Dave, I don’t know if there is such a thing as typical when it comes to screenplays. A story has as many moments which spin the story in a new direction as it needs. If you subscribe to the Whammo theory — that every 5–10 minutes, something needs to go “whammo” in the story — then you’re looking at anywhere from 10–20 or more significant moments (obviously, the whammos are scalable, some bigger than others).

Here’s my breakdown of the plot per the script:


The Opening (16): Crawford offers Clarice an “interesting errand” involving a visit to Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

The Hook (9–16): Clarice’s first meeting with Lecter.

The Lock (26–30 /30–32): After the discovery in the storage unit, Clarice returns to Lecter who offers to provide information about Buffalo Bill as part of a deal. Then the narrative shifts to Buffalo Bill who kidnaps Catherine Martin.


Deconstruction Test (40–48 / 48–50): At the funeral home, Clarice has her second flashback, seeing her father in a casket, then performs an autopsy and discovers the cocoon in victim’s throat. The narrative shifts to Buffalo Bill who ‘requests’ of Catherine Martin: “It puts the lotion on its skin.” Reveal: Catherine is trapped in a pit

Transition (59–65 / 65–67): Clarice agrees to Lecter’s demand for a quid pro quo agreement, wherein he’ll provide information on Buffalo Bill in exchange for Clarice telling the truth about her personal life. The narrative shifts to Buffalo Bill, a visual overview of his lair and ends with him working on his female skin suit.

Reconstruction Test (86–93 / 93–94): Clarice travels to Memphis to meet for the last time with Lecter and she ‘confesses’ what happened to her on her uncle’s Montana farm when she was eleven. The narrative shifts to Buffalo Bill working in a garment sweatshop.

All Is Lost (95–107): Lecter escapes.


On The Offensive (117–123): Having traveled to Ohio, Clarice makes a big discovery about Buffalo Bill at the house of his first victim, but Crawford thinks they’ve found the serial killer.

Final Struggle (128–140): Clarice vs. Buffalo Bill.

Denouement (141–144): FBI graduation and a phone call from Lecter.

Several interesting things. First, notice how almost all of the plotline points feature a key event in the Clarice storyline, then a cutaway to Buffalo Bill to check in with what he’s doing. This keeps him squarely in the script reader’s mind, not allowing the character to drift from view.

Second, the scene with Buffalo Bill in the garment shop (93–94) is swapped out in the movie with the character’s weird dance in front of his video camera.

Why this scene? I have a theory on that which I’ll get into when we discuss the story’s characters.

Finally, I didn’t realize there was a fourth proposed flashback:

107–108: In another FLASHBACK, we are on the cold Montana plain. We see a hunched-over Young Clarice in the snow clutching her lamb. Utterly resigned, she rises up and turns back the way she came. We next see her in the headlights of the Sheriff, walking slowly to the car with her lamb. Back at the ranch, as she steps from the car, the rancher abruptly grab the lamb from her, leaving her with an expressionless affect. We follow her POV as she looks into the barn to find her lamb stretched over the killing table. Her gaze moves from the shiny, blood-stained knife to the face of the rancher, which is now Dr. Hannibal Lecter. He flashes a vicious smile.

Such a smart decision not to include this along with the third one — Clarice witnessing the slaughter of the lambs. Better to leave it to the audience’s imagination.

The plot has a clear three act structure with Clarice’s arc following the classic Disunity — Deconstruction — Reconstruction — Unity pattern evident for Protagonists in most Hollywood movies.

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