Resources for Writers
Into the Depths: Plotting – the Nuts & Bolts (Part 2 of 3) by Lindsay J Sedgwick
Having brainstormed the various events or beats that you’d like to include in your story, across your various storylines and character arcs, it’s time to work out the purpose of these moments in terms of their impact on your central character and, because of this, on your audience.
The terminology isn’t complex but when time is limited, as it is in a script, it can help you work out where to place those ‘beats’ within the overall story for maximum impact.
Plot points are important moments in your story when the dynamic shifts. They are based on or caused by obstacles that your central character has to overcome. Put more simply, each plot point is a moment/ event/ revelation/ decision that has to happen for your story to be told dramatically.
By forcing your central character to respond to obstacles, you create drama and conflict, you create emotion on screen. Brainstorm as many obstacles as you can find to place between your character’s goal and her success or failure
Once you have all your choices, you can answer the question, “What will work best for my screenplay?”
Early plot points
Early plot points open up the story. At this stage, every choice your central character makes will lead to different options, obstacles, events and consequences. She will always make the wrong decision, even if it doesn’t appear to be so (at least to her) at the time.
With each decision she makes, your central character (often unknowingly) increases the jeopardy she faces and keeps the story rolling. Notably, if the option she chooses makes life a little better for a while, it will definitely backfire later.
Later plot points
By reducing options, later plot points force your central character to focus on what she needs to do to resolve the crisis and answer the dramatic question. For example, let’s take the discovery by your central character that Alice is working for the antagonist. This knowledge leaves her with several choices:
- She can use this information, without revealing to Alice that she knows Alice is working for the antagonist
- Reassess her actions to date based on this knowledge and change her plan of action going forward
- Force, blackmail or trick Alice to work for her
- Set Alice up in order to find more out by how she responds/ where she goes
- Force Alice to reveal what she knows or what the antagonist knows
However, if the discovery of the betrayal happens late in the script, her choices will be more grim, since Alice will have had time to reveal more to the antagonist.
These are the key plot points. If any of them were taken out or changed, the ending of your story would be entirely different. Pillars are described in terms of ‘height’, the height being the level of jeopardy or what is at stake as a result of these moments. The greater the jeopardy they cause, the higher and more important the pillars become. As such, each needs to be higher than the last. There has to be more at stake, more to lose.
Certain of these pillars are turning points because they turn the action in an unexpected and different direction. These are critical moments for your central character, even if she doesn’t realise it. She is forced to act or make a decision that changes everything. Forever.
There are many different types of turning points, but two examples would be:
A barrier may be when your character goes to access information on a computer and discovers she has been locked out of the system. A complication might be that the information she accesses suggests that the person she was investigating isn’t who she thinks it is, is actually also a victim or that what she was investigating is not as simple to unravel as she thought.
Turning points generally end a particular sequence of events. Not only should they change the story’s direction and raise the central question again – will your central character succeed in her goal? –, they should also demand a commitment or decision from her.
While they can happen at any stage they must happen at the end of Act 1 and Act 2.
Turning Points 1 and 2
As with all early plot points, Turning Point 1 opens up options for your central character. Depending on the choice she makes, the story could go anywhere. If she discovers that her friend Alice is working for the antagonist now, for example, there are several options open to her. Each will lead the story and her plan of action in a different direction.
Alternatively, Turning Point 2 narrows the options available. Time is running out and she has very few options.
If, for example, she now discovers that her ally and friend, Alice is the antagonist, wouldn’t that reduce the options open to her dramatically? She would realise, suddenly, that she is more vulnerable than she believed she was, increasing the tension for the reader.
Right now, you want to find as many plot points within your story as you can. Don’t reduce your options now out of lack of confidence or a fear that you are being melodramatic.
Unless you let your story fly at this stage, you might miss out on some unique and wonderful options. Besides, even if you don’t use certain of these plot points or obstacles, some element of these moments may end up
- a) adding bite or colour to another scene or
- b) telling you something useful about character that you can use elsewhere in the script.
Right now, at this stage, anything can happen. The weeding out process can happen later. (
Next up: Part 3, Building the story, plot point by plot point….
See Part 1 of this series here.
(c) Lindsay J Sedgwick
Lindsay is an award-winning screenwriter who published Ireland’s first comprehensive guide to screenwriting, Write That Script in 2018. She is the creator of the ground-breaking series series Punky, which has been recognized as the first mainstream animation series in the world in which the central character has special needs (Down’s syndrome). Two series later, it is available in over 100 countries with circa 5 million hits on YouTube.
Crossing genre, searching out the best stories to tell, Lindsay has worked in live action and animation, written for kids and adult, film and TV, games and apps and had 14 plays staged in Ireland and the UK. As well as delivering masterclasses and courses throughout Ireland for two decades, she has worked with a wide range of production companies in Ireland and the UK as screenwriter, creator and creative consultant and is currently developing a children’s series.
Order your copy of Write That Script here.