Sherri Sheridan’s “40 Plot Points”
To add to your arsenal of story-building methods, we have the “40 Plot Points For Feature Films.” This was created by Sherri Sheridan to aid screenplay writers in plotting out their story. It’s made to have each of the 40 plot-points here take up about 3 pages, thus giving you a 120 page script at the end of it, which will translate into a 120-minute film.
Here are the basics. (You will see some similarities with Campbell’s Hero’s Journey):
Basic structure: hook, setup, inciting incident, journey into the unknown, investigation, twist, turning point, surprise crisis, final confrontation, climax, resolution.
1. Hook: use one of the various techniques to suck readers/viewers in fast.
2. Setup: show the status-quo of the world. Perhaps introduce characters casually doing what they always do. Introduce the main character.
3. Enter Antagonist: the antagonist makes an entrance. Show their personality.
4. Supporting Characters: each of these characters will serve to highlight or contrast the main character’s personality.
5. Plot Goal (Want): Problem arises. The main goal of the protagonist is established.
6. Theme or Theme Goal Defined (need): shows in what ways the character needs to change by the end of the story to accomplish his goal. Highlight his weakness and flaws.
7. Gauntlet: protagonist conflict with the antagonist.
8. First Test: first big challenge. Protagonist may fail this (highlights their weakness).
9. Inciting Incident: Event that changes the status-quo.
10. Exile: The journey into the unknown. Protagonist leaves his familiar world in order to accomplish his big goal.
11. Plot Goals Restated: protagonist questions whether he made the right choice by leaving his home or normal world.
12. Theme Goals Restated: start developing a theme. Use metaphors or symbols to tell about this theme.
13. McGuffin: a random, unforeseen event which pushes the plot forward. It shakes up the protagonist and causes him to stop stalling and thinking and gets him moving again.
14. Investigation: Protagonist fumbles around in dark to accomplish his goal. He is not sure of exactly what he needs to do and so is not exactly efficient.
15. Meet Mentor: Teacher, godlike force, wizard, or fully-realized hero appears and aids the protagonist.
16. Acquire New Tools: New skills, tools, or information is found or is given to the protagonist.
17. Joke: This is just a funny moment to relieve the tension. Shows the protagonist’s “Achilles heel.”
18. Foreshadow: Prepares the audience for the climax of the film. This should be fairly subtle.
19. Unique Genre Color: show something to do with the genre you’re writing in. For example, a dragon for Fantasy, of aliens for Sci-Fi. Whatever works fro your particular story.
20. First Theme Success: Show small growth in the protagonist that is related to the story’s theme and/or a small step in the direction of how the character needs to change by the end.
21. Triumph First Plot Success: 1st goal is accomplished (not the main goal, but a step towards it).
22. Betrayal: supporting characters act in treacherous way (possible twist), or the protagonist falls prey to his own weakness.
23. Big Bad Twist: an unexpected turn of events which often changes the big goal of the protagonist. What he thought he wanted isn’t actually what he needs and now he knows better.
24. Torture/Escape: Protagonist suffers greatly, but comes out of the challenge stronger. Sometimes gains or awakens new skills within himself.
25. Defeat: Protagonist is defeated. His plans didn’t work.
26. Reassess Plot Goal: Character reassess the situation and goes a new direction to achieve the plot goal.
27. Restate Theme Goal: return of symbolism that is a reminder of the story theme, or an event that shows that the character has grown even more.
28. Mentor Disabled: Protagonist must go forward alone because, for whatever reason, the mentor is no longer able to help.
29. Second Joke: another funny or playful moment.
30. Unique Genre Element: something recognizable to your genre. For example, in a sci-fi story: aliens, or a spaceship. For Fantasy: dragon or unicorns. Whatever works for your particular story.
31. Surrender: Protagonist vs. impossible odds. He may lose everything and give up.
32. McGuffin: Unexpected event or new information or gained powers moves plot forward, helps to kick the protagonist out of his rut.
33. New Solution: Unexpected solution is discovered. Now the protagonist goes for the goal with more vigor than before.
34. Final Confrontation: tension between protagonist and antagonist rises. Antagonist is confronted.
35. Death: Protagonist (and his supporting characters) are defeated
36. Resurrection: protagonist gathers himself and charges at the antagonist a second time.
37. Sacrifice: the protagonist must make a considerable sacrifice in order to achieve his goal. He could lose a limb, or have to make a tough choice, such as choosing between getting a treasure and saving a team member.
38. Revelation: the theme is reiterated. Protagonist has an epiphany relating to it.
39. Climax: Protagonist finally wins.
40. Resolution: loose ends are wrapped up.
(If you like this and you want more detailed information on the 40-points, check out Sheridan’s DVD “Writing A Great Script Fast.”)
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