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The Only 5 Plot Points Your Story Needs (and where they should occur)

I realized my last post essentially read as:


"story structure is built on vibes"


To be honest... That's not entirely wrong.





There are no hard-and-fast rules for screenplay story structure.


Even if plot points happen on the exact same page number in two scripts, one could feel like perfect timing while the other feels too slow.


This "vibe" can be determined mainly by genre -- which really is just the expected tone, length, and pacing of your story.


For example, a sci-fi or fantasy could have a slower start than a thriller or action because more world-building needs to be established in the former.


But fantasy fans know going into this kind of movie that the first 20 or so minutes will throw a lot of information at them that's necessary to understand the story.


Whereas horror fans would feel disappointed or confused if in the first 30 minutes it's not made clear what's scary about the film they're watching.


This also applies to tone (which we can dive deeper into in another post!). If the audience is expecting a comedy, and the first 30 minutes are a straight drama with no levity, they'll likely feel misled and disengage from the material


Of course there are slow burn stories, but the ones that work well still tend to hit the general areas plot points are expected to occur in order to keep the audience engaged.






I know I said there are no hard-and-fast rules but, look, even with your best friend there's a certain amount of time you're willing to listen to the preamble and scene-setting before getting to the story.


And even once they get to the point, they can only hold your attention for so long before you lose interest or the story becomes repetitive. It's the same with screenplay structure.



 

If you don't like math, I apologize in advance because I love it.


If you appreciate a more scientific/mathematical approach, you'll find this makes crafting a story feel like solving a math problem.


For me, this is the only way that made sense, and once I looked at it like this, I stopped getting stuck in my writing, and I was able to more clearly identify what wasn't working in the scripts I was analyzing!


 

🚨 math alert 🚨



The beginning of a story should be half as long as the middle, and equal to the end.


In screenplay terms:

Act 1 should be 20 - 25% of the story.

Act 2 should be 50 - 60%.

Act 3 should be 20 - 25%



There are 5 plot points every story should hit in order to be effective.

Below is a brief description of each, and the general percentage point at which the audience anticipates them in a story.


This anticipation is because the audience is familiar with this storytelling rhythm, like I explained in my last post!



ACT 1 - 25% of your story


  • Inciting Incident

    • This is the reason the story is happening. If this event didn't occur in the protagonist's life, they'd still be living in their status quo, unchanged.

    • We want to get to the inciting incident quickly, but not so quickly that we don't care about who it's happening to or understand how it's shaking up their world.

    • The inciting incident should ideally happen about 12% into the telling of the story.

    • In a 120-page script, the inciting incident is expected around page 15.

    • In a 100-page script, the inciting incident is expected around page 12.

  • First Act Break

    • The moment that locks your protagonist into the story. This is an irreversible choice they make for themselves; it's the first step on their journey to change (or changing the world!).

    • This should happen around 25% of the way into your story.

    • In a 120-page script, the first act break will be expected around page 30.

    • In a 100-page script, the first act break will be expected around page 25. 


ACT 2 - 50% of your story


  • Midpoint

    • This is when your protagonist realizes their approach thus far won't be successful the rest of the way, and they must go about their journey with a new perspective.

    • Like the name of the plot point implies, this will happen around midway -- 50% -- into your story.

    • In a 120-page script, the midpoint will be expected around page 60.

    • In a 100-page script, a midpoint will be expected around page 50.



ACT 3 - 25% of your story


  • Climax

    • The final obstacle your character must face before their journey is complete. They can only overcome this obstacle because of what they've learned and experienced along the way.

    • The climax should happen around 85% of the way into your story.

    • In a 120-page script, a climax will be expected to start around page 102.

    • In a 100-page script, a climax will be expected to start around page 85.

  • Resolution

    • The protagonist returns to their normal world, having changed. Or, they return to a changed world they helped shape! Maybe they even go to a new world? Either way, the protagonist has gone through an experience that has shaped them or their world in some way.

    • The last 5 - 10% of your story is where we'll expect to see the effects of these changes.

      • In a 120-page script, the resolution is expected to start around page 108 - 114. It depends on how much needs to wrapped up in the end!

      • In a 100-page script, the resolution is expected to start around page 90 - 95.



Summary of data:

Inciting Incident

12% into story

First Act Break

25% into story

Midpoint

50% into story

Climax

85% into story

Resolution

90% - 95% into story



Visualization of data:

A chart showing where the 5 crucial story plot points should occur


You probably noticed there is a big gap between the first act break and midpoint, and the midpoint and climax. ... so basically all of act 2, which is the longest part of a story hehe


There are of course specific plot points that screenwriting books tell you should be here, but in my opinion, such specific beats like that aren't always necessary.


The gap between the first act break and midpoint can be pretty easily filled with world and character exploration to keep things fresh.


The only plot point I can safely recommend is an obstacle.

So vague, right?


That's because trying to force a certain plot point to occur here could potentially ruin the otherwise great flow of your story.


Yes, your protagonist must face obstacles on their journey, and ideally they would start around 37% of the way into your story.

But if we're having a great time getting to know your characters and world at this point, there's no issue throwing a problem their way later on.


For the section between the start of Act 2 and the midpoint, it's up to you what your plot needs



The second half of act 2 is a bit different, as this is where the story typically sags. Therefore, there are some specific solutions I can safely recommend to help support this section.


Those solutions are:


  • Low point

    • A moment where we and the protagonist truly believe there's no way for them to win.

    • This would occur a bit before the climax (around 70% - 75% into a story). 

we can talk about it in another blog post, but I don't like giving the advice of always including a low point in stories. Actually -- I kinda hate it.

No... I definitely hate it. with a burning passion.


  • High point

    • The low point would ideally lead the protagonist directly to this moment. If their low point was them losing all their friends, this is where the protagonist would use what they've learned thus far to think of just the right thing to do/say to bring all their friends back together so they can head into the climax with a chance of winning as a team.

      • (in another blog post, we can discuss how Puss in Boots 2: The Last Wish effectively does the reverse of this, making the climax even more exciting!)

    • This would occur around 75 - 80% into the story.



But all that being said.... A low point and high point aren't essential.


Yes, most films have these beats. But there are enough outliers I've seen and read that it may not matter.


I'd say you only NEED to try including these if you're lacking momentum in the second half of act 2, or your plot begins feeling repetitive.


These two beats provide a nice change in tone that keeps the audience engaged as they, along with your protagonist, question what the results of this journey will be.


If your story is working without these points, don't try to force them in. PLEASE.



Well... Now that the math is over, how do you feel?


ready for a POP QUIZ?!


kidding, kidding... i'm saving that for another time ;)


but if you are in a question-answering mood, how about this:



What would you like to see in the next post?

  • 0%tone and timing

  • 0%low point / high point in Puss In Boots: The Last Wish

  • 0%why Mic hates low points

You can vote for more than one answer.


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2 Comments


Guest
Mar 03

ooooooh this is great thank you!

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Guest
Feb 25

This is helpful. Thank you

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