5 Way Plot Structure
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MercerSnyderHauge
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Act I-the protagonist being who he is and getting an opportunity to act. Normal world, problems ensure, chances to act.
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0-12.5% - Setup - Ordinary life of the protagonist: home, friends, work. Something lacking in all 3 areas. Show flaw so the reader can see his growth by comparison at end. Life starting to slip or restrictions starting to chafe. Sympathetic character. Show hidden strength. Antagonist introduced. Theme introduced.Opening Image – A visual that represents the struggle & tone of the story. A snapshot of the main character’s problem, before the adventure begins.0-10% - Stage One: The Setup: The protagonist is fully in his identity. He isn't trying to change his life yet, even if he feels something is wrong. Often he doesn't yet realize something is wrong. Then along comes an...
*Draws the reader into story setting
*reveal the everyday life your hero has been living
*must establish identification with your hero by making her sympathetic, threatened, likable, funny and/or powerful
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10-12.5% - Problem - A direct challenge to the characters Fatal Flaw. Usually the protagonist clings to the flaw and decides not to engage the problem at first.Set-up – Expand on the “before” snapshot. Present the main character’s world as it is, and what is missing in their life.10% Mark - Turning Point One: Opportunity: Something happens that provides an opportunity for the protagonist to act, and this will lead him to what will ultimately make him happy and complete. This opportunity creates a new, visible desire, not the specific goal that defines your story concept, but rather a desire to move into…
*opportunity, creates desire which start the character on her journey
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12.5-25% - Stakes - Physical and emotional stakes of the story established. Protagonist is caught in the middle of the two sides of the theme. Mentor introduced to embody one side of the theme while the antagonist takes up the other. Mentor prepares the protagonist to make a decisive leap.Theme Stated (happens during the Set-up) – What your story is about; the message, the truth. Usually, it is spoken to the main character or in their presence, but they don’t understand the truth…not until they have some personal experience and context to support10-25% - Stage Two: New Situation: The protagonist gets a glimpse of what life would be life if he took the opportunity and acted. Things are changing for him, and it's all very new and exciting, yet also scary. The protagonist reacts and acclimates to his new surroundings. Most of the time he enters this new situation willingly, often with a feeling of excitement and anticipation, or at least believing that the new problem he faces can be easily solved. But as the conflict starts to build, he begins to realize he’s up against far greater obstacles than he realized, until finally he comes to…
*Formulates a plan to reach a specific goal.
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22.5-25% - Commitment - Antagonist raises the stakes and compells the protagonist to decide on a plan of action. Intentionally commits himself. This locks him into the central conflict and propells him into a "new world."Catalyst – The moment where life as it is changes. It is the telegram, the act of catching your loved-one cheating, allowing a monster onboard the ship, meeting the true love of your life, etc. The “before” world is no more, change is underway.25% Mark - Turning Point Two: A Change in Plans: Events transform the original desire into a specific, visible goal with a clearly defined end point. This is the scene where your story concept is defined, and your hero’s outer motivation is revealed. The reader knows that when this goal is accomplished (or failed), the movie will be over. The protagonist changes what he's been doing and acts. This launches act two.
*Don’t confuse outer motivation with the inner journey your hero takes. Because much of what we respond to emotionally grows out of the hero’s longings, wounds, fears, courage and growth, we often focus on these elements as we develop our stories. But these invisible character components can emerge effectively only if they grow out of a simple, visible desire.
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Debate – But change is scary and for a moment, or a brief number of moments, the main character doubts the journey they must take. Can I face this challenge? Do I have what it takes? Should I go at all? It is the last chance for the hero to chicken out.
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Break Into Two (Choosing Act Two) – The main character makes a choice and the journey begins. We leave the “Thesis” world and enter the upside-down, opposite world of Act Two.
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Act II: the protagonist works on changing his life and solving the problems of the plot. Protagonists confront overwhelming conflict in their pursuit of some visible goal. He isn't sure how to do that and has both victories and setbacks.
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B Story – This is when there’s a discussion about the Theme – the nugget of truth. Usually, this discussion is between the main character and the love interest. So, the B Story is usually called the “love story”.25-50% - Stage Three: Progress: The protagonist tries to accomplish things to fix the problems and become the person he wants to be. Plan seems to be working as he takes action to achieve his goal. Whatever obstacles your hero faces, he is able to avoid or overcome them as he approaches….
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25-37.5% - Locked In - (Snyder's Promise of the Premise) The protagonist old way of operating doesn't work. Tries the easiest solution first. Enlists aid or goes to the authorities. May undertake training. Protagonist unable to address his internal flaw yet.The Promise of the Premise – This is the fun part of the story. This is when Craig Thompson’s relationship with Raina blooms, when Indiana Jones tries to beat the Nazis to the Lost Ark, when the detective finds the most clues and dodges the most bullets. This is when the main character explores the new world and the audience is entertained by the premise they have been promised.50% Mark - Turning Point Three: Point of No Return: This is the no going back point. Up to this point, she had the option of turning back, giving up on her plan, and returning to the life she was living at the beginning. Whatever happens, the protagonist fully commits to his course of action. He knows what he wants and is going for it full tilt. He is taking a much bigger risk than at any previous time. And as a result of passing this point of no return, they must now face…
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35-37.5% - Fear Made Real - The Antagonist gooses the protagonist's greates fear and changes the protagonist's plan. Stake are raised. Climax foreshadowed. Protagonist faces emotional or physical danger. Sometimes a love interest is threatened or a lesser character dies. Arrival or departure of an important ally makes the protagonist aware of his vulnerability.Midpoint – Dependent upon the story, this moment is when everything is “great” or everything is “awful”. The main character either gets everything they think they want (“great”) or doesn’t get what they think they want at all (“awful”). But not everything we think we want is what we actually need in the end.50-75% - Stage Four: Complications and Higher Stakes: The protagonist moves further into becoming the person he's going to be and the resolution to his problem. Achieving the visible goal becomes far more difficult, and your hero has much more to lose if he fails. Conflict continues to build until, just as it seems that success is within your hero’s grasp, he suffers…
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37.5-50% - Breakthrough - Setbacks test alliances. Weak bonds are broken but strong bonds grow stronger. Protagonist redoubles his efforts with a new plan.Bad Guys Close In – Doubt, jealousy, fear, foes both physical and emotional regroup to defeat the main character’s goal, and the main character’s “great”/“awful” situation disintegrates.75% Mark - Turning Point Four: Major Setback: The protagonist screws up, often by getting overwhelmed with the new life and problem and retreated to the person her used to be. Deception is revealed and the lovers break up. All hope is lost and these disastrous events leave your hero with only one option: he must make one, last, all-or-nothing, do-or-die effort as he enters…
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47.5-50% - Cut Off - Story spins is a new direction. Just as the protagonist thinks he has won, the antagonist cuts him off. Possible ending of story foreshadowed - highest hopes or worst fears. Frequently a revelation. Sometimes comes face-to-face with the antagonist. Protagonist must reexamine his worldview. Death plays a prominent part--real or metaphorical. Protagonis can appear to die, witness a death or cause a death. "Death" can be physical, professional or spiritual in nature. Trap of some sort is set.All is Lost – The opposite moment from the Midpoint: “awful”/“great”. The moment that the main character realizes they’ve lost everything they gained, or everything they now have has no meaning. The initial goal now looks even more impossible than before. And here, something or someone dies. It can be physical or emotional, but the death of something old makes way for something new to be born.
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Dark Night of the Soul – The main character hits bottom, and wallows in hopelessness. The Why hast thou forsaken me, Lord? moment. Mourning the loss of what has “died” – the dream, the goal, the mentor character, the love of your life, etc. But, you must fall completely before you can pick yourself back up and try again.
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Break Into Three (Choosing Act Three) – Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last-minute Thematic advice from the B Story (usually the love interest), the main character chooses to try again.
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Act III: the protagonist starts off in a bad spot, retreating to who he was and shunning who he wants to be. But he pulls it all together and faces whatever he was afraid to face. He's ready to move on.
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Finale – This time around, the main character incorporates the Theme – the nugget of truth that now makes sense to them – into their fight for the goal because they have experience from the A Story and context from the B Story. Act Three is about Synthesis!75-90% - Stage Five: Final Push: Beaten and battered, your hero must now risk everything she has, and give every ounce of strength and courage she possesses, to achieve her ultimate goal. The protagonist finally sheds his old self and becomes the new person. The conflict is overwhelming, the pace has accelerated, and everything works against your hero, until this enables him to face...
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Final Image – opposite of Opening Image, proving, visually, that a change has occurred within the character.90-99% - Turning Point Five: The Climax: The final fight with the antagonist and the resolution of the story's problem. The protagonist realizes if he fully embraces the new him, he will win. This ends with...
* the hero must face the biggest obstacle of the entire story
*she must determine her own fate
*the outer motivation must be resolved once and for all
*Notice that the climax can occur anywhere from the 90% point to the last couple minutes of the movie. The exact placement will be determined by the amount of time you need for…
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100% - Stage Six: Aftermath: The protagonist has survived his ordeal and journey and is now the person he wanted to be, and has resolved the problems he was facing. He's shed the old and embraced the new and takes the first steps in his new life.
*Reveal the new life your hero is living now that he’s completed his journey.
*To leave the audience stunned or elated, the climax occurs near the very end of the film.
*In most romantic comedies, mysteries and dramas, the aftermath will include the final five or ten pages of the script.
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