The midpoint of a screenplay

The structure of a movie script will often contain the point of no return. This crisis point will traditionally occur roughly halfway through the story. But what defines this vital part of the screenplay and how can such pivotal scenes be written well?

Screenplay’s Point of No Return

It is useful for the writer to be familiar with traditional screenplay structure: the setup, the hook, the three acts, the climaxes and the point of no return. This point in the play is just that, the point where reverting the situation to as it was in the beginning is either impossible or (from the protagonist’s point of view) more lengthy, costly and perilous that forging onwards. This pivotal point in the script need not necessarily be defined by a climactic scene, but can be low key, subtle.

Movie Script Highlights

The point of no return is considered best placed roughly in the middle of the screenplay. So if the script is 100 pages long, the pivotal moment may be placed anywhere between pages 45 and 55; if the play is 140 pages long, perhaps between pages 60 and 80 would be most suitable. This central point of the screenplay may present a point where the protagonist realizes that going forwards into unknown territory seems the only option.

Ideal Scenes for Screenwriting

Such pivotal scenes within the play may comprise any of the following:

  • A scene or sequence of scenes that pulls the screenplay together; the storyline is tightened, we are reminded of the hero’s problems and obstructions to a perceived goal. It is a reinforcer of the screenplay’s core theme and characters’ drives.
  • A situation that forces the hero to consider throwing in the towel.
  • A circumstance that forces the hero to continue forward, realizing that going back is more difficult that going on.
  • A point where the hero formulates a new plan.

The halfway point in essence forces the hero to a commitment that is impossible to back out of.

Vital Screenplay Plot Method

This crisis point serves to inform the audience about the hero’s true nature when under pressure. The occurrence might be a realization, a discovery or an event that offers fewer options for the hero. The hero might decide to come out about his sexuality or confide that he’s having an extramarital affair. The hero cannot undo what has been done or what has happened to him. The stakes are higher and he is on more perilous ground.



Crucial Scenes in a Script

This crucial moment may comprise any of the following:

  • The uncovering if a secret that that hero cannot divulge.
  • A relationship commitment that could put one or both in jeopardy in some way. One may reveal true feelings or both may go to the proverbial bed.
  • Something happens that causes the hero to realize what is really going on, a fundamental truth.
  • The hero may decide to do something that would cost his health, beliefs, reputation, safety, security or anything similarly vital.
  • The hero may admit an uncomfortable truth that could cost him friendship or family.
  • This midpoint is often the ideal location for a plot twist. The audience has been duped or the hero had got it wrong all along.
The Movie Script’s Halfway Point

When writing the central crisis scene, find ways of exacerbating the situation whilst keeping it plausible. Can the scene be made tighter, more excruciating, more bizarre, more stressful? Consider setting the scene somewhere else or include (or exclude) certain characters. How could these elements change the dynamics of the scene? The imparting of a crucial secret in a library for instance means the hero has to restrain his reaction.

As mentioned before, the scene need not be climactic. Sometimes it is the quieter scenes that can create more tension, like the calm before a storm. The hero’s fate is sealed form thereon in and towards the end of the screenplay.

Screenwriting Important Scenes

The midpoint in a screenplay should possess a pivotal moment where the hero perceives a point of no return. This might be in the form of a realization, a commitment , a discovery or a reality check. Options from this point on are fewer. The stakes are up and the audience and protagonist can see no way out. Find ways of creating more tension in this midpoint whilst retaining plausibility. The scene need not be climactic, but quiet, creepy or emotionally excruciating. Whichever, the scene should always be compelling to watch.
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