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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.
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.
Also: disturbance, catalyst, beginning Once the protagonist‘s ‘normal life’‘ has been set up, an important, often life-changing event occurs, which turns the protagonist‘s 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.
Also: mid point reversal, point of no return, mid turning-pointA 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.
Also: ordeal, low pointThe 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 thresholdOften 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 ResolutionThis 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.
Also: journey stage, blockA 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.
See: Plot Point
Point of View
See: Point of View
From the above follows:
Act OneSome people will say this is the
Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in acquisition, development and production. He has trained students worldwide, and worked with half a dozen Academy Award nominees. Karel speaks more European languages than you have fingers on your left hand, which he is still trying to find a use for in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The languages, not the fingers.
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