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In fiction, a plot point is a story event that spins the action around in a new, unexpected direction. Plot points serve to keep the action moving forward and the story fresh. A good story will have a number of major and minor plot points, which serve to raise the stakes as the story moves toward the climax.
Different types of fiction may require a different arrangement of plot points, but there are some commonalities. The first plot point is usually the inciting incident, the event which sets up a goal for the main character to work toward. This can be followed by conflicts or consequences, the antagonists who are trying to stop the character from achieving his goal. Complications and requirements are things that must be overcome or completed.
As the story nears its climax, the character seems close to achieving the goal and must commit to it fully. Often, at this point, a new obstacle is introduced, making the goal suddenly feel further away than before. This leads to the climax, where there is a decision or resolution, and the final, biggest obstacles are overcome.
In the example of a 120-page screenplay, the story will contain many minor and major plot points throughout. The first major plot point typically occurs three to ten minutes into the story. This event shakes up the status quo and sets up the action for ACT I.
Near the end of ACT I, a second, more dramatic plot point occurs, turning events around to set up the main conflict for ACT II. Another major plot point occurs at the halfway mark of ACT II, and again towards the end of ACT II, spilling the viewer head first into the story's climax. Each major plot point should be more dramatic than the previous one, raising the stakes even higher for the hero or heroine.
A good screenplay will have minor plot points sprinkled throughout the story, occurring a minimum of every ten minutes or so. Without these changes of direction, the story would drag between the main plot points. The turn of events must also be causal, however; if a plot point seems to come out of nowhere and makes no sense, feels contrived or is too convenient, the story is weakened. A turn of events should ideally catch the viewer by surprise, and yet make sense in afterthought.
Although an average audience member might not know what a plot point is by definition, years of watching movies has conditioned viewers to expect tension to rise overall until the climax. At this point, it explodes in the most affecting scene of all. A good action movie might start off with a bang, setting viewers up for expectations of even more action and tension.
The next time you find yourself at the theater and events take a quirky, surprising, unexpected, dreadful or victorious turn, you’ve just enjoyed a plot point. If, on the other hand, you’re trying to stay awake through a story that seems to drag on and get nowhere, you’re likely experiencing a story with too few plot points or plot points that are too weak.
@softener - Interesting point of view. I can see how what you speak of could possibly stem from absurdist theatre plays like Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett which is famously described as a play in which "nothing happens" but is still highly regarded.
A movie that isn't as tightly plotted as Air Force One isn't necessarily bad, though. The goal of filmmaking isn't always to cram in as many plot points as possible. Although a lot of people find many foreign or arthouse films boring in comparison to something like Air Force One due to the lack of major plot points, they must understand that they might be missing the point. Some films benefit from a more subtle approach, focusing more on letting the story build realistically and letting the characters develop and reveal themselves instead of throwing twists and turns in every 10 seconds. By doing this, a good director can make you feel more connected to the characters as you can empathize with their real life trials and tribulations as opposed to say, being the President on a plane that gets hijacked by terrorists.