Part 7… of a 101-level Series on the Basics of Story

How to “Pinch” Your Story for Greater Dramatic Effectiveness

Register now for a FREE tele-seminar on March 16, on Story Structure.\ Details await at the end of today’s post on Pinch Points.

(As an introductory tutorial, go HERE to read my guest post on on basic story engineering.  But please come back to learn more about a highly effective secret weapon in the war against reader apathy and waning dramatic tension.)

An Introduction to Pinch Points

Story structure exists to help us keep our narrative sequence on track, relative to exposition and pace.  All four quartiles of a well-executed story have specific contextual missions that imbue each scene within them with just the right focus, avoiding the story-killing tendency to ramble or jump the gun relative to your hero’s proactive confrontation with the core dramatic issue.

Two of those specific quartile-empowering contexts — Part 2 and Part 3 — get a little help with a specific narrative moment that brings the story’s core dramatic focus back to the forefront – called a Pinch Point.

The pinch point resides in the exact middle of its assigned quartile, one each for Parts 2 and 3.  The reason why, like much of story structure itself, connects to other aspects of how a story should unfold.

Let’s look at Part 2 to better understand this. 

The context of every scene in your Part 2 quartile is showing your hero responding to a new story path, in the presence of pressure, threat, danger or opportunity, which was put into play – as the primary focus of everything – at the First Plot Point.  Which was, as you should know, the transition moment from the Part 1 setup and the Part 2 hero’s response to the First Plot Point twist (new information that enters the story at that point).

With this focus on the hero’s response, it would be easy to actually push the source of the story’s conflict, the core dramatic element, toward the background.  Which is not good.

Let’s say your story is about a family running from a bear, which appears at the First Plot Point to disrupt the family outing and is now chasing them through the forest.  Very tense, right?  But you have to do more than show us the family running away.

You have to show us the bear, as well.

Within the quartile mission being showing the hero’s response, we need a time and place to remind the reader of the source of antagonism (the bear, in our example).  The Part 2 Pinch Point does just that, literally putting the focus back on the source of antagonism (the bear) to remind us of the proximity and threat of the danger at hand.

The hero hasn’t forgotten about that –   he’s running from the bear, after all — but the reader might have, so we need to get the villain back into the game.

But what if there’s no bear, you ask. 

No villain at all.  What if my story  is driven by a horrible disease or an approaching storm?  Same thing, each of those is the source of the story’s antagonism and threat, which creates drama and conflict in the story.  The Pinch Point functions exactly the same… show us the disease and its power to destroy lives, or show us the storm and the violence that approaches.

In Part 3, also in the precise middle of the quartile, you need to show us the villain (source of antagonism) once again.  Yes, you can show it to us as much as you like in other places, which means you use the Pinch Points to show the antagonism in an evolved, much closer proximity, which in turn heightens drama in doing so.

Pinch Points become a secret weapon in the war to win the reader’s emotional engagement. 

Why?  Because fiction is based on conflict that causes drama, and these two structural milestones give that drama it’s moment back on center stage. In the case of the Part 2 Pinch Point, it might even be the reader’s first glimpse of what threatens the story’s hero.

Join us in Portland, OR, April 3 -7, for a massively intense and interactive workshop that brings all of these structural and character-driven story essences together into one cohesive story plan, regardless of your story development process.


Free Teleconference Workshop on Story Structure!

Join story coach Jennifer Blanchard and me for a lively hour of discussion on the critical realm of story structure, including how it applies with flexibility to any story, every time.

Massive value.  Zero cost.  What could go wrong?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Live at 7:00 pm Eastern time (adjust your arrival accordingly)

Click HERE to register.

If you receive a “you’re already subscribed” message, that means you’re still subscribed from the last call we did… so you’re all set.

All registrants will receive call-in details via email on the day of the call… which is Wednesday, March 16th. 



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9 Responses to Part 7… of a 101-level Series on the Basics of Story

  1. “Show us the bear.”

    That goes on the wall with all my other StoryFix quotes.

  2. Debbie Burke

    Do you have any tips for how to show pinch points when writing first person? I always struggle with being limited to ONLY what the protagonist knows and sees, as well as preserving the mystery of the villain’s identity.

    Thanks, Larry!

    • I’m not Larry, but I’ve done this two ways.

      One way is to include the POV character in the pinch. Easy to write, but takes planning and it must fit the storyline.

      Another way, a bit of a cheat but I won’t tell if you don’t, is that sometimes I drop in snippets of another person’s POV or some 3rd person omniscient here and there. Modern readers aren’t shocked if we slip out of 1st person once in a while.

      What matters is not strict adherence to the rules, but keeping the reader in that all-important vicarious experience.

  3. MikeR

    I’m also “not Larry,” but most of the first-person stories that I’ve read are not “first person -real- -time-.” The narrator is relating the story … telling it … after the fact, even though the story happened to him or her. (“Reader, I married him.”) Thus, the narrative naturally shifts, in terms of (how shall I best say it?) where the narrator PLACES the -reader-, in relation to the narrator him/herself, during the course of telling particular sections of the story. This can quite-naturally be used to achieve pinch points, etc., because a storyteller naturally “sets up” for whatever she is about to tell you next.

  4. Debbie Burke

    More good ideas! Thanks, Mike

    • Joseph Bendoski

      Does anyone have an example of a book where this has been well? (First person PoV pinch points) I’d like to reader through it and see how the author handled it specifically.

      • I turned around to pull any volume of Raymond Chandler off the shelf to verify, and remembered when I saw the empty shelves that my books are already packed for our move.

        But, try Chandler’s The Big Sleep which every writer should read at some point anyway. All his books are Philip Marlowe in the 1st person, and there are pinch points extraordinaire.

        I just can’t confirm it with an example because, y’know, moving.