Posted On January 31, 2018 by Print This Post

It’s 10 p.m. Do You Know Where Your Pinch Points Are? by Sue Coletta

Sue ColettaIt’s my pleasure to introduce Sue Coletta today. Sue is a bestselling thriller/horror author with a great knack for storytelling and story structure. She’s also got a passion for hands-on research, going out of her way to achieve authenticity in her work. (Seriously, you wouldn’t believe the lengths she goes to.) I hope you’ll join me in welcoming her.


Thank you for inviting me to Romance University, Staci. It’s an honor to be here. Before I get to today’s subject, a quick shout-out to the writing community as a whole. Together we’re an unstoppable force. A blog like RU, dedicated to sharing knowledge and experience, is one of the reasons why. Okay, let’s get to it, shall we?

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Regardless of genre, Pinch Points are a crucial element of storytelling. It’s at the Pinch Points where the hero encounters the antagonist force and learns what s/he’s up against. In crime fiction, this usually involves a murderer. In romance, a Pinch Point could show “the other woman,” the chick who thinks she can steal the hero’s man.

Pinch Points are important milestones in fiction writing because they show the face of evil in its purest form. The Pinch Points demonstrate what our hero is up against, what causes her to jolt upright in bed, fearing the bogeyman in the nightmare has now invaded her reality.

The reader needs to feel the antagonist force in its purest form, rather than it being filtered through the hero’s experience.

Two Pinch Points in Every Story

RavenThe main difference between the 1st and 2nd Pinch Point is placement.

First Pinch Point

The first Pinch Point arrives midway between the first Plot Point and the Midpoint. To review, the first Plot Point should be at 20%-25% of the way into the book. The Midpoint, of course, appears at 50%, the halfway mark. So, we include the first Pinch Point at about 37.5% or the 3/8th mark.

For the first Pinch Point, we need to include a scene that shows the reader the antagonist force and not merely hear it referenced or discussed. In crime fiction, this can be a murderer planning his next kill or stalking his next victim. Or a kidnapper who beats his captor and grins when they cry out in pain. It could even be where the hero plays a tape recording of her spouse, begging his abductor for release.

The simpler and more direct the Pinch Point is, the better. The important thing to remember is that the reader must feel it. Even if we choose to use a cutaway scene to show the hero’s husband in the arms of another woman, we’ve fulfilled the need of the first Pinch Point.

As an example, in Silence of the Lambs, the first Pinch Point shows Hannibal Lecter giving Clarice Starling the location of his storage unit, where she finds the jarred head of a transvestite. Within their convoluted relationship, this likens to Lecter handing Starling a bouquet of red roses.

Pinch Points

Second Pinch Point

The second Pinch Point arrives between the Midpoint and the second Plot Point (75% or ¾ mark). Whether you use a three or four act structure, the second Pinch Point should land at around 62.5% of the way into the book.

I realize this all sounds very technical and precise, but we are talking story structure. It’s the skeleton of our book, and it’s one of the reasons our readers keep flipping those pages. The trick is to make the story flow naturally so the reader never knows how much we’ve agonized over these details. The beauty of story structure is that no matter how we write the first draft — pantsed or planned in advance — we can always go back and tweak our milestones so they land at the perfect place.

For the second Pinch Point, because it lands farther along in our story and thus, the character arc, we need to show the antagonist force has upped its game. Remember, at the Midpoint our hero changes from wanderer, where s/he tried and failed, to a real hero who attacks the problem head-on. Because our hero is now empowered, our antagonist force needs to remain a formidable opponent.

A Pinch Point is a demonstration of the nature, power, and very essence of the antagonist force. Only now, it’s even more frightening, and at the second Pinch Point is where we show that to the reader.

Using another example from Silence of the Lambs, the second Pinch Point is where Hannibal gives Starling the map of Buffalo Bill’s murders, which ultimately helps her break the case and find the killer.

The second Pinch Point could even be a discussion between one character and another, which reminds the reader what our hero is up against, even if the antagonist force is within our hero, depending on what type of story we’re telling. Hence why I’ve used the word “it” to refer to the antagonist rather than he or she.

As writers, we often concern ourselves with the hook, first and second plot points, and the twist ending, and some may worry about the Midpoint, as well. But without well-placed Pinch Points, the story will lose its sense of rising action and tension. It’s also often the cause of what some writers call “the mushy middle.”

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes by a dear friend.

“The First Plot Point, Midpoint, and Second Plot Point are your big meals. Don’t skip them if your goal is to add dramatic tension and jack the pace to your story. The Pinch Points are like nutritious snacks between those meals — mid-morning and mid-afternoon. They’re good things. They give you energy, they nurture you. You wouldn’t eat them too soon after a big meal, nor would you eat them right before a major meal. No, they’re right smack in the middle of the gaps between those meals. As for any other snacks (moments in which your bad guy does his thing), well, remember that in this analogy you’re trying to gain weight… so go for it. The more calories you stuff down the reader’s throat the better.” — Larry Brooks, Story Engineering

Over to you, Romance University! What’s the first or second Pinch Point in your current WIP or all-time favorite book?


Sue Coletta is an award-winning, bestselling crime writer and a proud member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. In 2017, Feedspot named her Murder Blog as one of the Top 50 Crime Blogs on the net. She lives in northern New Hampshire with her husband, who deals with a crazy crime writer feeding circus peanuts to crows named Poe and Edgar, a squirrel named Shawnee, and a chipmunk dubbed Hippy.

Learn more about Sue and her books at https://suecoletta.com or connect with her on social media:

Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest |  Google+ | Goodreads | BookBub | Amazon

and catch her new video series, Serial Killer Corner on YouTube.

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A chance encounter …a deadly predicament …a lethal decision.

The infamous Mr. Mayhem is not your average serial killer. Reminiscent of the beloved Hannibal Lecter, minus his thirst for flesh–because eating humans is just plain rude–Mr. Mayhem storms on the scene with style, grace, elegance, and a zest for life unlike any other. Impeccable manners also help. He may commit murder, but there’s no reason to be impolite about it.

Accompanied by his loyal crow companions, Poe, Allan, and Edgar, his crimes strike fear in the hearts and minds of folks across Massachusetts’ North Shore. When Shawnee Daniels–cat burglar extraordinaire and forensic hacker for the police–meets Mayhem in the dark, she piques his curiosity. Sadly for her, she leaves behind an item best left undiscovered. Or is it serendipity by design?

Color him curious, but he yearns to examine the psychology behind her life choices, tough girl routine, witty banter, and unique double-life. In a different time and place they may even become friends. But unfortunately, their predicament defines the risk.

The stakes are too high to stop now.

For reasons authorities cannot fathom, these seemingly unrelated murders will go down in history as the most impressive killing regime of all time. His coup de grace, if you will. Even if it means permanently erasing Ms. Daniels from the equation. All the pieces are there if the authorities look hard enough. The question is, will they? The only new wrinkle is Shawnee Daniels, and she may be his toughest opponent yet …if she’s clever enough to play the game.

Blessed Mayhem is the 2017 WINNER of the #RBRT READERS’ CHOICE AWARD in the MYSTERY/THRILLER category.

Amazon eBook | Mayhem Series Print Editions

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Discussion

10 Responses to “It’s 10 p.m. Do You Know Where Your Pinch Points Are? by Sue Coletta”

  1. Terrific article, Sue! Thank you. Your breakdown makes it seem so simple, yet we know it’s not always. Thanks. 🙂

    Posted by Amy Valentini | January 31, 2018, 12:47 am
  2. I love this post, Sue. You made the concept of story structure make sense. And I love that quote by Larry.

    Posted by Staci Troilo | January 31, 2018, 7:44 am
  3. Great post and fabulous timing, as I’m writing the First Pinch Point in my WIP today! I’m a total structure nerd, and love your clear explanation. Because I write romance rather than suspense, I tend to use the FPP for the main character’s internal wound/ghost to rear its ugly head, reminding her (or him) why an HEA with this person (or any person) is impossible. Thanks for the reminder that this needs to be as visceral as possible

    Posted by Elizabeth Harmon | January 31, 2018, 8:26 am

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  1. […] before, my peeps on social media cracked me up, and I belly-laughed till I cried. I even wrote a guest post for Romance University and completed an especially difficult first page critique on the Kill Zone (difficult for me, that […]

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