Movie Structures

Movie Structures
Aristotle Campbell's Hero's Journey Vogler's Hero's Journey Field McKee Save the Cat - Snyder Inciting Incident Act 2


Campbell's Hero's Journey

The mythological hero, setting forth from his common-day hut or castle, is lured, carried away, or else voluntarily proceeds, to the threshold of adventure. There he encounters a shadow presence that guards the passage. The hero may defeat or conciliate this power and go alive into the kingdom of the dark (brother-battle, dragon-battle; offering, charm), or be slain by the opponent and descend in death (dismemberment, crucifixion). Beyond the threshold, then, the hero journeys through a world of unfamiliar yet strangely intimate forces, some of which severely threaten him (tests), some of which give magical aid (helpers). When he arrives at the nadir of the mythological round, he undergoes a supreme ordeal and gains his reward. The triumph may be represented as the hero’s sexual union with the goddess-mother of the world (sacred marriage), his recognition by the father-creator (father atonement), his own divinization (apotheosis), or again-if the powers have remained unfriendly to him-his theft of the boon he came to gain (bride-theft, fire-theft); intrinsically it is an expansion of consciousness and therewith of being (illumination, transfiguration, freedom). The final work is that of the return. If the powers have blessed the hero, he now sets forth under their protection (emissary); if not, he flees and is pursued (transformation flight, obstacle flight). At the return threshold the transcendental powers must remain behind; the hero re-emerges from the kingdom of dread (return, resurrection). The boon that he brings restores the world (elixir)” (Campbell 211).

Vogler's Hero's Journey


Act 1 Set Up

 - Inciting Incident

 - Plot Point 1 (End   

   Act 1)

Act 2 - Confrontation

 - Pinch 1

 - Pinch 2

 - Plot Point 2 (End Act 2)

Act 3 – Resolution

 - Resolution

 - Climax


Act 1 – Theme Stated – Set Up

 - Inciting Incident

 - Progressive   

 - Complications Begin

Act 2 - Confrontation

 - Progressive Complications


Act 3 – Resolution

 - Crisis à Resolution

 - Climax

Save the Cat - Snyder

Inciting Incident

Inciting Incident

“As a story begins, the protagonist is living a life that's more or less in balance [or stasis]. He has successes and failures, ups and downs. Who doesn't? But life is in relative control. Then, perhaps suddenly but in any case decisively, an event occurs that radically upsets its balance, swinging the value-charge of the protagonist's reality either to the negative or to the positive” (McKee 190). This is called “The INCITING INCIDENT, [which] radically upsets the balance of forces in the protagonist's life” (McKee 189). 


“The impact of the Inciting Incident creates our opportunity to reach the limits of life. It's a kind of explosion. In Action genres it may be in fact an explosion; in other films, as muted as a smile. No matter how subtle or direct, it must upset the status quo of the protagonist and jolt his life from its existing pattern, so that chaos invades the character's universe. Out of this upheaval, you must find, at Climax, a resolution, for better or worse, that rearranges this universe into a new order” (McKee 207). “Each thread has its own inciting incident, and you’d like to weave these together artfully. A story is a design in five parts: The Inciting Incident, the first major event of the telling, is the primary cause for all that follows, putting into motion the other four elements-Progressive Complications, Crisis, Climax, Resolution” (McKee181).


“Various theories of screen writing acknowledge the Call to Adventure by other names such as the inciting or initiating incident, the catalyst, or the trigger. All agree that some event is necessary to get a story rolling, once the work of introducing the main character is done” (Vogler 100). “I could cite example after example of the inciting incident, but what I feel is most important is the understanding that this incident serves two important and necessary functions in the craft of storytelling: (1), it sets the story in motion; and (2), it grabs the attention of the reader and audience. Seeing the relationship between this first incident and the story line is essential to an understanding of good screenwriting” (131 Field).


“Joseph Campbell reflects in The Power of Myth that in mythic terms, the first part of any journey of initiation must deal with the death of the old self and the resurrection of the new. Campbell says that the hero, or heroic figure, "moves not into outer space but into inward space, to the place from which all being comes, into the consciousness that is the source of all things, the kingdom of heaven within. The images are outward, but their reflection is inward" (Field 46). “If we go back to Henry James's statement-‘What is character but the determination of incident? And what is incident but the illumination of character?’ -we see that the force of…incident affects both the internal and external aspects of your character and story” (Field 137). 


“The Inciting Incident of the Central Plot must happen onscreen-not in the Backstory, not between scenes off screen. Each subplot has its own Inciting Incident, which mayor may not be onscreen, but the presence of the audience at the Central Plot's Inciting Incident is crucial to story design for two reasons” (McKee 198). “If the Central Plot's Inciting Incident arrives much later than fifteen minutes into the film, boredom becomes a risk. Therefore, while the audience waits for the main plot, a subplot may be needed to engage their interest” (McKee 201). “The only reason to delay the entrance of the Central Plot is the audience's need to know the protagonist at length so it can fully react to the Inciting Incident” (McKee 223). “Bring in the Central Plot's Inciting Incident as soon as possible . . . but not until the moment is ripe” (McKee 202).

“Every story world and cast are different, therefore, every Inciting Incident is a different event located at a different point. If it arrives too soon, the audience may be confused. If it arrives too late, the audience may be bored. The instant the audience has a sufficient understanding of character and world to react fully, execute your Inciting Incident. Not a scene earlier, or a scene later. The exact moment is found as much by feeling as by analysis. If we writers have a common fault in design and placement of the Inciting Incident, it's that we habitually delay the Central Plot while we pack our opening sequences with exposition. We consistently underestimate knowledge and life experience of the audience, laying out our characters and world with tedious details the filmgoer has already filled in with common sense. Ingmar Bergman is one of the cinema's best directors because he is, in my opinion, the cinema's finest screenwriter. And the one quality that stands above all the others in Bergman's writing is his extreme economy-how little he tells us about anything” (203 McKee).


“In Hollywood jargon, the Central Plot's Inciting Incident is the "big hook." It must occur onscreen because this is the event that incites and captures the audience's curiosity. Hunger for the answer to the Major Dramatic Question grips the audience's interest, holding it to the last act's climax” (McKee 198).  “An Inciting Incident must "hook" the audience, a deep and complete response. Their response must not only be emotional, but rational. This event must not only pull at audience's feelings, but cause them to ask the Major Dramatic Question and imagine the Obligatory Scene. Therefore, the location of the Central Plot's Inciting Incident is found in the answer to this question: How much does the audience need to know about the protagonist and his world to have a full response? In some stories, nothing. If an Inciting Incident is archetypal in nature, it requires no setup and must occur immediately. The first sentence of Kafka's Metamorphosis reads: "One day Gregor Samsa awoke to discover he had been changed into a large cockroach’’ (McKee 202).


“The Inciting Incident is the story's most profound cause, and, therefore, the final effect, the Story Climax, should seem inevitable. The cement that binds them is the Spine, the protagonist's deep desire to restore the balance of life” (McKee 288).  “Witnessing the Inciting Incident projects an image of the Obligatory Scene into the audience's imagination. The Obligatory Scene (AKA Crisis) is an event the audience knows it must see before the story can end. This scene will bring the protagonist into a confrontation with the most powerful forces of antagonism in his quest, forces stirred to life by the Inciting Incident that will gather focus and strength through the course of the story. The scene is called "obligatory" because having teased the audience into anticipating this moment, the writer is obligated to keep his promise and show it to them” (McKee 198-199).


“The audience knows intuitively when something is missing. A lifetime of story ritual has taught the audience to anticipate that the forces of antagonism provoked at the Inciting Incident will build to the limit of human experience, and that the telling cannot end until the protagonist is in some sense face to face with these forces at their most powerful. Linking a story's Inciting Incident to its Crisis is an aspect of Foreshadowing, the arrangement of early events to prepare for later events. In fact, every choice you make-genre, setting, character, mood-foreshadows. With each line of dialogue or image of action you guide the audience to anticipate certain possibilities, so that when events arrive, they somehow satisfy the expectations you've created. The primary component of foreshadowing, however, is the projection of the Obligatory Scene (Crisis) into the audience's imagination by the Inciting Incident” (McKee 200).


“The quality of the Inciting Incident (for that matter, any event) must be germane to the world, characters, and genre surrounding it. Once it is conceived, the writer must concentrate on its function. Does the Inciting Incident radically upset the balance of forces in the protagonist's life? Does it arouse in the protagonist the desire to restore balance? Does it inspire in him the conscious desire for that object, material or immaterial, he feels would restore the balance? In a complex protagonist, does it also bring to life an unconscious desire that contradicts his conscious need? Does it launch the protagonist on a quest for his desire? Does it raise the Major Dramatic Question in the mind of the audience? Does it project an image of the Obligatory Scene? If it does all this, then it can be as little as a woman putting her hand on the table, looking at you "that certain way’” (McKee 206).


“When an Inciting Incident occurs it must be a dynamic, fully developed event, not something static or vague” (McKee 189). “The Inciting Incident is a single event that either happens directly to the protagonist or is caused by the protagonist. Consequently, he's immediately aware that life is out of balance for better or worse. When lovers first meet, this face-to-face event turns life, for the moment, to the positive” (McKee 190). “The protagonist must react to the Inciting Incident” (McKee 191). “If we study a protagonist at the moment of the Inciting Incident and weigh the sum of his willpower along with his intellectual, emotional, social, and physical capacities against the total forces of antagonism from within his humanity, plus his personal conflicts, antagonistic institutions, and environment, we should see clearly that he's an underdog. He has a chance to achieve what he wants-but only a chance. Although conflict from one aspect of his life may seem solvable, the totality of all levels should seem overwhelming as he begins his quest” (McKee 318).


 “DESIGN OF THE INCITING INCIDENT An Inciting Incident happens in only one of two ways: randomly or causally, either by coincidence or by decision” (McKee 198).


When the story begins the life of the protagonist is either in a balance or stasis T

The INCITING INCIDENT radically upsets the balance of forces in the protagonist's life T

No matter how subtle or direct, it must upset the status quo of the protagonist and jolt his life from its existing pattern, so that chaos invades the character's universe T

Only one main thread has an inciting incident F

The Inciting Incident, the first major event of the telling, is the primary cause for all that follows, putting into motion the other four elements-Progressive Complications, Crisis, Climax, Resolution T

The Call to Adventure is sometimes associated with the inciting incident T

The inciting incident sets the story in motion and grabs the attention of its audience T

Henry James won’t stop talking about how incident and character are unrelated F

The inciting incident calls a character to change T

If the inciting incident takes more than 15 minutes to occur, most audiences are happy to wait F

A reason to wait for the inciting incident is to make sure the audience has enough information about the character and or world to understand the change incited by the incident T

The Inciting Incident can serve as a Hook T

The inciting incident sets up an obligatory scene in which the change triggered by this incident will be enacted T

Linking a story's Inciting Incident to its Crisis is an aspect of Foreshadowing. The primary component of foreshadowing is the projection of the Obligatory Scene (Crisis) into the audience's imaginaton by the Inciting Incident T

Act 2

“Act II is a unit of dramatic action approximately sixty pages long, and goes from the end of Act I, anywhere from pages 20 to 30, to the end of Act II, approximately pages 85 to 90, and is held together with the dramatic context known as Confrontation. During this second act the main character encounters obstacle after obstacle that keeps him/her from achieving his/her dramatic need, which is defined as what the character wants to win, gain, get, or achieve during the course of the screenplay. If you know your character's dramatic need, you can create obstacles to it and then your story becomes your character, overcoming obstacle after obstacle to achieve his/her dramatic need. 24-25 Field

Act II is…a whole, a complete, self-contained unit of dramatic (or comedic) action; it is the middle of your screenplay and contains the bulk of the action. It begins at the end of Plot Point I and continues through to the Plot Point at the end of Act II. So we have a beginning of the middle, a middle of the middle, and an end of the middle. It is approximately sixty pages long, and the Plot Point at the end of Act II occurs approximately between pages 80 and 90 and spins the action around into Act III. The dramatic context is Confrontation, and in this unit of dramatic action your character encounters obstacle after obstacle that keeps him/her from achieving his/her dramatic need. Once you determine the dramatic need. If your character, what your character wants, you can create obstacles to that need, and then your story becomes your character's overcoming obstacle after obstacle to achieve his or her dramatic need” (201 Field).

“If the adventure were a college learning experience, Act One would be a series of  entrance exams, and the Test stage of Act Two would be a series of pop quizzes, meant to sharpen the hero's skill in specific areas and prepare her for the more rigorous midterm and final exams coming up” (Vogler 136).  “The early phases of Act Two may cover the recruiting of a team, or give an opportunity for the team to make plans and rehearse a difficult operation” (Vogler 138).

“Remember that the dramatic context of Act II is Confrontation. Is your character moving through the story with his/her dramatic need firmly established? You must keep the character's obstacles in mind all the time in order to generate dramatic conflict” (212 Field).

“When the protagonist steps out of the Inciting Incident, he enters a world governed by the Law of Conflict. To wit: Nothing moves forward in a story except through conflict. Put another way, conflict is to storytelling what sound is to music. Both story and music are temporal arts, and the single most difficult task of the temporal artist is to hook our interest, hold our uninterrupted concentration, then carry us through time without an awareness of the passage of time” (McKee 210).

In Act 2, “Realizing he's at risk, the protagonist draws upon greater willpower and capacity to struggle through this gap and take a second, more difficult action. But again the effect is to provoke forces of antagonism, opening a second gap between expectation and result” (McKee 208-209). The protagonist will have to “take an action that demands even more willpower and personal capacity, expecting or at least hoping for a helpful or manageable reaction from his world. But once more the gap flies open as even more powerful forces of antagonism react” (McKee 209).

“A story must not retreat to actions of lesser quality or magnitude, but move progressively forward to a final action beyond which the audience cannot imagine another” (McKee 209).  “If you look closely at the soft bellies that hang out over the belt of so many films, you'll discover that this is where the writer's insight and imagination went limp. He couldn't build progressions, so in effect he put the story in retrograde. In the middle of Act Two he's given his characters lesser actions of the kind they've already done in Act One-not identical actions but actions of a similar size or kind: minimal, conservative, and by now trivial. As we watch, our instincts tell us that these actions didn't get the character what he wanted in Act One, therefore they're not going to get him what he wants in Act Two. The writer is recycling story and we're treading water. The only way to keep a film's current flowing and rising is research-imagination, memory, fact. Generally, a feature-length Archplot is designed around forty to sixty scenes that conspire into twelve to eighteen sequences that build into three or more acts that top one another continuously to the end of the line” (McKee 209-210).

 “Progressive Complications: that great sweeping body of story that spans from Inciting Incident to Crisis/Climax of the final act. To complicate means to make life difficult for characters. To complicate progressively means to generate more and more conflict as they face greater and greater forces of antagonism, creating a succession of events that passes points of no return” (McKee 208). “Heroes may have disheartening setbacks at this stage while approaching the supreme goal. Such reversals of fortune are called dramatic complications. Though they may seem to tear us apart, they are only a further test of our willingness to proceed. They also allow us to put ourselves back together in a more effective form for traveling in this unfamiliar terrain” (Vogler 149).