how to choose your story's plot points

How to Choose Your Story’s Plot Points

choose plot pointsYou’ve got a story, and you’ve got characters who are doing stuff in that story. That means you’ve got a plot. But how do you know if you’ve got your characters doing the right stuff at the right time?

At first glance, this seems intuitive. Story is (or should be) a chain of causes and effects. Something happens, and that causes something else to happen. Nothing could be more sensible.

But the realities of plotting are more complicated.

If you’re attempting a specific artistic effect (and you should be), then it’s probably not going to suffice to just let your story’s events pour onto the page at random. Instead, you’re going to need to carefully plan each major structural moment—and everything in between—to create that end effect you’re going for.

Regardless whether your personal method favors plotting or pantsing, applying an understanding of structure to your story offers you a great advantage. Once you understand story’s fundamental framework, you can then make informed decisions about how to create your best possible Hook, Inciting Event, First Plot Point, Midpoint, Third Plot Point, Climax, and so on.

However, sometimes this sounds simpler and more obvious than it is in actual application—as evidenced by so many recent films and novels. These well-intentioned stories usually succeed in presenting plots that feature plausible chains of cause and effect. But because they haven’t optimized their structural integrity, they still end up failing in their chief mandate: offering stories of heart and soul.

Having just viewed Netflix’s Outlaw King, about Robert the Bruce’s final bid for Scottish independence, I feel this film offers a particularly good learning opportunity.

Outlaw-King-on-Netflix-Chris-Pine

On its surface, there isn’t much to critique. Production values are good; the plot is a decent chain of causes and effects; the structural pieces are all in place; the story is one of wrenching sacrifice and determination.

And yet, as more than one IMDb review has stated, “the writing didn’t have a lot of heart.” Or, as Manohla Dargis aptly grumbles in the introduction to her NYTimes.com review of the movie:

At least in old Hollywood, filmmakers would also try to entertain you amid the clashes and post-combat huddles, giving you something more to watch and ponder than this movie’s oceans of mud, truckloads of guts and misty, unconsidered nationalism.

Here’s the thing: this film could easily have had it all. It’s all there in the story, waiting to be mined. A better understanding of structure and theme would have created better organization, which would have incalculably amplified the story’s power, effectiveness, and, yes, heart.

If that sounds like something you’d like to accomplish in your own story, let’s take a look at just how to make it happen.

How to Choose the Right Plot Points for Your Story

What is plot?

This almost rhetorical question gets bandied about a lot by the writing intelligentsia. There are many, many responses, because plot actually remains a surprisingly abstract concept.

But here’s my answer for today.

Plot is pacing.

From a certain perspective (said in best Obi-Wan voice), structure is about nothing more or less than controlling a story’s pacing for optimal entertainment value.

(And since we’re defining stuff, let’s define “entertainment” for what it really is: “emotional impact.” If you want to keep your audience’s attention—aka, entertain them—then you’ve got to engage them personally and primally. Obviously, there are varying levels of this—everything from mildly funny jokes to life-changingly empathic experiences. But the principle remains the same: engage the emotions.)

What this means is that each structural beat—particularly, the major turning points at the First Plot Point, Midpoint, and Third Plot Point—should be designed to control pacing in order to create the optimal emotional effect upon audiences.

But this only works when the author understands and utilizes these structural beats properly.

What Happens When You Choose the Wrong Plot Points?

Here’s a quick overview of how Outlaw King is structured (and therefore paced):

Hook: The Scottish lords, including Bruce, unhappily surrender to King Edward I of England and swear fealty.

Inciting Event: The timing tells us the Inciting event is Bruce’s marriage to Edward’s goddaughter. But the true Inciting Event is the riot he witnesses when Wallace’s dismembered arm is displayed publicly.

outlawking

First Plot Point: Bruce appeals to his rival for the crown, John Comyn, to help him fight the English. Comyn threatens to betray him, and Bruce murders him. Bruce is subsequently crowned King of Scots.

First Pinch Point: The English treacherously attack Bruce’s camp the night before an agreed-upon battle. His followers are slaughtered, and he is forced to go on the run.

Midpoint: Bruce flees to Ireland, while his wife and daughter are imprisoned and two of his brothers killed.

Outlaw King Ireland

Second Pinch Point: Bruce finally returns to Scotland and starts taking back some of the castles, which spurs the English to pursue him with promises of no quarter.

Third Plot Point: Bruce and his followers prepare their first pitched battle against the English—at Loudoun Hill.

Climax: They enter battle.

Climactic Moment: They are triumphant, and the English retreat.

Resolution: Bruce wins, his family is returned to him, Scotland is free (as summarized in subtitles).

So what’s wrong with this picture (other than the messy Inciting Event)? At first glance, it might seem like everything’s in place, but the single biggest problem is that the structural beats get weaker and weaker and weaker as the story progresses, instead of growing stronger and more powerful.

Whereas the Midpoint should be the single greatest turning point in the entire story—shifting the protagonist from reaction to action—here, the protagonist’s actions are almost passive; he won’t actively regroup until another eighth of the story has passed. And when the Second Pinch does arrive, Bruce’s return to Scotland and immediate triumph in regaining his own castle seems to be almost taken for granted by the filmmakers.

This isn’t, however, a problem that starts with the story’s Midpoint.  Rather, this is a problem that originates in a poor choice of structural beats and a correlated poor control of pacing.

Don’t Know Where to Begin Choosing Your Plot Points? Start at the End

The events of Bruce’s life, post-Wallace, create a naturally compelling three-act story: his decision to claim the crown and rebel, his exile from and return to Scotland, his hard-fought triumph.

On the surface, that’s exactly what this film gives us…. except, inexplicably, it cuts out Bannockburn. As anyone familiar with Scottish history knows, the Battle of Bannockburn was the finale of Bruce’s triumphant story.

The Battle of Loudoun Hill, which ends the movie, was only the beginning of his eventually victorious campaign against the English, and as such, it feels rightfully anticlimactic.

Honestly, I’m agape at how anyone could decide, Hey, we’re going to tell a story about Robert the Bruce—and NOT end the story with Bannockburn. It’s like deciding to write about the Battle of Stirling Bridge without Stirling Bridge. (Oh, wait…)

From a structural point of view—and, therefore, a dramatic point of view—Bannockburn is the obvious point of the story. It’s the single structural moment that is tailor-made for this story’s Climax. (More than that, it is astonishingly cinematic, not least in Bruce’s opening duel against Henry de Bohun, a gambit historically celebrated as one of the most impressive instances of single combat.)

Understanding Bannockburn’s appropriateness for the Climax reveals an entirely different and better-organized structure for the story.

Let’s take a look at how this story’s plot points might have been rearranged and strengthened for a more powerful overall effect.

Hook: The Scottish lords, including Bruce, unhappily surrender to King Edward I of England and swear fealty.

This is still a good choice for the opening scene. It’s clearly the first domino in the events of the conflict to follow; it begins the story in medias res without omitting anything important; and by starting after the demise of the famous William Wallace, it squarely centers this as Bruce’s story.

Inciting Event: Bruce witnesses the public display of Wallace’s dismembered arm and the subsequent riot.

The Inciting Event is the moment that defines the entire story to follow. As such, its timing is important. By delaying this scene until almost the quarter mark in the story (crowding it up against the First Plot Point and the end of the First Act), in favor of Bruce’s awkward relationship with his new wife, the film muddied its throughline. Is this a story about Bruce and Elizabeth—or Bruce and Scotland?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with emphasizing and developing a relationship subplot (indeed, I’d argue  Elizabeth’s scenes end up being the most interesting and compelling of the story), but not at the expense of the story’s cohesion. A story’s major structural moments create its backbone and, as such, must be unified.

This is where timing becomes an important part of pacing. Readers and viewers instinctively respond to the timing in a story. When story requires nearly a quarter of its length to get to the Inciting Event, its focus muddies.

Key Event: Were this my story, I would have tied the timing of Bruce’s murder of Comyn in more tightly with the Call to Adventure (above). In a busy story that covers a lengthy period of time, there isn’t space to waste. By tightening up the First Act to provide better timing for the Inciting Event, this far more consequential scene with Comyn could be given more weight, leading directly to the First Plot Point when…

First Plot Point:Bruce is crowned king—and immediately goes to battle against the English, who treacherously attack his camp the night before the agreed-upon battle. His followers are slaughtered, and he is forced to go on the run.

Outlaw-King-Florence-Pugh-Chris-Pine

Now that the set-up of the First Act is complete, we have reached the story proper: Bruce’s fight against the English. And since we’re just now entering the Second Act, we still have plenty of time in which to explore and develop the main conflict.

First Pinch Point: The first half of the Second Act is all about the protagonist’s reactions to the consequences of the First Plot Point. This is where he will struggle—futilely, as often as not—to regain his balance.

This, of course, means this section of the story would be the perfect place for Bruce to feel the full impact of his choices, leading up to a First Pinch Point when he goes into exile in Ireland for the winter, knowing he has left his family and his country in devastation behind him.

Midpoint: Now that we’ve accomplished a tighter first half of the story, we have the time and the space to leverage a truly important moment for the story’s centerpiece: Bruce’s return to Scotland.

This event is a tremendously important moment in both the story’s plot and its character development. As such, it deserves to be developed from the inside out. In addition to providing the protagonist a swivel point from reaction to action in the exterior plot, the Midpoint should also function as a Moment of Truth within the character’s interior arc.

Unfortunately, this was a tremendous missed opportunity in Outlaw King. As a historical figure, Robert the Bruce presents an almost perfect character arc—from a shilly-shallying political opportunist to an all-in king of his people. But the film doesn’t even touch that. Had it spent its opening scenes more wisely in setting up the foundation for Bruce’s inner evolution from Lie to Truth, it could have added depth and meaning to its otherwise straightforward account of medieval brutality.

The film sends Bruce back to Scotland (at the Second Pinch) with no more dramatic grist than a grim face and a little patter from his buddy about the efficacy of vengeance. How much better to mine this moment as a personal sea change? What might have started for Bruce as his one shot to grab the crown has suddenly become eminently important on a deeply personal level. (Is that how it went for the real Bruce? Maybe, maybe not. But telling a story means telling a story.)

Outlaw-King

Second Pinch Point: And finally we come to the proper place for the Battle of Loudoun Hill. Here, Bruce sets up for his first battle against the English. He is just now starting to stick it to his enemies. He wins, but he feels the pinch as he suffers great losses (the death of his young vassal arguably works even better here, since it only raises the stakes for what is yet to come).

Third Plot Point: So many action movies these days either skip the Third Plot Point or use it simply as a turning point into the beginning of their final climactic battle. Again, it’s a timing issue: they want enough time to pull off at least a twenty-minute epic battle. But in skipping or glossing over what should be one of the most impactful moments in a story, they almost inevitably gut their stories’ emotional impact.

The Third Plot Point represents the “dark night of the soul” for the protagonist. Even if what happens here isn’t literally the worst thing that happens in the entire story, it is an event that prompts the protagonist to reconsider his actions—and, just as importantly in a Positive Change Arc, his devotion to his newfound Truth.

Without this moment, the power of the character’s willingness to make sacrifices for that Truth (thereby proving the true scope of his personal change) lacks all teeth.

In plotting my own stories, I don’t pull punches with major plot points, including the Third Plot Point. Always, I try to create an event for this structural moment that is suitably impressive—something that at least symbolizes death, since that is what is represented here for the protagonist’s inner journey, as he once and for all dies to the old Lie-driven self and steps consciously into the Truth-surrendered self.

However, even just a deep moment of personal doubt experienced by the character on the eve before battle is better than nothing. At least pay heed to the emotional downbeat needed here before the rise into the final confrontation of your Climax.

Climax: In Outlaw King, that Climax should have been the Battle of Bannockburn. Because with the finality of this battle, the story, too, reaches its looked-for end. The war is won. Scotland is free. Bruce is king.

Resolution: When you end the story where it belongs, you have no need to sum up all the good action in a few quick subtitles at the end. Instead, you can focus on a scene that demonstrably shows how the character—and his world—has been changed by the story’s events.

***

Although Outlaw King‘s historical background provides easy examples to draw from in reorganizing its particular structural challenges, the same principles apply when you’re writing straight-up fiction. In fact, when you have total control over your plot and characters, you have even more leeway (and, I would argue, more responsibility) for creating dynamic and well-organized structures.

Start looking for the most important and impactful moments in your story—and mindfully make the most of them by placing them each in the right place at the right time in your characters’ personal journeys.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! How did you choose your story’s plot points? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. I don’t know as much consciously about this structural method as I should. I KNOW it, but I have to remind myself of the terms every time. 😛 It isn’t instinctive yet. *reminds herself for the hundredth time that there’s a book on it**puts it on her birthday list*
    When a friend first introduced me to the concept a couple years ago it was instrumental in helping me realize that I actually had two books in one volume, instead of the rambling, incohesive mess of one book I was trying to make work.
    I still get the Hook mixed up with the Inciting Incident sometimes. I’m not as familiar with Pinch Points as I need to be. The two I feel like I consistently get okay are Midpoint and the Third Plot Point.
    I like Third Plot Points because they’re a perfect chance to turn the MC’s world (more) upside down and shake it until he falls off, which is fun. Some writing advice I’ve seen floating around is ‘In the first act, get your character in a tree. In the second act throw stones at him. In the third act get him down again.’
    Which is all well and good… But I think it’s more dramatic if you chop the tree down. Or would that make it a Pinch Point…?
    *shakes head* Where was I going with this? XD

    Great post. Real-life examples/dissections are very helpful to me.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      “Which is all well and good… But I think it’s more dramatic if you chop the tree down.”

      Oh yeah. Totally agree with this. 😀

  2. Has it have? As a writer I know mistakes happen. As an editor I know to correct them before posting.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Do you mean you’re seeing “has it have” as a typo? I’m not finding it. Could you point out which sentence it’s in?

      • The woman above is probably referring to the sentence, “Instead, you can focus on a scene that demonstrably shows how the character—and his world—have been changed by the story’s events.” Technically, because “character” is singular and you offset “and his world” with dashes, it could be argued that you should use “has” rather than “have”; however, it could also be argued otherwise (a dash separation is much more relaxed—grammatically—than a parenthetical). But when it comes down to it, who the hell cares? Great article! Love your books!

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Whether that’s what she meant or not, you’re right! Thanks!

        • Lynn O'Brien says:

          Yes I agree with Corey about the place of a possible “has” as opposed to “have’. But who cares. It’s a great article. That’s what I’m trying to sort at the moment. A long first Act where much character development and grappling with reactions to a first plot point leads to a late inciting event. It is a powerful inciting event. Yet a person who critiqued me suggested several extra scenes were required to be included before the inciting event! I see this completely. Working on this now and the story will be better for it. Some bits and pieces coming out in the new scenes means some other bits are being deleted as covered in the new scenes now. I was told balance is important. So even though I have all the points for the overall story these need to come out in the right places. Not easy once a story is written. And I thought I’d planned well. Problem is the story is 1 in a series of three and the protagonist only completes one third of his emotional journey by the end of the first story. His reactions to things are still not all they should be by the third plot point. Yet one overall theme is that outrage leads to imperfect solutions and moral outrage leads to the most imperfect of all. So any solution he undertakes has its downside. Wonderful article. Now to apply its clarity to my own work. Many thanks. oops I think the reply is in the wrong place.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            No matter how well we plan, stories have a way of surprising us with complex nuances we may not have considered previously. It’s part of the fun! 🙂

  3. Really helpful post, especially having just watched the Outlaw King. I have been aware of structure since I read your books on understanding it, Kate, but I find applying it to my own story (which isn’t complete in draft form) really difficult. A little chink of light fell out of this post and illuminated the ideas that are plot points, the Lie and the Truth, pinches etc, into what it really means to get the correct structure of a story. Great stuff, thank you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      One of the reasons I’m such a fan of outlining thoroughly before writing the first draft is that it provides a definite advantage in planning and optimizing a story’s structure. Writers whose processes lean more toward pantsing the first draft have to approach structure more retroactively, which offers its own pros and cons. If this is how you prefer to approach stories, one of the best things to do is to study structure in other stories until the feel of the *shape* of a story becomes second nature. Doing so will help you instinctively get everything closer to “right” in the first draft, which, of course, helps with clean-up edits on the other end.

      Glad you enjoyed the post!

  4. I would like to thank you for this post. Using a real example is a great idea. It has made it much clearer.

  5. How do I place my plot points if I don’t know how many pages I’ll end up with?

  6. Fantastic analysis. Showing how something should have been done possibly more enlightening than pointing out something done right. You should seriously be a Hollywood script doctor. I agree completely and would rather watch your movie than theirs. However, there is one consideration screenwriters and filmmakers have that authors don’t and that is budget. You have written in two major battle scenes whereas the first version had only one (and it appears many smaller less engaging skirmishes spread throughout.) Filmmaking decisions always involve budget in a way novels don’t have to–so yay for us. It would be interesting to have seen this script in various stages of development. I wonder if someone somewhere just said–you know we can only get enough mud, horses, and arrows for three days of shooting so let’s just do one humongous battle and forget the actual STORY. He wins in the end, right? That’s all the matters. (No! NO! NO!!) Thanks for this KM. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Well, from my lofty vantage point as armchair critic, my first response to that would be: if your budget doesn’t allow you to do the story right, then don’t do it. :p

      Second, I’d say that even though a story like this really needs to showcase a progression of battles, I think we could probably come up with ways to strengthen the structure even without adding a second battle (and if there’s only going to be one battle, it *should* be Bannockburn). Just paying more attention to Bruce’s character arc would have made a huge difference.

      • Yes! Absolutely! Please don’t get me wrong, not disagreeing with the idea that Bruce’s character arc, if they’d paid more attention to it, would have been the difference maker. It’s just that sometimes directors/producers have a different decision-making process than authors do. It’s often why books succeed where movies don’t. For sure, there could have been ways to economize so we got it ALL. And there’s probably some poor screenwriter, gagged and tied-up in a corner somewhere, trying desperately to tell the money guys that it’s the PLOT that matters. 🙂

      • jorgekafkazar says:

        Two battles are not twice the cost of one. There need only be one battle shoot. Halfway through the day, wrap up all Battle #1 action, halt, change costumes & makeup, reposition the cameras, add a few distinguising b.g. and f.g. elements, and start shooting Battle #2.

  7. Tanya D Brooking says:

    I wondered why the film lost me. Now I know!

  8. Usvaldo de Leon says:

    I’m a fan of downbeat midpoints in a positive change arc. I think the mirroring effect (down at midpoint, up at climax) provides more emotional impact – entertainment.
    In my last completed story, a group of friends have to rescue their friend from the moon. The tone indicates it is a happy story – it’s no surprise that they save the friend. For that reason I have the midpoint of that story being the explosion of the rocket they were counting on to take them to the moon.
    Conversely, in a story like William Wallace’s (downbeat ending), I’d have an upbeat midpoint- an early triumph over the English intuiting that maybe independence will actually happen.
    You seem to argue against this or does it seem like that due to the way that Bob the Bruce’s story unfolds?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      This is a valid approach, although not a have-to. What’s important is that character has an eye-opening Moment of Truth at the Midpoint, both in respect to his inner thematic arc and his understanding of the exterior conflict. Often, this Truth is sobering and even though it’s positive in the sense that it allows the character to move forward proactively in the second half of the story, it’s not what he *wanted* to discover.

      The positive/negative relation of the Midpoint often depends less on the actual event occurring here and more on how it is presented. For example, in my proposed structure, Bruce’s return to Scotland could either have been cast triumphantly (upbeat) or with grim determination (downbeat).

      • Usvaldo de Leon says:

        Just finished watching. It wasn’t so bad the five writers should be arrested but the screenplay was a shambling mess. They missed the point of just about everything. Mediocre script.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          No, definitely not. It wasn’t broken, just lackluster.

          • Usvaldo de Leon says:

            I didn’t say broken. I said completely missing the point in almost every way. The whole point of the Robert/Elizabeth romance is that she is an English princess and he a Scottish prince. He doesn’t consummate the marriage because he does not know where her loyalties lie. That’s the point of the ‘lay off the kid scene’, the point of him sending her away before the war council too. Early on she should have had a line like, I am Elizabeth de Burgh of England- so that when the Prince of Wales tries to get her to renounce Robert, she can scornfully say I am Elizabeth Bruce, Queen is Scots, thus completing her arc. None of that is shown.
            They misplay the point of the midpoint, the point of the two fathers death scenes, etc.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Ooh, yeah, I hadn’t thought about Elizabeth’s arc is specifically that way. But that’s great. Also a great example of how a well-done arc can actually be executed very succinctly.

  9. Harald Johnson says:

    Excellent timing on this post, Katie, as I’m starting on my new work’s structure. Think I’ll take a break now and watch Outlaw King, then revisit your analysis.

  10. This was such a great post! When I watched this film last week I felt so frustrated by its lack of drive that I actually wondered what you would have to say about it. =) Thanks for answering that question!

    I appreciate your well articulated coaching on plot. Even as I’ve discovered I’m a pantser at the core, you’ve trained me well to get that plot sorted out early. A hearty thank you from Colorado!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Ultimately, story is story, no matter our process for approaching it. From there, it’s just a matter of figuring out how we can personally optimize how we work with it.

  11. I haven’t seen the movie and know very little about Scottish history of the day, but fiction stomps all over history anyway. Suppose there really was only one battle? So the climax had to be Loudoun Hill. That seems to be the choice the movie made. Could they still hit the structure points better than they did? BTW – “save the cat” starts the B-story (the love interest here) early in Act 2 – what do you think of that? I guess we have to know he has a family if saving them comes up later… Thispost makes me think! Thanks

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      If the screenwriters had kept everything exactly the same and just relocated the final battle to Bannockburn, all same pacing problems would still exist.

      As for B stories… I’m really not a fan of the whole concept, as I talk about in this post: 5 Tips for Organizing Subplots.

      Actually, Outlaw King is also a good example of why it’s problematic to think of subplots as existing thematically apart from the main plot: Robert and Elizabeth’s relationship was incidental to the overall conflict and, as such, was neither applicable enough to the main plot to deserve inclusion nor, by extension, was granted the development it deserved.

      • Hmmm. I just decided to jump in here because of the mention of `Save the Cat’. While I agree that thinking of subplots AS subplots can disassociate them from the story, I do like the beginning of the second act as a place for introducing an important relationship character or characters. I notice that Rose in `Wayfarer’ is introduced around the beginning of the second act, and Chris and Allara meet in person at the same plot point. I’m not saying the relationships are subplots, I just think there may be something to the idea of introducing a new relationship right as the hero leaves his normal world.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          The beginning of a relationship can definitely be a metaphorical instance of characters entering the “Adventure World” of the Second Act. However, important characters–and thus relationships–must be, if not introduced, then at least set up in the First Act. Rose and Will meet in the First Act (before Tom’s arrest at the First Plot Point), and technically Chris and Allara “met” in their first chapter even though they don’t physically meet until the First Plot Point.

          We see this principle clearly in most romance stories. Even though the relationship (and thus the main conflict) won’t be embarked upon properly until the First Plot Point at the beginning of the Second Act, the characters will meet no later than the Inciting Event halfway through the First Act.

  12. This film still sounds way more historically accurate than “Braveheart,” lol. Thinking about ending a film in the wrong place reminds me of the 2004 film “Miracle” about the USA’s hockey win over the USSR in the 1980 Olympics. The film shouldn’t have ended with that game, as great a victory it was for the US team. It didn’t need to show much but they should have ended the film with the gold medal victory because the miracle win spurred the team on in the final.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yeah, I didn’t see Braveheart until just a few years ago, and by that point, I had a really hard time swallowing its egregious historical liberties. Outlaw King isn’t perfect on that score, but does much, much better.

  13. Great post, Katie!!
    I’ve not seen the movie yet but definitely setting the time aside to now, post this read. I ‘get’ so much more out of a movie after reading an in-depth breakdown of structure as you’ve done here, truly. Sort of adding a three dimensional aspect to the learning process.
    At times, even going back to re-watch something post reading one of your breakdowns. A whole different viewing altogether then, whether to gain new perspective or to confirm my own interpretation. But always valuable perspective and input. Thank you!

  14. Thank you for an excellent post. I’d watched the Outlaw King and thought of it as an historical account done with great production values but little else. You’ve nailed why I wasn’t captivated by it. But, more importantly to me, you’ve nailed why I’m not captivated by my my novel started in 2014. Your analysis has instilled a desire to revisit my story with a new point of view. Thank you.

  15. Thank you for this breakdown; it’s really helpful to see how a film I found lackluster is flawed structurally, so I can avoid making the same mistakes!

    I think the structural issues are also compounded by the lack of character development; after two hours of watching the film I felt like I had a much better sense of who Robert was married to than who he himself was. This is a huge missed opportunity, as you mention, considering the historical Robert the Bruce is absolutely perfect for a character arc from self-serving lord to rebel king. The end result is the writers seem to have had no clear idea of *who* they were writing about — and, therefore, no notion of what kind of story they were telling or what plot points would have the greatest emotional impact.

    On the whole, I did tend to find the film stayed close to the historical record (and, where it diverged, such as by leaving out Mary Bruce and instead giving her ill treatment to Elizabeth, tended to do so in ways that made sense in terms of story pacing and emotion), so I find it strange that they left out such a major, and well-known, facet of Robert’s behaviour when it would have made for a much stronger story.

    Also I totally thought it was *Islay* he spent the winter in, not *Ireland*. Shows how riveting I found it 😉

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Hmm, you know, maybe it was Islay. I know there’s historical discussion about whether he spent that winter in Ireland or the Hebrides. I thought I remembered them talking about Ireland, but maybe that was just my brain interpolating?

  16. Madelaine Bauman says:

    Watched “Outlaw King” recently (The trailer when it came out. Just looked good.)

    The movie felt off despite being interesting and well done otherwise. But this post nailed it. I mean I’m all for adding relationships to stories and developing them. But it felt like two different movies. First half was focussed on Elizabeth and then the second half about the rebellion. Leaving out the history (if this wasn’t based off history) this could have made a great story—a king and his queen fighting for the freedom of the country and for the family.

    There’s potential there.

    But because this was intentionally historical, focusing on the family and the wife (although it lends sympathy to the character of Robert the Bruce) takes away from the rebellion focus.

    This post clarified a lot of things regarding plot points and scenes for me. Somehow seeing how a good movie could’ve been great really puts things into focus for my own WIP.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Honestly, reading your comment made me suddenly get excited for how awesome a movie focused on Elizabeth’s role in all of this could have been too!

  17. I still don’t understand the difference between the 2nd pinch point and the 3rd plot point. Do you have a good example ?
    Really nice post by the way 🙂

  18. Madelaine Bauman says:

    Just had a thought. What if you have a character who goes after something (in my current work, it’s a quest) but the reason she goes after it is due to a personal relationship that needs to be dealt with in order for the character arc to be complete?

    The focus should be on the quest (everyone else is after this quest—it’s the main drive for most of the events) but for the character personally they’re going after the quest for the relationship. It feels like the focus is a bit muddy.

    When you have two things that are of equal importance to a story (or seem that way), two things that have to develop almost simultaneously, how do you avoid muddying up the focus of the plot points?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Not necessarily. Relationships are often motivations for or reflections of the main conflict and theme. Just be sure to clarify which is the frame (probably the relationship in this case). In other words, which storyline preexists and outlasts the other? Which one is of greater importance? Which one is in the driver’s seat? That’s what the story is *really* about. The other–the quest–exists a catalyst for the former.

      • Madelaine Bauman says:

        Well, in my WIP, one of the main characters is trying to find closure for the Ghost—her mother’s death. But before that, her father’s disappeared. This is before she’s even heard of the quest.

        The love interest is trying to find the father because his people need their leader returned. He already knows of the quest but the importance is the leader.

        The antagonist is a father himself, trying to save his daughter. He believes the quest may help him complete his personal goal.

        So as far as focus, the relationships/personal goals come before the character has heard of or enters the quest. So that would mean the relationship is the focus and not the quest? So every major plot point is relationship goal-based rather then quest-based?

        I think that’s right. It feels backwards (as fantasy quests are big in scope) but the relationship(s) are the whole reason FOR the quest.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Sometimes in quest stories, the protagonist will leave behind the main relationship in the Normal World–and then return to it, having learned valuable lessons via the quest, at the end. In those cases, the quest goals will be centric in all the structural beats. But if the relationships come *with* the protagonist on the quest, then the beats should do double duty in reflecting both the relationship aspect of the plot and the external conflict of the quest.

  19. I also just watched the movie. I am not very familiar with Scottish history, so I can’t fault them for the final battle missing from the movie.

    I am a little confused, because *I* did think that seeing William Wallace’s arm hanging there was what sparked them to action. Am I missing something?

    Also, I don’t understand about Bruce’s “lie” and “truth”. Can you explain that?

    thank you!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Wallace’s arm was the structural Inciting Event. However, the timing was off. It was delayed longer than it ideally should have been in order to put emphasis on Bruce’s wedding to Elizabeth.

      For all intents and purposes, Bruce had no Lie and Truth in this story. However, the writers could easily have engineered some along the lines of “I do this for myself and my family/I do this because it is right for my kingdom.”

      If you’re unfamiliar with the terms Lie and Truth, see this post: The Lie Your Character Believes.”

  20. jorgekafkazar says:

    “This film still sounds way more historically accurate than ‘Braveheart,’”

    That may be the problem in a nutshell. The script writer was telling a history, not a story. You know you’ve done too much research when you end up with as much documentary, complete with intertitles, as drama. See “Anthropoid” for another example of how historical accuracy can weaken a film.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I don’t disagree with the essence of this idea (“tell a good story”), but I have to admit Braveheart‘s historical liberties were a bridge too far for my suspension of disbelief.

  21. Casandra Merritt says:

    Hi Katie, Let’s say the first book of my trilogy is written third person limited. In the second book the characters split up, so I switch to multiple POVs. Is that a good idea after using limited for the first book?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Every story is different, but I have to admit I immediately get warning flags. I’ve very rarely seen this done well. I break down one example here.

  22. Casandra Merritt says:

    Good to know. Something about this approach just didn’t seem quite right, so I thought I’d better ask. Do you have any recommendations for what to do if the characters get separated and readers need to know what is happening in several places at the same time?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Ideally, this is something I would want to know before I started plotting the first book, which would allow me to create consistent POVs throughout the series.

  23. Casandra Merritt says:

    That’s a good idea. I am trying to figure this out right now so I don’t have problems with it after writing the first book. I’ve come to the point in plotting where I have to know this because it will influence every other decision I make.

  24. Mark of the east says:

    My first comment. Been reading your site and counting the time and i have 45 hours on your site for 3 months and will add a whole lot more.

    I know you have the knowledge to be a hollywood script, but i think you better serve the world here like this. Thanks again.

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