This post is part of the Outline With Me series. For more like this, check out the outlining your novel page.
In last week’s post, I covered outlining a novel from the inciting incident through the first pinch point. As a recap, this is what we’ve got so far for our case story.
Logline: A Mormon bartender must save the family business before the state revokes its liquor license… or he won’t be able to afford Grandma’s surgery.
Inciting Incident: After a long night tending his family’s bar, Joseph returns home to find his Grandma collapsed on the bathroom floor.
First Plot Point: Joseph strikes a deal with his liquor distributor, buying more in bulk than usual to get a better deal. He plans on using the increased profits from the deal to pay for Grandma’s operation.
First Pinch Point: Gayle Heartly, newly elected head of the town council, informs Joseph that his bar’s liquor license is unlikely to be renewed.
With the above in mind, let’s move on to crafting this story’s midpoint.
The midpoint, almost too predictably, should take place near the middle of your narrative arc. Also known as the turning point, this moment is the one in which your protagonist goes from being reactive to proactive. That is to say, he or she (tries) to take the reins and propel forward the manuscript’s remaining action him- or herself. This should be a transformative moment for your protagonist, one that puts them outside their comfort zone.
So what are some possible midpoints for our story about Joseph, the Mormon bartender? Let’s brainstorm.
- Despite the warning from Gayle, Joseph applies for the renewal of the bar’s liquor license.
- Joseph negotiates for the return of all the excess liquor he purchased before proceeding to sell the family business as a last-ditch effort to fund Grandma’s surgery.
- Joseph, hoping for the support of his religious community in order to help his poor grandma, comes clean regarding the nature of his family business.
Right off the bat, I think it’s safe to cross off option one. Though Joseph must be proactive in doing this, it’s not a transformative moment at all. In fact, it’s literally the bare minimum he could do to keep the doors of the bar open.
Option two is slightly better, though it also lacks the transformative power necessary in a midpoint. on top of this, Joseph is also trying to undo the past–it’s not a very forward-thinking approach. I think it would be an option he might consider prior to the midpoint (let’s make a note of this to bridge the gap between First Pinch Point and Midpoint later on), but it doesn’t work as a midpoint on its own.
Ooh… but option three? That sounds hard, both to write and for Joseph to actually do.
But that’s the point! Like in real life, change in fiction is difficult. Overcoming these sorts of obstacles is the exact sort of thing that creates a harrowing tale. Without this sort of tension, readers can lose interest. And when readers lose interest, they put down your book.
Now that we have a midpoint, let’s see what a second pinch point gets us.
Second Pinch Point
So your character has taken a risk at the midpoint of your story. What becomes of that risk? How do the stakes get made even higher, or what still stands in the way of your character achieving his or her goals?
The answer to those questions comprises the second pinch point in your tale.
For Joseph–though he still faces the threats that that darn Gayle Heartly imposes–he must now also confront potential backlash from the community of which he feels most a part. Knowing that our second pinch point should tie into the risks our character has taken and that it should also heighten the stakes, what further obstacle can we put in Joseph’s way?
Let’s try this on for size.
Second Pinch Point: Despite Joseph’s best intentions, the bishop of his ward informs the worshipers in their community that he can’t condone supporting Joseph’s plan to use alcohol to fund Grandma’s operation.
Oh nooooooo. Well, bummer. All things considered, Joseph should have known what he was getting into, but this still stings either way.
Without the support of his community, how will Joseph overcome? Well, let’s have a little fun thinking about that as we set ourselves up for our second plot point.
I think it’s reasonable to assume that not all members of Joseph’s ward would condemn him outright. Beyond that, surely some of his closest friends already knew of the full situation. Let’s use those axioms as the launching pad for what Joseph and his closest friends might do from here.
The first think I can think of (which means it’s likely–and is–pretty cliché) would be for the gang to try and get a benefit of some kind together in order to sell off the excess alcohol and also raise money for Grandma. For this novel, let’s roll with it. Cliché is as cliché does, and it will all come down to execution in the end. I’m sure there will be a way to make this seem less hokey when the time comes to outline scene-by-scene.
So let’s say Joseph and his buds now have a date picked out for this Big Event™, and that they’ve got everything all organized and ready to go.
Doesn’t this sound like the perfect time for Gayle to rear his ugly head and ruin everyone’s fun? It does, doesn’t it?
Let’s keep this impending disaster at the forefront of our minds as we hop into the second plot point.
Second Plot Point
Contrary to the image I provided in post two of this series, the second plot point and the climax/showdown in a story are not one in the same. I’m just… bad at Paint, okay?! There’s a reason I won’t be designing my own book covers. I’ve actually seen the second plot point described a few different ways. I think either can work, depending on the nature of your story. One idea is that this is the moment your protagonist gets the last bit of information he or she needs to be thrust toward the narrative’s climactic moment. Another theory suggests that this is sort of the “enough is enough” moment for your protagonist, when he or she decides the time has come to confront the antagonizing forces that have been provoking them.Let’s use a combination of these for our story about Joseph.
Second Plot Point: After learning the basis for denial of the liquor license is the result of illegal discrimination against Joseph, Joseph takes this information to the liquor license review board in an attempt to force the license’s renewal.
Yes, I recognize that this is very general. Additionally, you might say, “Really, so our protagonist will just have an out because he’s being discriminated against on religious grounds?”
Hey, I didn’t say religion was the basis for the discrimination. You did. I agree that discrimination on religious grounds would be a bit stock, though. It’s what everyone expects–which is why we’ll use something entirely different. Don’t worry, I have a plan for that, too, the details of which will emerge as we move into future posts in this series.
Now all we have to do is decide how this ends. The one question you have to ask yourself when it comes to plotting out the resolution is: “Does my protagonist succeed in accomplishing his or her goal?”
Though this appears to be a yes-no question at first glance, there is always room for nuance. In fact, it is through nuance that one can arrive at a so-called bittersweet ending, wherein the protagonist achieves his goal at some cost, or wherein he fails but gains something unexpected.
I often prefer bittersweet endings in my own work, but let’s give Joseph something to be happy about by the time this story is done. I just don’t have it in me for him to let Grandma down.
Resolution: Joseph gets the liquor license renewed. Big Event™ is successful, as is Grandma’s surgery.
Congratulations! We now have all seven components of our narrative arc planned out. But wait–it’s important to still resist the urge to write your own tale with only this information sorted out. There’s much more to come, including developing setting, character, an overall summary, scene-by-scene plotting, and more.