Movie: Directed by Ron Howard.

Inciting Event: Allen’s girlfriend leaves him because he doesn’t love her. Believing something is wrong with him, due to his perceived inability to love, he goes to Cape Cod, where he has always “felt good,” due to a childhood incident in which he was rescued by a mermaid (but which he has talked himself out of believing).

On the surface the opening scene, in which the boy Allen is rescued by the mermaid, would seem to be the Inciting Event. But it is not. It is the first domino in the story’s setup, but it does nothing more than set up. The main conflict is that of Allen’s pursuit of love, and that does not get started until he finds himself dumped by his girlfriend.

First Plot Point: After falling into the ocean at Cape Code, Allen (who still cannot swim) is rescued by a beautiful woman, who kisses him and then flees. Even though he promptly returns home to New York City, he has now forever exited his Normal World. The Adventure World comes to him when the mermaid follows him and grows legs so she can be with him for several days before she must return to the sea forever.

First Pinch Point: Allen returns to his apartment to find the woman gone. Frantically, he tracks her all over the city, only to find her watching television at Bloomingdale’s. She has learned English and begins to reveal more of her strangeness to him, including her dolphin-sounding name. He calls her Madison.

The pinch here is subtle, in that its true impetus is Allen’s confusion about Madison’s strangeness. It doesn’t necessarily seem like a big deal at this point in the story, but it sows the seeds for his confusion (and eventual resistance) in their relationship. Emotionally, it’s nicely backed up by his panic when he finds her missing.

It is also at this point, that we see the contagonist character, the scientist Walter Kornbluth, discover Madison’s whereabouts, foreshadowing his pursuit of her.

Midpoint: Madison takes a bath and temporarily grows her tail back. Sensing she’s hiding something, Allen nearly sees her in her mermaid form. He doesn’t learn something new here, particularly, but from here on, he becomes obsessed with the idea that there’s something big she’s keeping from him.

Second Pinch Point: Allen decides to ask Madison to marry him, in spite of his doubts. Even though she obviously loves him, she refuses. Unbeknownst to him, she will never be able to return to the sea if she decides to stay with him. She does change her mind a few scenes later (leading to the False Victory), but for now, this provides the necessary downbeat that emphasizes the antagonistic forces keeping the leads apart.

This is also where Kornbluth comes up with the idea to track Madison down, get her wet, and turn her back into a mermaid—proving that his theories about her aren’t crazy.

Third Plot Point: Kornbluth succeeds in unmasking Madison. Both she and Allen are captured by the Feds for testing. Allen is stunned and rejects Madison’s requests for forgiveness and acceptance. This provides an obviously effective low moment on a number of levels.

Climax: Allen decides he doesn’t care that Madison is a mermaid. He breaks into the federal facility and frees her. The timing in the Third Act of this story is really nice—and in stark contrast to many modern movies, which time their low moment at the Second Pinch Point in order to use the entirety of the Third Act for a lengthy Climax segment. Instead, here, the timing is allowed to progress naturally with all the structural pieces in place and the Climax framed in a tight episode of its own.

Climactic Moment: Since Madison can’t stay with him, Allen decides to go with her.

Resolution: Madison and Allen swim off her to castle in the sea.

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.