The foundation of any good movie or screenplay is a very good plot structure. As humans, we need our skeletons to stand upright, and so do stories, but with stories, instead of calling it a skeleton, it’s called plot structure. Inasmuch as we humans need our skeletons to stand upright, placing the leg of a skeleton where the head should be will never make us stand upright; the same thing applies to stories.
As a screenwriter whose dream is to one day write a blockbuster, you should be able to place the head of your story where it belongs and the leg of your story where it also belongs, and to do that properly, you need to use a pyramid called the Freytag Pyramid. First, let’s get to know what a plot means.
WHAT DOES A PLOT MEAN?
We’ll be looking at some dictionary definitions of the word “plot,” and at the end of those definitions, we’ll combine all the definitions to get what we need as screenwriters.
1) Oxford Languages definition: “the main events of a play, novel, film, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence.”
2) Wikipedia’s definition: “the story of a piece of fiction.”
Combining the definitions above to get what we need as screenwriters, we can say that a plot is an interrelated sequence of events that come together to form a story.
WHY DO I NEED THE FREYTAG PYRAMID?
No one will want to watch a movie or read a screenplay where everything is going well for the protagonist with no challenge, nor would someone want to watch a movie where everything is going bad for the protagonist; there needs to be a balance of both. A screenplay with a good plot structure takes the reader on a steady, high, downward, and then back to the steady journey. Gustav Freytag invented the Freytag Pyramid to help screenwriters determine where to draw the line when writing so that they don’t go too far.
The plot structure is always represented on Freytag’s pyramid. This Freytag’s pyramid has five elements, and these elements are represented in the diagram below.
From the plot structure diagram above gotten from Research gate, you can see that a plot structure has three “major” turning points and two plot points. The first turning point is also known as the inciting incident or plot point one; this is the point of twists and turns between exposition and the rising action. The second turning point is the climax. The third turning point is also known as plot point two; this is the point of twists and turns between falling action and resolution.
DIFFERENT ELEMENTS OF THE PLOT STRUCTURE
1) Exposition (the setup): This is where you’ll introduce your protagonist to your reader. You should also equip your reader with information about your protagonist so as to make your reader emotionally connected to your protagonist and the journey he or she is about to embark on.
1a) Plot point 1 or The Inciting Incident: The screenwriter becomes RUTHLESS toward the protagonist.
2) Rising Action: The protagonist’s journey has started, and nothing fantastic happens to him or her as every event that occurs makes him or her want to quit life.
3) Climax/Point of No Return: This is the height of the screenwriter’s ruthlessness, as the screenwriter gives the protagonist an escape route, that is, a chance to make a decision.
4) Falling Action: The protagonist follows the escape route of the screenwriter through the decisions he or she makes. The screenwriter gradually takes his or her foot off the ruthless accelerator.
4a) Plot point 2: This is where the screenwriter makes something miraculous happen.
5) Resolution: The point where the screenwriter ties up the loose ends he or she created.
The story you’re about to tell may have a different plot structure, but no matter how creative you want to get with your plot structure, make sure these five elements are well represented.
HOW TO USE THE FREYTAG PYRAMID
To know exactly how to use the Freytag Pyramid when it comes to plot structure, we’ll be using a typical Nollywood movie as our example. Let’s analyze a movie where a rich man who loves to give suddenly becomes poor after helping his wicked uncle in his time of need.
1) Exposition (the setup): Richard is a wealthy man who loves to help people who need help in his community.
1a) Plot point 1: Richard gives one of his uncles (his jealous uncle) money, but his jealous uncle takes his money to a native doctor to make him poor.
2) Rising Action: Richard becomes a beggar, and the people he helped whilst he was wealthy turn their back on him. His children are sent out of school; he has no money to eat; he has no money to pay hospital bills as one of his children dies; and his beloved wife becomes a problem.
3) Climax: Richard decides to become a vulcanizer of cars on a major road, not minding what people will say.
4) Falling Action: Richard still has all the problems, but at least he now has enough money to buy sachet water, bread, and groundnuts, which he couldn’t buy before.
4a) Plot Point 2: Richard’s niece enters her father‘s bedroom to sweep the floor; she sees a bottle under the bed tied with a red cloth. She takes the bottle outside and unties the red cloth. Richard’s uncle confesses and runs mad.
5) Resolution: One of the people Richard once helped in his wealthy days comes to vulcanize his car’s tire and recognises Richard; he promises to help him. Richard becomes rich. Richard’s wife apologises. Richard’s remaining children go back to school. THE END.
That’s how the plot structure works, but did you know that you can start writing your screenplay from any part of the pyramid? You can break the rules only when you understand the rules.