5 Key Plot Points...
Updated: Feb 27, 2020
5 Key Plot Points To Write a Great Story
I have been writing screenplays and studying story structure for over a decade now. Every story has structure. What makes a good story is a solid structure of events that either advance the story forward or turn the story into a new direction. These events, major and minor, within the narrative are called plot points.
What Is A Plot Point?
A plot point is any event that happens in a story. Plot points can be action, dialogue and/or conflict. Plot points are the structure that holds the story together and gives it focus and direction. But plot points are more than a mere series of events that meander along without deliberate intention -- they have purpose.
Plot points reveal the main character's struggle and whether they will achieve their goal. Plot points show if the hero is able to learn from experience and change their ways.
"Storytelling is about two things; it's about character and it's about plot. " George Lucas
What Are The 5 Key Plot Points?
Plot points connect every event of your story from the opening image to the final image. The 5 key plot points are significant events that turn the story into a new unexpected direction at, or near, specific time, page, or percentage marks. They are:
Plot Point 1
Plot Point 2
As the story unfolds, each of the key plot points escalate the conflict, challenge the hero, and increase the stakes of the story.
Inciting Incident/Catalyst: This event changes the life the Hero has been living. The inciting incident presents the hero with an opportunity to seek something new that did not exist in his mundane life the day, or even the moment before.
It is the mysterious knock at the door, the call to adventure, the death family member or murder of a victim, a crime committed, the unexpected announcement, or something unwanted imposed upon our hero.
The inciting incident occurs in the first half of the first act. Many inciting incidents hit the time mark between 10-15 minutes (pages) or 10% into the story.
In Die Hard (1988) it is the arrival of ruthless villain Hans Gruber and his deadly mercenaries.
In Contact (1997) it is the arrival of a mysterious signal from an alien intelligence twenty-six light years away.
In The Matrix (1999) it is when Agent Smith captures and interrogates Neo, threatening to find him "guilty of every computer crime we have a law for" if Neo doesn't help them capture Morpheus.
In Jaws (1975) it is when Crissie Watkins' eviscerated, half-eaten body is found on the beach of fictional Amity Island.
Plot Point 1: This plot point is an event where the story takes another significant turn into a new direction and locks the hero into their journey. It is the moment when the hero's goal is clearly established.
Often it involves a "crossing of the threshold" into a new situation or world that the hero must struggle through to obtain his goal. This major event occurs at the end of the first act, often between 18-30 minutes (pages) into the story, or near the 25% mark.
In Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) plot point 1 is when Luke's Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen are murdered and their home destroyed by Imperial Troops. Luke sets out to learn the ways of the force and travel to Alderaan.
In The Matrix (1999) it is when Neo takes the red pill and learns "how deep the rabbit hole goes."
In Deep Impact (1998) it is the moment when US President Beck tells the world that a deadly asteroid on a collision course with earth and that he has a plan.
In Inception (2010) it is the moment when Cobb takes inception architect Ariadne into her first shared dream experience where she is stabbed by Cobb's insane wife, Mal, and immediately upon returning to reality, quits.
Midpoint Turn: As its name implies, the midpoint turn happens in the middle of the story, and can be associated with death, which might be literal or even metaphorical. This is the point of no return for the hero when their initial plan has not worked as expected.
The midpoint turn splits the second act in two -- 2a and 2b.
It is the moment when the hero can no longer turn back and must continue to struggle forward. The midpoint turn marks the point when the stakes of the story are increased, and the hero enters a more obsessive drive toward his goal.
From here on the conflict, obstacles, and challenges will only increase as bad things close in around the hero. The midpoint often appears between 50-75 minute (pages) into the story. It is literally the 50% mark.
In Armageddon (1998) it is the moment when the Mir Space Station experiences an explosion and the heroes must flee to the shuttles before they are destroyed along with the space station.
In Star Trek (2009) it is the moment when they are unable to stop Nero from inserting red-matter into Vulcan's core resulting in the planet's implosion and the death of not only Spock's mother, but six billion Vulcans.
In Avatar (2009): Jake has just tamed his banshee earning him a place among the Na'vi people. Neytiri shows him the Well of Souls and they are attacked by the legendary and lethal predator, the Great Leonopteryx.
Plot Point 2: This plot point comes at the end of the second act and pushes the hero into the third, and final act of the story. This plot point is the second most significance in the story thus far. It is known as the all is lost moment, the low point, or the major setback.
It is the moment when the hero suffers his greatest loss in the story. He can be left alone and defeated, having burned bridges and destroyed alliances that might help him achieve his goal. It can be his lowest point when the odds of success are now seemingly impossible.
Plot point 2 can also be a false victory where the hero succeeds only have a revelation that the goal he was seeking was the wrong goal, or that even though he may have saved everyone, the villain slips through his fingers, escaping justice.
This is the moment when the hero must look deep within himself and pull together a renewed strength and resolve to head into the final showdown fully committed to its success.
Plot point 2, along with the midpoint turn, are often where the hero has a self-revelation that reinforces his drive to achieve his goal, propelling him into the third act. Plot point 2 happens at the 75-95 minute (page) mark, or 75% into the story.
In Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) Jack and Elizabeth are stranded on a deserted island by Barbossa. Elizabeth tricks a very willing Jack into drinking himself unconscious, then lights up the remaining rum in a glorious blazing bonfire that attracts her fiancé and father to rescue them and takes Jack into custody.
In The Wizard of Oz (1939) it is the event when Dorothy tries to save Scarecrow from burning to death and throws a bucket of water on him, which unexpectedly splashes onto the Witch instead, and melts her to death.
In The Martian (2015) plot point 2 happens when JPL informs Mark that in order to save him they must launch him into space in a stripped down version of the MAV with no life support, no communications systems, with the nose airlock removed, windows removed, the hull panel removed, and only a tarp for protection.
To make things worse, he has to remove the control systems that he needs to intercept with the Hermes. In other words --- a real "Hail Mary" of all time.
Climax/Final Battle: This is the moment or sequence we have all been waiting for: the final battle between the hero and his nemesis. This obligatory "showdown" scene or sequence is when the hero must face his greatest fear on his own, without anyone coming to his rescue.
He will either be victorious in his quest or defeated by the antagonist. In either scenario, the final battle has a conclusive yet powerful end for our hero. It is the biggest moment where the stakes are the greatest.
In many instances the hero has already faced off with their nemesis earlier in the story and failed -- think any Rocky-type story. Now is the time to take everything the hero has learned throughout the story and use it to defeat his enemy.
The climax can be an extended scene or sequence and may land anywhere between 80+ minutes and the end of the film. It usually hits its mark at 90% into the story.
In Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) it is the final battle between Ronan the Accuser and the entire team of well-meaning misfit Guardians in which Rocket, Groot, Drax, Gamora and Quill defeat Ronan when Quill uses the Power Stone rendering Ronan a disintegrating pile of dust.
In Joker (2019) the final battle is between Joker and Murray, his idol. When Joker admits that he killed three rich men in the subway and he wasn't sorry for it, Murray rebukes him. Then Joker calls Murray out for his own cruel manipulation to make fun of Joker by asking him to appear on his show.
In the final moments of the climax Joker tells one final joke, "What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash? You get what you fuckin’ deserve!” The punchline is delivered with a point blank bullet to Murray's head.
In Sicario (2015): Alejandro appears at Kate's apartment and tells her to sign a waiver legitimizing the operation, but she refuses. He holds a gun on her and tells her to refuse would mean her own suicide, and eventually she signs the document.
As Alejandro walks away from her apartment, she takes aim at him prepared to pull the trigger, but when he turns to look at her-- she can't kill him. He walks away a free man. He was right, she is not a wolf, and this is the land of wolves.
The 5 Key Plot Points Work With All Story Forms...
Using these 5 Key Plot Points can enable you to write a well balanced story that creates unexpected twists and turns the audience will love, while escalating the conflict, raising the stakes, and subverting the audience's expectations.
It works with all story forms including short stories and webisodes. The 5 key plot points allow you to connect story events and stick to the story's spine without meandering off into unknown territory. Don't underestimate the power these 5 Key Plot Points to solidify and focus your story, they are amazing tools.
While these plot points can vary where they are located in a story's narrative, the percentages do fall closely within the examples and can work with all story forms (see chart at top).
That's not to say there aren't exceptions, certainly there are, but if you structure your story with these percentages as a guide, it can go a long way to help you establish a strong outline to better execute your story.
Next we'll talk about the stages between each of the major plot points -- The 6 Stages of Story Structure.
Use the 5 Key Plot Points to create a compelling story or great outline. It's a mile-high look at your story and can save a lot of time in the preplanning stage. Try it out with a story idea you have and let me know in the comments below how it worked for you.