The second of two parts on this phase of the deconstruction.
The Part 2 Pinch Point
Pinch Points are moments in which the story’s primary antagonistic force comes back to center stage. That can take many forms, and it can involve the hero.
Or not. It can be a cutaway to approaching danger that the hero isn’t even aware of. Either way.
They are a basic element of story structure, as they are an essential and powerful tool to keep the story centered on the hero’s journey and what opposes her or him. In a character-driven story in particular, it’s easy to slow things down too much as we go deep into the various aspects of characterization, and the Pinch Points are there to make sure that doesn’t happen.
The First Pinch Point in Shutter Island
In this story the first Pinch Point, which should come right in the middle of Part 2, occurs when Teddy reads the note that was given to him by the crazy smoking woman he’d interviewed back in the cafeteria.
Her message to him is to “run.” It means she knows he’s in danger. That this is a conspiracy with him as its target.
This brings the story right back to the central source of tension. Think of a Pinch Point as the antagonistic’s chance to assume center stage for a moment, which is otherwise occupied by the hero. At the 3/8ths mark and the 5/8ths mark in your story (smack in the middle of Part 2 and Part 3), the Pinch Point makes this happen.
In a story about a stalker, for example, the Pinch Points would be when the stalker appears and has a near miss with the hero, scaring the bejezzus out of her and us.
After the First Pinch Point in Shutter Island
That message — “run” — reminds us that Teddy is in the middle of something he doesn’t understand. Which is, in essence, the antagonistic force that opposes his quest and need in this story.
More reaction scenes ensue after that happens, because we are still in Part 2, which is all about responding: Teddy and Chuck react to the worsening storm… he has a flashback to dead bodies, which is a form of reaction to his dealings with Dolores… he realizes that he’s the pawn in this game… he solves the “Who is number 67?” riddle… he takes more pills when they are offered… the storm traps them…
… and then…
… the Mid-Point arrives. Part 2 is over, the context will shift, and then Part 3 is underway with a brand new mission and context of its own.
Everything in Part 2 has, to some extent (some subtle, some not) shown us how Teddy is reacting to information and circumstances. In general his reaction to affirm and deepen his paranoid fantasy that this is all some sort of diabolical military intelligence project.
He’s not really solving anything yet – Rachael has conveniently shown up, case closed, and he had nothing to do with finding her – and he is no closer to finding Laeddis.
The Nature of the Mid-Point and the Shift it Creates
The Mid-Point is one of the three major story-twisting milestones in a story, and it occurs just where the name suggests – as close as possible to the middle of the story. It can look and smell just like a plot point… or not. But however subtle it is, it always does one thing: it adds new information to the story that changes the context of the hero’s experience and journey.
It turns the hero from a responding wanderer, into an attacking warrior.
Shutter Island is a perfectly clear example of that happening. And, in the film at least, it happens to the exact minute of its assigned spot — directly, mathmatically, in the middle of the story’s length.
In the paperback this same Mid-Point shift happens on page 206, which is the 56th percent mark out of 36 pages, a bit late but close enough to count. Hey, this is art, the principles are guidelines rather than hard-edged rules, and we have more latitude with them in novels than we do in screenplays.
The mission of the Mid-Point is to shift the context of the story through the introduction of new information that parts the curtain. The hero and/or the audience both have a new perspective, and the characters begin to act upon it.
Sometimes in mysteries this is when the killer is revealed, either to the hero or the audience, or both. This shifts the story from a mystery into a thriller, technically-speaking, which means the nature of the tension is different.
But more importantly, it moves the hero from response mode into attack mode.
What follows the Mid-Point is the launch of Part 3, the mission of which is to give us scenes that show the hero clicking into warrior mode by taking proactive action. The hero, heretofore having been running, pondering, trying to figure things out, is now trying to solve their problem, find the missing pieces (Laeddis, in this case) and generate a solution.
They don’t get all the way there, by the way — that’s the mission of Part 4 — and sometimes their efforts get them into even deeper trouble. But at least they’re trying.
Often this is where their inner demons stand in their way, even though they are being proactive. When this is the case, Part 4 becomes the part of the story in which they figure out what works and what doesn’t, they learn their lessons, and then and only then can they be different as they finally, heroically, become the primary catalyst in the resolution of the conflict.
Read that last part again. The hero needs to be just that — heroic. There’s no rescuing the hero, no luck involved. The story resolve later in Part 4 because of the hero. The seeds of that are planted here, in Part 3, after the Mid-Point changes things.
In Part 3, because of the new information in the Mid-Point, the hero begins to get their hero on.
The Mid-Point Moment in Shutter Island
In Shutter, the Mid-Point occurs when Teddy and Chuck sneak out of the ward and, under cover of the storm, head toward Ward C.
Their purpose? To find Andrew Laeddis.
The new information? Teddy has concluded that if Laeddis is really here, which he learned at Plot Point One, then Ward C is where he would be. Cawley and Naehring would be conducting experiments on him there, and if not, then Laeddis would be in the dreaded lighthouse getting a lobotomy.
Teddy is rooting for the former, since he wants to kill him personally.
The Rachael thing has been put to bed… he’s all about getting to Laeddis now.
Teddy is now a warrior. A man on a mission. He’s done responding and wandering. He’s now proactive, and he’s pissed.
In context to this story and its inherent deception and twisted context, he’s finally becoming a hero.
Tomorrow’s post – The Second Plot Point and the Ensuing Part 4
Want to learn more about Plot Points, Pinch Points and the Mid-Point? I’ve got an ebook available that lays it all out as a story development model. CLICK HERE to learn more.