The essence of ‘plot point’ is the essence of drama, yet I find it hard to define. There will always be unresolved elements in its definition, much in the same way the responses to a kid’s unrelenting questions ultimately lead to the question about the Meaning of Life.
Inside the Plot Point lies the Meaning of Drama.
It’s about cause and effect, it’s about what a character DOES because of what it WANTS, it’s about the necessary action following an external trigger event. It is about what the character MUST do because of who he/she is.
Like the scorpion and the frog.
Syd Field launched the concept of ‘Plot Point’ in:
The PLOT POINT is an incident, or event, that “hooks” into the action and spins it around into another direction.
I must say I don’t find this definition particularly helpful. The outcome of a plot point is indeed a change of direction. But I would like to see ACTION included in some way into the definition. Linda Seger does this. She even calls it ‘Action Point’:
An action point is a dramatic event that causes a reaction. Usually this reaction causes another action. Since this action is dramatic and visual (not expressed through dialogue), it pushes the story forward.
Robert McKee introduces conflict into the plot point. The change of ‘direction’ becomes a change of ‘values’ and he calls them ‘Story Events’:
A Story Event creates meaningful change in the life situation of a character that is expressed and experienced in terms of a value and ACHIEVED THROUGH CONFLICT.
Because I have seen numerous failed movies, full of ‘events’ but without any resulting action from the protagonist, I strongly believe the following:
A plot point necessarily consists of two beats:
1. SOMETHING HAPPENS (THE EVENT)
2. SOMEBODY REACTS (THE ACTION)
To have a plot point, you need both sides of the equation: the external trigger + the action taken by the character. Do you notice how this is also the core structure of any story? The first element represents the Inciting Incident and the second is the First Act Turning Point. Add to this a third element:
3. THE REACTION IS SUCCESSFUL/UNSUCCESSFUL
And you have a skeleton three-act structure.
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