I wrote about this topic earlier, but it keeps coming up. Suddenly, when I face my own troubles, I find myself asking, “Is this a plot point or a pinch point?”
A plot point is when the protagonist comes to the end of his resources, when the goal he has been pursuing has gone irrevocably out of reach or his method of pursuing it has utterly failed. A classic story has two plot points: the inciting incident, when the protagonist’s life as he knows it changes, as when the tornado takes Dorothy’s house out of Kansas and drops it in Oz.
The second plot point comes when the character hits absolute bottom, then stands at the depths of hell and rolls up his sleeves and says, “I’m coming back.” Working from this point of despair, the character tries a new tack, something entirely else, and attacks the problem anew. He will either succeed or fail, but it will be a final and irrevocable success or failure. The climax is the result of this final battle, and the denouement is the result of the climax.
Pinch points fall between the two plot points, events that show the protagonist’s resources dwindling, conditions turning against him, that reveal the necessity, the reality of the despair.
In a story, the fall of an oak leaf can be a plot point, but in real life, these plot events are harder to read. So, in facing the negative events I’m facing right now, the question comes up again and again, Is this a plot point or a pinch point? The difference is that the response to a pinch point is to keep going. The response to a plot point is to find something entirely else.