The character arc is in shambles. Now, the character is floundering. Ruled by the original lie, the hero can no longer move forward. All hope is lost.
The second pinch point
The empire strikes back
On day 19 we learn the main character doesn’t have all the answers. At the second pinch point, things get too hard. Here the antagonistic forces overcome our hero. The hero sees his new beliefs didn’t solve his problem and now things are worse than before.
Second Pinch Point
The second pinch point usually comes in three forms: the villain pulls a secret weapon, the thief gets caught, or a complicating factor.
In this scenario, the villain suddenly becomes more powerful in some way. The difficulty with this scenario is that any sudden jump in power must be believable. (Micromanagers in the Lego Movie) Otherwise, it feels like a cheap plot device.
Thief gets caught
This is set-up through a sneaking into the fortress scenario which may or may not include a diversion team. At the second pinch point, the hero’s team will be discovered by the villain. The Lego Movie uses this scenario in addition to the micromanagers to build a stronger pinch point.
Complicating factor is some new piece of information or an event that makes the original plan doomed to failure. The love interest is kidnapped, for example. If possible, make your complicating factor related to the character arc. This will strengthen the connection to your story, rather than feeling like a random obstacle. In Inside Out, Joy realizes that if Sadness gets into the vacuum tube she will turn the core memories sad. She has a chance to get back to headquarters, but she will have to choose between keeping the core memories intact or saving Sadness.
Creating the second pinch point
The second pinch point must:
- Be stronger than the first. The second pinch must be the strongest obstacle the hero has faced. If it’s a minor annoyance, then it will fall flat.
- Make the character feel trapped. In Inside Out, Joy’s choice is more difficult this time because she has seen some indication of Sadness’s value, but her original lie that Sadness can cause harm has been reinforced. On the surface, her decision doesn’t seem difficult, but before this moment, her single-mindedness has never allowed her to have a true dilemma.
The second pinch point should:
Test the character’s new belief or reinforce the character’s lie. In the Batman movie, Batman sees his friends in danger. This reinforces his lie that his choice to be a loner will keep them safe.
Whatever the character chooses in this moment, it should lead him away from progress in the character arc.
The second pinch point is the moment everything breaks.
Whatever you decide to do to ruin your hero’s plan, make sure it affects his character arc as well. Make it the jumping off point for the downward spiral that will lead to the all hope is lost moment. The second pinch is the beginning of the collapse. Make it a powerful one.
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Preparing for the attack
Low action scenes don’t have to be boring. Day 16 will be devoted to creating battle plans. Whether this is a literal fight or just an offensive against the antagonist will depend on your story. But showing all that preparation can bring the forward momentum of your story to a dead halt.
Movies will often solve this problem by using a montage to show preparations. In a book, pick a meaningful moment and expand it into a full scene. Maybe the reluctant hero takes a new recruit under his wing. Or he finally realizes his love interest likes him too. This can also be an opportunity to show the lie isn’t really gone. In the Lego Batman movie, Batman may have let Robin on the team, but he is still clearly using him.
Low action scenes: Some pitfalls
It’s easy to fall into the trap of having your entire cast around the table and talk through their battle plans. This happens constantly in movies where we have a long scene of telling. The danger here is telling can be boring.
Keep the focus of the scene on the personal conflict between the characters not on relating the information on the battle plans. As long as the characters are the focus the tension in this scene will remain. Even if the main character is doing nothing but listening, make sure your main character is still reacting to what’s happening.
As you know dialogue
Nothing sounds worse in dialogue been having two characters talk about things both of them already know. This is called as you know dialogue. Here are a few tricks to getting information into speech and still keeping it sounding natural.
Have characters argue. This is the only time characters will realistically say things the each other already knows. Arguments keep the tension in the scene between the characters. This tension will give your scene purpose. Scenes must always have a character-driven purpose, otherwise, they are boring to readers.
Readers may also forgive info dumping in dialogue if you are clever about it. For example in Moana, Moana speaks through her entire battle plan for defeating Te Fiti despite being alone on the boat. Then, it’s revealed that she’s talking to the chicken. This works because it’s funny.
The Dull Before the Storm
Preparation scenes don’t have to be boring.
Use character moments to:
- Remind readers of the stakes
- Reveal the main character’s fears
- Humanize the main character
Low action scenes are opportunities for readers to connect with characters.
Think of this scene as the set up to your battle. Make sure all the pieces are in place: the stakes the character motivations, and goals. This will ensure your readers are invested. Otherwise, the upcoming failure will be meaningless.
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Challenge your character’s lie with the first pinch point
Great characters have a flaw, a lie they believe. This lie/flaw is the true antagonist. It is the reason for his conflict. The character lie is the reason your character can’t get what he wants. The first pinch point challenges that lie.
Day 11 is the first pinch point- the first time the character’s lie is challenged.
Identify character flaw
This should be the same flaw you have been working to establish in your set-up. (See day 7 for more details)
Identify character wants
This can be tricky. Because the character believes something that isn’t true, what he really wants may differ from what he thinks he wants. Start with the surface want and dig until you find the hidden want that is actually in conflict with the character flaw. For example.
In Inside Out, Joy thinks she wants to restore Riley’s original core memories and get her personality back the way it was. This want results from her character lie (the belief that happiness is the best emotion for Riley) But if we question why Joy wants this, the answer is-Joy wants Riley to be a normal well-adjusted kid. Now we have conflict. Normal, well-adjusted kids aren’t always happy. People need a range of emotions to process all their experiences. This information is first presented to Joy at the first pinch point.
In this scene, Bing Bong has just lost his beloved musical rainbow rocket. Joy tries to help Bing Bong feel better by acting silly. While this might have helped a young child, (remember Joy’s experiences with the pre-adolescent Riley taught her this will help.) Bing Bong is unaffected. But when Saddness talks to Bing Bong and helps him through his grief, Bing Bong is able to process the loss and move on. This is the first instance where Joy sees that “Sadness helps.”
However, Joy has not yet made a complete transformation. At this point, Joy is not truly aware her belief that “happy is best” is a lie.
At the first pinch point, the character does not need to be aware of his lie, but the reader should be.
In the Lego Batman movie, Batman attends a party as Bruce Wayne. While there, he works the entire crowd, believing himself to be the life of the party, but we see him fail to make a meaningful connection with anyone in the room. He may be at a party, but he’s alone, and he has no friends.
This is juxtaposed by the previous scene where Harlequin acts as the Joker’s best friend. She spends the scene giving the Joker encouraging words and comforting him after his “breakup” with Batman.
In both these examples, the pinch point raises the tension by clarifying the character lies for the audience while showing the characters stubbornly maintaining those beliefs.
Challenging your character’s lie is the first step towards his transformation
Characters will never change if their beliefs are never challenged. The first plot pinch is the place to begin this journey. Make sure you have all the elements in place, and your characters won’t be able to hide from the truth.
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