Primary Plot Points
Every screenplay has a FIXED set of essential plot points such as the key turning points, inciting incident, turning points 1,2 and 3, mid point, climax and resolution.
Plot points are structural milestones in your story and must advance the plot. They may be manipulated by screenwriters to demonstrate their writing style, but they should be there.
They are the STRUCTURAL PILLARS of your screenplay. You may adjust the position of the plot points in your story, but they must be there. Even if if they are blurred (such as an unclear or open-ended conclusion) or not even in your screenplay, (such as Juno where the inciting incident, the pregnancy, occurred before the film began.)
Ultimately PLOT POINTS are about the delivery of story information and knowing at which stage you are in your story.
Key plot points must be delivered when the audience requires the information; not sooner, not later.
Many screenwriters, particularly in thriller and mystery genres, withhold vital information to intrigue readers.
Delivering information too soon may confuse the audience with seemingly irrelevant or abundant information. Conversely, delivering information too late may leave your audiences bewildered and alienated.
The dance of the reveal (SET UP and PAY OFF) can be used to engage your audience, particularly to reveal subtext and complicate plot to generate interest.
Secondary Plot Points
Backstory and Front Story
Plot points are more than the key turning points. Consider the backstory and front story of your the main characters in your screenplay. They are plot points in a broader sense, because they are not hard story beats that occur on a specific page. They enhance the building blocks of your screenplay.
They help readers understand the motivation behind the characters’ choices which drive the plot. If this is held back too long, the audience loses their emotional attachment. Audiences need to empathize with your characters, understand and travel their emotional and physical journey with them.
This ensures that the audience cares about your characters’ fate. There must be an emotional investment so audiences root for them and are curious enough to see how the story ends.
A certain amount of audience guesswork causes titillation and intrigue. It draws them into the story by forcing them to figure out what happened and why.
You can add plot complications, reversals, anticipations, expectations, surprises and other plot devices to raise the stakes for the characters and add texture to your story. These should culminate to the two turning points in your story and eventually to a climax and resolution.
Plot twists: Something unexpected but plausible
Plot twists add an element of surprise, but shouldn’t be entirely unexpected or inconsistent with the characters’ goals, conflicts and arc. Twists also shouldn’t be coincidences or contrivances which will almost certainly raise the ire of unforgiving audiences.
These dramatic plot devices shouldn’t be instrumental to your story. They should only serve as enhancements. Nor should every plot device appear in every story. The audience needs to connect to your main characters, antagonists, goals, conflicts and their emotional growth/ change along the way. Audiences don’t like to be controlled or cheated.
It’s rather like renting a car and being issued with a steering wheel towards the end of your journey. Give drivers a complete car and let them discover the acceleration, turning speed, and braking distance along the way and have a satisfying driving experience. However, drivers need to adjust to a car before trying the fancy stunts.
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