Tristan and Isolde

Inciting Event: Tristan’s English village is attacked by men from Isolde’s Irish kingdom. Note this happens after the “prologue” section, which takes up most of the first eighth of the story and allows for only for a brief introduction of Tristan’s world as a grown man.

First Plot Point: Isolde finds the wounded Tristan washed up on her shore. Tristan literally leaves his “Normal World” and enters the new world of Ireland. Usually, when a character physically leaves his Normal World, this change of scenery is what allows the introduction of the most important relationship.

First Pinch Point: On the brink of being discovered, Tristan leaves Isolde and returns to Cornwall. This doesn’t introduce any new clues about the conflict, per se, but it does reinforce what’s at stake for the two characters (never being together) and the danger they face if their relationship is discovered.

Midpoint: Tristan wins the Irish princess for his master Lord Marke, not knowing she is Isolde. This is a good Midpoint, because it completely shifts the balance of the conflict. Up until this point, Tristan’s loyalties to Marke are unquestioned and his goals are black and white: give Marke the crown of England and find a way to see Isolde again. Isolde told him she was the princess’s maid, not the princess herself. Since she is veiled during the competition, he has no idea who she is until it’s too late. The sudden revelation that she is the princess and that she must marry Marke changes the entire scope of the conflict.

Second Pinch Point: Tristan gives in and meets Isolde in secret. Here, Tristan and Isolde risk everything to have an affair. Just as importantly, this pinch point emphasizes what Tristan loses—his honor, his self-respect, his life-long bond with Marke—in order to have Isolde.

Third Plot Point: Tristan and Isolde are discovered by Lord Marke, who then loses the loyalty of the other English lords. The tragedy of the Third Plot Point needs to follow on the heels of a victory. The obvious victory here is Marke’s being acknowledged as the leader of the English lords. But there is also the subtler moral victory of Tristan’s deciding to end his affair with Isolde and be loyal to Marke. Both victories, but especially the latter, is rendered all the more poignant when it is entirely upset by the Third Plot Point itself.

Climax: Tristan leaves Isolde to fight for Lord Marke against the treacherous Irish. The turning point into the Climax begins when Marke decides to show mercy to Tristan and Isolde and let them go. It is then capped when Tristan chooses Marke over Isolde and returns to reclaim his honor in the battle.

Climactic Moment: Tristan dies. When the protagonist dies, the conflict is almost always ended—and the story’s tension fizzles away.

Resolution: Isolde remembers their love.

Notes: I’m not a fan of this movie. It squanders some absolutely phenomenal themes by focusing too much attention on the sensationalism of the romance itself. The result is a disappointingly dull offering. But the structure isn’t to blame. It’s solid throughout (with the exception of the weak “prologue” opening).

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