screenwriting tips

Screenwriting Tips – 40 Basic Plot Points for a Feature Film

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By Sherri Sheridan

If you’re a screenwriter, or filmmaker writing your own script to shoot and edit yourself, and need a bit of help to get your creative juices flowing, here’s something that could really help you when you’re experiencing temporary writer’s block. These are 40 basic plot points that you can either work with, or use to bring in some new ideas for your feature film.

Hook: Start in the middle of a mess to hook audience fast.

 Setup: Introduce characters and show what is normal.

 Enter Antagonist: Big entrance showing what they do best.

 Supporting Characters: Different sides of film world revealed.

5.  Plot Goal Want: Problem arises along with first plot goal.

6.  Theme or Theme Goal Defined: Use metaphors or fable to show film theme or how character needs to change inside to   accomplish plot goal.

7.  Gauntlet: Opposite antagonist goals established.

8.  First Test: Protagonist may fail to show weakness.

9.  Inciting Incident: Event happens that changes what is normal.

10.  Exile: Protagonist leaves familiar world to accomplish plot goal.

11.  Plot Goals Restated: New plot goal worth leaving home?

12.  Theme Goals Restated: Use metaphors or fable.

13.  McGuffin: Unforeseen event pushes plot forward.

14.  Investigation: Protagonist fumbles around in dark to do plot goal.

15.  Meet Mentor: Teacher, wizard, godlike force or hero appears.

16.  Acquire New Tools: New skills, tools or information given.

17.  Joke: Funny moment to relieve tension.

18.  Foreshadow: Prepare audience for surprise ending.

19.  Unique Genre Color: Cool new spaceships for sci-fi.

20.  First Theme Success: Show small character arc/growth change.

21.  Triumph First Plot Success: 1st plot goal accomplished.

22.  Betrayal: Supporting characters or protagonist own weakness.

23.  Big Bad Twist: Unexpected turn of events with new plot goal.

24.  Torture/Escape: Protagonist suffers then saved by new skills.

25.  Defeat: Loses previous triumph with added suffering.

26.  Reassess Plot Goal: New plot goal direction evaluated.

27.  Restate Theme Goal: Film theme or character arc growth.

28.  Mentor Disabled: Protagonist goes forward alone.

29.  Second Joke: Funny or playful moment.

30.  Unique Genre Element: Fresh looking aliens for sci-fi.

31.  Surrender: Protagonist gives up in face of impossible odds.

32.  McGuffin: Unexpected event moves plot forward.

33.  New Solution: Unexpected solution is discovered.

34.  Final Confrontation: Fight brewing between characters occurs.

35.  Death: Protagonist defeated along with supporting characters.

36.  Resurrection: Strength gathered for another confrontation.

37.  Sacrifice: Arm lost, choice over lover or loot.

38.  Revelation: Show protagonist epiphany related to theme.

39.  Climax: Protagonist wins in moment of greatest intensity.

40.  Resolution: Who live/dies, gets the girl/guy, celebration.



Sherri Sheridan teaches storytelling techniques to digital filmmakers and animators with her books, classes and workshops. She’s also the creative director at Minds Eye Media in San Francisco (, where she directs, produces, animates, writes and designs projects for a wide range of clients. Sherri is the author of the books, “Maya 2 Character Animation” (New Riders 1999) and “Developing Digital Short Films” (New Riders / Peachpit / Pearson 2004). Recently, she created a 20 hour DV workshop based on the books called, “Writing A Great Script Fast,” available at

Featured in StudentFilmmakers Magazine, April 2009 Edition.

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