I hope this helps you in understanding what pinch points are and how they fit into your plot.  If you think of them as places where evil rears its ugly head, you'll be on the right track.

For more resources and my lovely NaNoWriMo Newbie Toolkit, click here.  For some NaNoWriMo-appropriate inspiration from Kurt Vonnegut, click here.

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