Surviving the screenwriting food chain, one revision at a time

Archive for April, 2011

Playing With Plot Points

Experimenting with the effectiveness of your script’s beats.

When writing in the three act structure, two plot points transition your script from act one to act two, and similarly from act two to act three. These events in your script are crucial to the progression of your plot, but also to the depth of your protagonist’s character and their relation to their surroundings. Each plot point can be anything from a single line of dialogue to lengthy sequence of actions, but not matter the form a plot point generates a major shift in the plot’s progression. In this way, the plot point can be a handy tool in developing your character, as it provides a specific and relevant look at how they react to situations. Any protagonist must have active instincts on some level or another, but this shift in pace is an excellent resource for demonstrating just how they go about actively pursuing their goals.

Because of the flexibility of writing, even in the apparently rigid structure of today’s scripts, a plot point can vary greatly in its effectiveness. A plot point which spans several scenes, for instance, sets a pace for the action that follows throughout act two. It would be difficult to follow this with a series of strong, quick progressions with a generally decisive and aggressive protagonist. A concise plot point, however, may illustrate a protagonist’s decisive nature and the urgency of action, propelling the hero into a series of demanding circumstances that move along at a fast clip.

Take for instance The Bourne Identity, in which Jason Bourne disarms several police at the embassy, and in doing so initiates a high-speed chase of a second act, in which he is constantly pursued by highly trained assassins and government agencies. This crucial turning point coincides with the pacing of the film, while also illustrating Bourne’s capabilities and decisive manner.

A drastically different approach is utilized in The Color of Money, in which Vincent is approached with the opportunity to travel and play pool with Fast Eddy Felson. His reaction is not abrupt, as with Jason Bourne, but instead spans a series of complications in which much of his decision hinges on the characters around him. This sets the tone for not only a less thrilling and more contemplative second act, but also introduces Vincent’s inability to act according to his own values, a thematic issue throughout the film.

So, when organizing your ideas and developing your script, I urge you to consider the effectiveness of your plot points. The first plot point will establish a great deal for the action to follow, while the second plot point will illustrate the progression of your protagonist’s character arch and the development of the plot. Try and experiment and see what feels right for your story, and explore the flexibility hidden within the three act structure!



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