Crafting the Perfect Outline Identifying 5 Major Plotpoints

We can all agree on one thing: there is no one perfect recipe for cooking up a good story. The same goes for crafting an outline. Trust me, I’m elbows deep in it, and everywhere I seek advice, I’m given a different perspective. I am a big fan of Dramatica‘s approach, but at the same time, it requires a thorough understanding of the software to achieve a concise result. Whether you think of your outline as the “best-laid plans” or a treasure map leading to the pot of gold (a satisfying ending) The Script Lab offers a blueprint: How to Write the Perfect Outline.

Let us also agree on another thing: It is downright foolhardy to write anything–a screenplay, a novel and non-fiction book–without an outline. The necessary web of plot points weaved with multiple layers of character development, place, time, mood and dialogue demand detailed forethought if we are to begin, work and complete a piece that makes sense, that presents and resolves a conflict, that satisfies both the writer and the reader (not to mention the agent, editor and publisher).

According to The Script Lab, “nothing is universally perfect. Some writers put together comprehensive 20 page point outlines, plotting in every scene, even tossing in lines of potential dialogue. For other writers, breaking down the broad strokes of the eight sequences and making sure there is a clear central obstacle within each sequence is enough. But still others simply clarify the five major plot points.

“A movie, I think is really only four or five moments between two people; the rest of it exists to give those moments their impact and resonance. The script exists for that. Everything does.” – Robert Towne

Regardless the many variables, however, The Script Lab argues that the most rudimentary outline must include these FIVE CORE ELEMENTS:


Often called the point of attack, the inciting incident is the first premonition of impending trouble, dilemma, or circumstance that will create the main tension of the story. It usually falls at the end of the first sequence. But it can sometimes appear in the first few minutes of a film.


The protagonist is locked into the predicament that is central to the story, which occurs at the end of Act I, This lock in, therefore, propels the protagonist into a new direction in order to accomplish his/her new objective throughout the second act


The first culmination generally occurs around the midpoint of the second act and is a pivotal moment in the story but nat as critical as the Lock In or Main Culmination. Consider the first culmination as the second highest or second lowest point in Act II, the second highest hurdle to be faced.


The final culmination occurs at the end of the second act and brings the main tension to a close while simultaneously helping to create a new tension for the third act.


The twist is an unexpected turn of events in the third act. Without a twist, the third act can seem too linear and predictable. It can also be the last test of the character of the hero.

Hungry for more? Check out 8 points to consider when writing your synopsis

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