Of all the paired structural beats in a story, the Pinch Points are perhaps the most obvious. There are only two of them, they have the same name, and they perform essentially the same function in both their first and second iteration. They’re also perhaps the least known and most confusing of all the major turning points in classic story structure.
Today, we’re continuing our series about “chiastic” structure—which refers to the idea of the second half of a story mirroring the first. Although this effect can be created in more obvious and deliberate ways, it is always present within the actual structure of a story. In the first post, I talked about how it’s sometimes more helpful to think of story structure not as an arc but as a circle, in which one half mirrors the other with the ending circling back upon the beginning.
I started this series because I was asked to elaborate on the link between the Inciting Event and the Climactic Moment. Since then, we’ve also talked about the link between the Hook and the Resolution and the link between the First Plot Point and Third Plot Point. Although most of these links aren’t immediately obvious, the Pinch Points are different. The Pinch Points are, in many ways, the identical twins in the family. Occurring at the 3/8th and 5/8th marks (or halfway between the First Plot Point/Midpoint and halfway between the Midpoint/Third Plot Point, respectively), they are often thought of as comparatively minor beats. They’re not Plot Points after all. They’re just Pinch Points—whatever that is.
However, their timing alone tells us the Pinch Points bear an equal load with all the other major turning points in a story. In fact, along with the Midpoint, they are the only major turning points entirely contained within the Second Act. This means, for one thing, that they are key factors in avoiding a sagging middle to your story.
How do they do this? Other than simply moving and turning the plot, the chief function of the Pinch Points is to reinforce the antagonistic force’s presence and raise the stakes. They make the protagonist feel the “pinch” of the rising conflict.
Structurally Speaking: What Is the First Pinch Point?