Glossary

The following is a basic list of terms I believe you should have an understanding of. To be a professional, it is crucial you can communicate with others to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your work.

It is not enough to know and understand Syd Field’s set of phrases, as some hot shots may only be familiar with McKee. Unfortunately different people have different definitions for the exact same term.

This is my attempt to broadly define the most essential notions, informed by the best known theories, but influenced by the need to make them useful to the screenwriter rather than the analyst. Some theories are great to analyse finished films, but useless when you are stuck in your second draft. I hope that my definitions will help in identifying problems.

I will occasionally add to the list and modify definitions. If you disagree with anything or the explanation is not clear, feel free to flag this to me.

Normal Life

Also: opening, ordinary World, normal life, prologue, Journey Stage One.

  • The part of the screenplay or the film in which we see the life of the protagonist before things take a significant turn.
  • This stage is often unified by a (visible) desire or objective that will change after the inciting incident.
  • We often learn what the character’s flaw is, and therefore what the ‘need’ is, leading to the transformation at the end of Act Two.
  • Inciting Incident

    Also: disturbance, catalyst, beginning

  • Once the protagonists normal life’has been set up, an important, often life-changing event occurs, which turns the protagonists life upside down.
  • The strongest inciting incidents are events beyond the control of the protagonist, forcing the protagonist to act.
  • This action may not follow immediately, but after a period of confusion, hesitation, reluctance or after consulting with an advisor or mentor.
  • First Act Turning Point

    Also: act one turning point, first threshold, first turning point, plot point one.

  • The point in the story marking the end of the first act, often the scene where the protagonist finally accepts the call, decides to go on the mission he/she has been refusing up to then.
  • Mid-Point

    Also: mid point reversal, point of no return, mid turning-point

  • A dramatic change in the protagonist’s approach to achieving the goal (turning point) or a change of the goal itself (reversal).
  • This change of approach is forced by a major event around the halfway point of the film, often of a magnitude similar to the inciting incident.
  • A film with a weak inciting incident can sometimes be saved by a powerful mid-point reversal.
  • Crisis

    Also: ordeal, low point

  • The point in the story close to the end of the second act, when everything seems lost.
  • The protagonist is at the lowest point and undergoes great mental and/or physical challenge.
  • It is the point when ‘the image of death is planted in the minds of the audience’.
  • Second Act Turning Point

    Also: plot point two, crossing the 2nd threshold

  • Often during, at the end or right after the ordeal/crisis scene, the protagonist undergoes a character transformation, marking the completion of the character arc on the psychological, ‘inner journey’ level and thus marking the end of Act Two.
  • On the surface, in the physical world (or Outer Journey) this scene may lead to a discovery/revelation.
  • While the crisis scene (or sequence) may be rather static, this final ‘clue’ at the end of Act Two will trigger action, often leading to a kinetic scene: a chase, escape, or just a scene or sequence with fast movement. This physical movement can be seen as the closing of Act Two: at the end of the movement we are in Act Three.
  • Climax and Resolution

  • This is the high point of the third act and the end of the story.
  • Sometimes climax and resolution are spread over more than one scene but it typically boils down to the protagonist fighting and ultimately defeating the enemy, achieving the objective (or realising a failure).
  • The turning point usuallyis a direct or indirect response to the inciting incident.
  • Sequence

    Also: journey stage, block

  • A number of scenes or plot points, about 10-15mins of screen time on average and unified by a common goal, location, and often structured around its own 3-act structure.
  • Plot Point

    See: Plot Point

    Point of View

    See: Point of View

    From the above follows:

    Act One

  • Some people will say this is the
    About the Author

    Karel Segers

    Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in international movie rights acquisition, script development and production. He has trained and consulted to filmmakers all over the world, including award-winning screenwriters, and Academy Award nominees. Karel founded this website, as well as Logline.it!, ranks among the most influential people for screenwriting on social media, and speaks more than a handful of European languages (which should come in handy in his present hometown of Sydney, Australia).

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