Writing Tip of the Week: Story Structure – Final Thoughts

We’ve been on quite a journey the past several weeks.  From exploring the Beginning of a story through the tumultuous Middle, and to its climactic End, we have seen how these elements combine into a narrative structure that is commonplace in most commercial stories today.  

As you develop your story, think about how you can take these different areas and make them your own, creating a powerful, compelling, and intriguing narrative that will grab readers from the start and have them furiously reading until the very last page.

With that in mind, let’s look at a few things to consider as you craft a story.

Plot-Driven of Character-Driven?

What is affecting the main character that is driving them to action?  Is it an external or internal force?  If it’s an external force, you are dealing with a more plot-driven story.  If it’s an internal force, you’re looking at a character-driven one.

Most action movies are plot-driven.  There’s an external incident that pushes the main character into action.  Steve Rogers doesn’t become Captain America if there’s not a war effort going on.  Batman doesn’t jump into action if the Joker doesn’t inflict his criminal insanity on Gotham City.  While we do see these characters change due to their external circumstances, they are not driven forward by those internal forces in terms of the story being told.

Dramas and some comedies are more character-driven.  An event may spur the main character into action, but they are in control of their circumstances.  There may be external forces at work against them, but the hero’s internal drive and internal obstacles are what the audience is banking on.  When you watch or read these stories, we watch to see how the hero is impacted internally by what’s happening.  American Beauty and Nomadland are two great examples of character-driven drama.  We are watching the main character’s internal evolution and how that impacts their external circumstances.

When you sit down to flesh out your story, ask yourself what’s driving your main character forward?  Is it an internal motivation or an external force?

Take the Time to Outline

There’s are two terms that writers often use to describe the two types of writers:  Plotters and Pantsers.  Basically, a Plotter outlines their story; a Pantser throws caution to the wind and “flies by the seat of their pants.”  Now, while both are fine, I recommend that before you put pen to paper or start typing your story, you at the very least jot down a basic guide of where the story is going.

Like many writers, I have had an idea for a story and started writing only to lose steam a few pages in?  Why?  I didn’t take the time to work on a basic guide to see where the story would go and how it might end.

When you plan a road trip, you usually look at a map and decide where you’ll stop for food, gas, a hotel, etc. on your journey.  Winging it may result in you getting lost, running out of gas with no station for miles, or turning down a road that leads to nowhere.  Not planning ahead in a story can have similar consequences.

I’m not saying you have to detail every single minute detail that happens in each chapter.  But you should afford yourself the courtesy of knowing the significant events that will take the story and your characters in a new direction.  Are they set in stone?  No.  But at least you have a story event that you are working toward.  If it changes, it changes.  But you have a goal to write toward in the meantime.

Ask yourself the basics: 

  • What’s my character doing at the start of the story?  
  • What inciting incident moves them onto a new track and changes their goal?  
  • Who is their antagonist?  
  • What is the antagonist doing to prevent the hero from reaching their goal?  
  • What big turning point occurs that sends them in a new direction in pursuit of that goal? 
  • What event takes place that makes them realize there’s no turning back?  
  • What major event makes them almost give up and lose hope, but they get back up and fight anyway?  
  • How do they confront the antagonist?  How do they move forward after achieving their goal?

Now you have a map with major landmarks to write toward.

Don’t Be Afraid to Make Changes

A work of fiction is a living document.  Things can be added, cut, changed, removed, or altered in any way they need to serve the story.  And that’s the key: everything exists to serve your story.

Your rough draft is “rough” for a reason.  You now have a manuscript that you can edit and change to make the story and characters stronger.  The drafting process takes time, and as you write more, you’ll find a process that works best for you.

Since it’s your story, instinctually, you will know when something isn’t working, if a character seems out of place and should be removed, or if the dialogue isn’t realistic.  Take your time and be brave enough to make the changes that will make your story stronger.

Enjoy the Process

You have to love your story and your characters.  That love will shine through on the page.  Unless you are writing for an assignment, you have free reign to write whatever you want, however you want, and that means you have the power to control character, story, dialogue, and all the other elements that go into your story.

Writing a novel, a play, a screenplay, even a short story or poem can be a lengthy, time-consuming, and often lonely task.  If you loathe what you’re working on, then you won’t get very far.  Love your story.  Love your protagonist and antagonist.  Love your setting and dialogue.  

Finding that passion and enjoyment in what you’re writing will go a long way to making sure you not only complete the project but you’re proud of what you wrote and want to dive back in to make it even better the next time around.

If you are having problems with what you’re writing, take a step back and ask why.  Why am I now enjoying this?  What can I do to make this story more enjoyable and make it less of a task and more of an engaging creative escape?

I encourage all of you the next time you sit down to write – whether it’s a new story or one you’ve been working on – to ask yourself what you love about it and what motivates you to finish it.  Then let your creativity and energy go to work.

This series has been a lot of fun, and I’ve enjoyed sharing my thoughts about story structure with you over the past few months.  In two weeks, I’ll be starting a new series, so make sure to stop by and have a look.

Happy writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Check out the entire Story Structure series below:

Writer’s Workshop Wednesday: R.L. Stine

A reading staple of most middle-schoolers and young adults, R.L. Stine is the prolific master of teen-friendly horror.  His works and writing style have helped many of us – me included – graduate from his lower-stakes horror fare to the more graphic and violent works of Stephen King and Jack Ketchum.  Even if you’ve never read one his novels, you are more than likely familiar with the Goosebumps series of books that sport very effective and compelling covers.

Stine wrote his first teen-themed horror novel, Blind Date, in 1986, which became a best-seller.  In 1989, Stine began the Fear Street series, which boats over 100 books under its banner.  In 1992, Stine began the Goosebumps series of books, a series that currently has over 130 books!  His other novel series include, The Nightmare RoomMostly GhostlyRotten SchoolThe Haunting Hour and The Nightmare Hour.

His novels have been adapted into TV series, films, and comic books.  Needless to say, he is an author with one of the most extensive bodies of work I’ve talked about in this series!

Below are some interviews with Stine where he talks about his works and his creative process.

Enjoy!

Check out his official site HERE.  http://rlstine.com/

Back in two weeks with another great author!

Writing Tip of the Week: Story Structure – The End

In today’s post, we’ve made it to that all-important piece of the puzzle that helps tie everything up in a nice, neat bow: The End of the story.

The Final Test

Your hero has been dealt a decisive blow as they enter the arena of the End.  As they come out of the big Turning Point that jettisons them from the Middle, they may be ready to give up, give in, or just walk away. 

But that can’t happen.  If you’ve created an active protagonist, they aren’t going to go down without a fight.  They’re going to give everything they have left to get to their goal, even if it kills them.

And that’s why…

Cop-Outs are NOT an Option

The main character may feel a sense of impending doom at this point.  They may feel they have no options or choices left.  They may feel they are all alone.  But they can’t give up. They can’t just decide, “You know what?  You were right, Joker.  Gotham is yours.”  

It’s not in a protagonist’s nature to stop while there’s still hope of winning and reaching their intended goal.  This is still their fight, and even if they come out of it bruised, bloodied, and worse for wear, they will still have evolved as a character by the story’s end.

Win, Lose, or Draw

Ultimately, you get to decide what your hero’s fate is.  They have three viable options:

  • They can fight and win;
  • They can fight and lose; or
  • They can fight and decide along with the antagonist to settle their differences in a civilized manner.

This is the Climax of the story; the final battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil.  Or the forces of “I want to be a writer” and the forces of “no, you’re gonna work on the family farm.”

Most superhero and action movies choose the Win (The AvengersThe Dark KnightHobbs & Shaw).  Many dramas may opt for the hero to Lose, but still win in some respect (GladiatorDallas Buyers ClubAmerican Beauty).  But what about rom-coms or comedies?

These usually end in a Draw; where the hero wins, but their antagonist now supports them and wants them to succeed.  Maybe they end up with the antagonist by the end of the story (You’ve Got Mail).  Maybe their father decides that they shouldn’t be a coal miner and should design rockets instead (October Sky).

Often, we think in terms of “the antagonist must be destroyed,” but if you are writing something about real people, a family, a team, this probably won’t work.  Think about how the hero’s actions can persuade the antagonist to their side plausibly and positively. 

Bringing Everyone to the New Normal

Once the antagonist has been defeated and the hero has reached their goal, a New Normal has been achieved.  They have what they were seeking – a job, a significant other, an education, the Holy Grail, etc. – and their life will never be the same.

Take the time to acknowledge this new status, even if for a brief moment.  This is the point in the story when things are starting to wrap up.  The adventure is over.  Don’t drag your feet and make the audience stick around once their investment has paid off.  Make sure they know what happened after the final showdown and how the characters are doing after, but make it brief.

The technical term for this moment of the story is Denouement

The End of Legally Blonde

As we discussed two weeks ago, Elle found herself in a bad place with her professor sexually harassing her and her new friend Vivian witnessing the harassment.  But, instead of being on Elle’s side, Vivian accuses her of sleeping with the professor to get the internship.

Now, Elle is ready to quit law school, give up on her goal, and hide.  But, after a pep talk from one of her female professors (played by Holland Taylor), she decides that quitting is not an option.

Check out the clip here:

Elle returns to the trial, regains her confidence, and its through her cross-examination of the accused that the prosecution wins the case.  

Check out the clip here:

As she goes to leave, her ex, Warner, tries to get back with her.  She rebuffs him with a similar line he used to break up with her, and walks away.

Check out the clip here:

The final scene is of Elle giving an uplifting speech on graduation day.

Check out the clip here:

She did it!  She proved to herself and to others that she was capable of becoming a lawyer.  

Notice that the Climax in this film is a verbal exchange between the hero and villain.  No epic battle that destroys half of Harvard.  It’s simple yet effective.  Elle has evolved as a person who has realized her own value and self-worth.  And her final line to Warner and her graduation speech sum up how she has evolved throughout the film.

It’s been quite a journey over the past five posts.  We’ve explored all aspects of the Beginning, Middle, and End of a story.  We’ve looked at Legally Blonde and seen how that story is crafted with these story elements in mind.  And next time, I’ll share some final thoughts about story structure to wrap up this series.

Happy writing, and I’ll see you in two weeks!

Writer’s Workshop Wednesday: Alice Walker

An author, poet, and activist, Alice Walker has been a strong African-American female voice in American literature since her first poetry collection, Once, was published in 1968.  Since then, Walker has authored a number of novels, short story collections, poetry anthologies, and non-fiction works.  

Mainstream audiences know her best for her novel, The Color Purple (1982), which was adapted into a film in 1985 and starred Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover.  It was also adapted into a Broadway musical in 2005.

Along with his writing, Walker is an outspoken activist for civil rights and womanism, and the themes of her works reflect her views on these topics and many others.  She is also an animal rights activist.  

Below are several interviews with Walker speaking about his works and her creative process.

Check out her official site HERE.

Enjoy!

Back in two weeks with another great author!

Writing Tip of the Week: Story Structure – The Middle, Part Two

Two weeks ago, we talked about what goes into the first half of the Middle of a story.  This week, we’ll explore what happens after the Mid-Point, what’s waiting for the main character, and other components as we make our way toward the End of the story.

Stronger, Harder, Faster

Your hero might have just achieved a big win, but that only means one thing: obstacles are only going to get more complicated from here.  They may be halfway through their journey to achieve their goal, but that only means that the opposition will be in full force as it seeks to destroy the hero by any means necessary.  This is where the hero really begins to be put to the test.  Do they have what it takes to overcome the challenges and obstacles that await to get where they need to go?

This Is Jeopardy!

The stakes for the hero and their goal are about to increase in magnitude, which means that they will find themselves and others in greater danger if they don’t reach their goal.  It’s time to throw some big-time problems and issues at the hero and see how they work to overcome them, how they fight to stay on track, and what they do when those around them are in peril.  There’s no point in letting up now.  Keeping the audience on the edge of their seat watching or reading as the hero traverses these challenges is important.  Will they make it out okay?  How will they change as a result of these new and heightened stakes?

The Antagonist Steps-Up Their Game

This is no time for the hero to become complacent.  The antagonist certainly won’t.  They know that their plans are now even closer to being thwarted and stopped, so they will be throwing everything they have at the hero to prevent them from reaching their goal.  Whether it’s an army, henchmen, or a field of poppies that put travelers to sleep, the antagonist will do what it takes to slow down and hopefully stop the hero.

All is Lost

Things are looking up.  Your hero has made great strides, overcome obstacles, made mincemeat out of the heightened stakes, and become a stronger person due to the problems they faced.  The goal is closer now than it’s ever been.  Time to celebrate?  Hardly.

The antagonist has one more trick up their sleeve, and this is the moment – the major turning point – when all comes crashing down on the hero.  They lose the deal.  An attack takes out their defenses.  The love interest discovers a truth they can’t handle and leaves.  This moment is a true gut punch to the hero.  A moment when everything they’ve worked toward seems to evaporate.  

This is Turning Point Two.  It’s the end of the Middle, and the beginning of the End.

Will the hero have what it takes to overcome and reach their goal?

In Legally Blonde, Elle is propositioned by Callahan, which is seen by Vivian who turns against Elle (they had become friends during the Middle phase of the story).  Everything Elle’s done up to this point seems to be stripped away from her.  Her confidence.  Her abilities.  Her relationships.  Her very reason for being in the intern program is thrown into doubt as well.  

Did Callahan pick her for the wrong reasons?  Was she encouraged by him because he thought she would sleep with him to get ahead?

In the aftermath of this moment, Elle has to make choices that will make or break her and her goals.

Check out the clip below:

In two weeks, we’ll see how the hero works through this new and devastating moment and how they use what they learn to get to the End of their story.

Happy writing, and I’ll see you in two weeks!

Check out Part One of The Middle below:

Writer’s Workshop Wednesday: Dan Brown

He’s a best-selling author, known for his series of books about Robert Langdon, an inquisitive Harvard symbologist who’s always in the middle of historical mysteries with present-day catastrophic consequences.  The series, which includes Angels & Demons (2000), The Da Vinci Code (2003), The Lost Symbol (2009), Inferno (2013), and Origin (2017), has made Brown a household name. Most of the novels have been adapted into feature films starring Tom Hanks.

Brown’s two lesser-known novels – Digital Fortress and Deception Point – quickly became best-sellers once The Da Vinci Code became an international sensation.  It also created some controversy with the Catholic Church.  

A fan of research, history, and art, Brown has used his passions to create one of the most-read novels of the 21st century.  To date, The Da Vinci Code has sold over 80 million copies since its release.

Below are some interviews with Brown as he speaks about his novels, his writing process, and his research methods.

Check out his official website HERE.

Enjoy!

Back in two weeks with another great author!

Writing Tip of the Week: Story Structure – The Middle, Part One

Over the past two articles, we discussed what goes into creating the opening of your story.

Today, we’ll start to look at the Middle of the story.  You can call it Act Two or even as some writers call it: The Muddle.  This is where your hero’s path toward their goal should become increasingly challenging, where they begin to grow and change as a character, and the story continues to create conflicts for the main character.

The Stage Is Set

The Who, What, Where, When, and Why have all been established and your main character and their helpers have been launched from their ordinary existence into a new and challenging adventure.  Your main character has a stated goal, and forces prevent them from quickly achieving what they want.

Once they cross over the threshold of Turning Point One, they have no entered a new phase of their journey. They may have to reassess how they are going about achieving their goal.  They may realize that they can’t do things on their own and need some help.  Maybe the antagonist has taken this moment to up the stakes just a little more, which only motivates the hero to keep going despite the odds.  

At this point, you as a writer should know your main character fairly well.  What they are willing to do and not do.  How far they will go to get what they want.  What decisions they will make – good or bad – that will impact them reaching their goal.  

And The Hits Keep on Comin’

Obstacles.  Lots of obstacles.  The Middle of the story needs to present challenges and problems that make the hero challenge who they are and make them work to reach their goal.  Think of this section of the story as the main obstacle course for your characters.  They have to do things that they may not want to do, may not like, and may have to go outside their comfort zone to get to the next level to get one step closer to their goal.

Reality shows like American Ninja WarriorWipeout, and Holey Moley are examples of individuals having to traverse seemingly impossible odds to reach the intended goal and get the prize.  Essentially, you are sending your characters through a similar maze filled with hazards, hits, and dangers that they must overcome in one way or another.

It’s okay for them to fail and have setbacks.  In fact, that makes your hero more human if they don’t always get what they need or want on the first try.  Creating a flawed character who doesn’t give up creates empathy and relatability between the character and the audience.  

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

The Middle is where the bulk of the character arc takes place, mainly since it’s also where the bulk of the story happens.  Your main character started out one way when we first met them at the beginning of the story, but now as they face new odds and problems, we should begin to see them develop and grow.  

A stagnant and unchanging character lacks relatability.  If your character experiences some traumatic event that launches them into the story and has zero effect on them, it’s hard to relate to that character.  Now, suppose they are repressing their anger, sadness, or despair, affecting their judgment and ability to problem-solve.  This creates an internal conflict that will eventually manifest itself since they will have to overcome those things in order to reach their goal by the end of the story.

Think of Mando’s arc in season one of The Mandalorian.  How does he change when he meets and interacts with The Child for the first time?  What choices does he make that affect his character arc throughout the season?  How do his choices and changes affect the story?

Think about how the events in Jurassic Park affect Alan Grant’s relationships with and views on children.  How do his interactions and perspectives change from the start of the film to the finale?

Keep Things in Motion

A story should be in constant motion.  Each scene or chapter leading into the next.  The protagonist should always be doing something.  They should always be active in what’s going on.  It is their story, after all.

As you develop the Middle, think about how to map out the story so events keep moving forward.  That goal is still out there.  The antagonist still exists to prevent the protagonist from reaching their goal.  How can you keep your hero moving toward their goal while hitting them with problems that prevent them from reaching it?

Each scene or chapter should give the audience a new piece of the puzzle.  Some new information that keeps them reading or watching.  The hero is handed a note and reads it.  What does it say?  We don’t find out until several chapters or scenes later, but our curiosity has been piqued.  

Keep the audience interested, and they’ll stay to find out what happens next.

Staying Focused

During this time in the story, it can be easy to slowly go off course and get knee-deep in subplots or tangents.  And while subplots are acceptable, it’s important not to lose sight of the real reason we’re in this story: to watch the hero go after their goal in the face of opposition.

Work through their story first.  If you want to go back and add a subplot that ties into the main story afterward, go for it.  Your main goal here is to develop the main character’s arc and their related story arc.  It can be very tempting to go and take a detour with the main character’s best friend and see what shenanigans they’ll get themselves into.  But unless that directly impacts the main story, hold off and see if that side trip is really necessary.

Think about movies you’ve seen where subplots pop up and then go nowhere, or they have no relation to the main story and just seem to be there to eat away screen time.  Avoid these types of subplots and make sure that all roads point back to the hero.

In The Middle of Things

As I said before, the Middle is the longest part of any story.  It can be almost an hour of what you see on the screen (and if it’s a long movie, even more).  At the halfway point, there’s something known as the Mid-Point Sequence.  The outcome affects what the hero does moving forward. 

This is a big moment for the hero. After everything they’ve been through and worked through, things seem to be going their way for the most part.  They still haven’t reached their goal, but now they are getting a better idea of how to get there.

This is also known as The Point of No Return.  Once we get past the Mid-Point of the Middle, it’s now only a matter of time before the protagonist has to confront their antagonist head-on (literally or figuratively). 

In Legally Blonde, the Mid-Point of the Middle comes when Elle gets chosen Callahan’s law internship.  This is a big moment for Elle since she has been working to prove herself a viable Harvard law school student and future lawyer.  Worth noting is that her antagonist, Warner, was also chosen along with his fiancée, Vivian (Selma Blair).  I mention Vivian since she is an extension of the antagonist, and therefore can cause problems and issues for Elle on his behalf.

The sequence then leads to Elle, Warner, and Vivian arriving at the internship and finding out about the case they will be assisting on.  

Elle is at the Point of No Return.  She can’t back out now, and she can’t allow herself to fail without a fight.  

Check out the clip below:

In two weeks, we’ll explore the second half of the Middle as we charge toward the End and the Climax of the story!  

Happy writing!

Check out the articles on The Beginning, here:

Writer’s Workshop Wednesday: Alex Haley

Even if you’re not familiar with his name, you’re probably familiar with one of Alex Haley’s most famous works: Roots: The Saga of an American Family.  A powerful and resonant author and historian, Haley used the story of his own family’s horrific ancestry as slaves to write the acclaimed novel that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1977.  It was also made into a mini-series on ABC in 1977 and later for History in 2016.  Roots is a novel I highly recommend.  It is a sobering look at a dark time in our nation’s history.

Prior to being a writer, Haley enlisted as a member of the Coast Guard during World War II – a compelling story in itself – where he eventually became the first chief journalist of the Coast Guard before retiring from the branch in 1959.

Haley would go on to conduct interviews for Playboy magazine, author The Autobiography of Malcolm X in 1965, write a screenplay titled Super Fly T.N.T. released in 1973, and the aforementioned Roots.  

Haley passed away in 1992, but his contributions to American literature continue to resonate today.

Below are several interview clips I found of this amazing man speaking about his life, career, and issues still relevant today.

Check out the official Alex Haley website HERE.  

Enjoy!

Back in two weeks with another great author!

Writing Tip of the Week – Story Structure: The Beginning, Part Two

Last week, we talked about some of the elements that go into the Beginning of a story.  Whether a novel, a short story, a screenplay, or a play, there are important items to consider from the start as you develop your story.  In this post, we’ll talk about a few more things to consider as you work on creating the beginning of your story. 

A Basic Formula

One of my screenwriting professors once wrote a basic formula on the board that holds true for pretty much all commercial stories:

Hero + Goal + Opposition = Conflict = Drama

Think about most movies or novels of today, and this formula rings true.  We are presented with a Hero.  That hero has a Goal they wish to achieve.  There’s some Opposition in the way of the Hero achieving the stated goal.  That Opposition leads to Conflict.  And that Conflict translates to Dramatic tension. 

As you develop your story, make sure that the three main ingredients are clear.  Then you can find ways to create conflict that increases the dramatic tension of the story.

What is an Antagonist?

When we think about the concept of an Antagonist, we are usually drawn to the big guns: The Joker (The Dark Knight), Thanos (Avengers: Infinity War), Cruella DeVil (101 Dalmatians), Loki (Avengers), Ursula (The Little Mermaid), Dr. No (Dr. No), Hades (Hercules), Dr. Evil (Austin Powers), Scar (The Lion King), or the Evil Queen in Snow White.  These are clear-cut antagonistic characters that oppose the goals of the hero in their respective stories.

However, an Antagonist doesn’t have to be a maniacal super-villain or an evil entity bent on world domination.  Anyone in your story who opposes your main character’s goals and is a constant block to them achieving that goal is an antagonist.

In Legally Blonde, Elle Woods’s antagonist is her ex-boyfriend, Warner.

In Hairspray, Tracy Turnblad’s antagonist is Velma Von Tussle and her daughter.

In October Sky, Homer Hickam’s antagonist is his father.

Even if the antagonist wants what’s best for the main character, they can still be an antagonizing force getting in the way of their goal if what they want for the main character is in conflict with what the antagonist wants.

And that conflict leads to dramatic tension.  

I think that because mainstream cinema is saturated with big-time antagonists because of all the superhero movies, it’s easy to forget that romantic comedies function on the formula of starting the partners off in an oppositional relationship.  You’ve Got Mail.  Crazy, Stupid, LoveTwo Weeks NoticeThe Proposal10 Things I Hate About You. All begin with oppositional relationships between the main couple.

How Do You Like Your Stakes?

Your protagonist wants something.  Something big.  If they get it, that’s great.  But what if they don’t get it?  What if all their attempts to achieve their goal fail?  What will happen to them?  Their best friend?  Their family?  Their home?

In other words: What are the Story’s Stakes?

Stakes keep things interesting.  They keep the protagonist motivated to achieve their goal.  They also keep the viewer/reader along for the ride.  What should the stakes feel like?

Life or death.  That’s what things should feel like to your hero if things don’t work out.  I’m not talking literal life or death (unless your story is about that), but the odds have to be pretty steep against the main character once the inciting incident happens that we’re unsure how they’ll reach their intended goal.

If you have a basic idea of what your story is about, who your main character is, what their goal is, and where the story is going, you should start to brainstorm obstacles that the hero might face throughout the story.  Each one should be unique, escalate the stakes, and help move the story and the hero’s character arc along.  

The higher the stakes, the better the dramatic tension.  Most sitcoms have low-stakes situations (Oh, no, the poker game and the dinner party are planned for the same night!).  Dramas tend to have higher stakes (If we don’t find the killer soon, he’ll start killing a new victim at the top of every hour!).  

Think of your favorite movie, or a movie you recently saw.  What were the stakes for the main character?  Were they high or low?  I can tell you that in the new Angelina Jolie movie, Those Who Wish Me Dead, the stakes are very high.  If a movie you watched has low stakes for the main character, did you lose interest?  

Can I Help You?

All protagonists are on a journey.  It may not be away from their uncle’s moisture farm on Tatooine to learn the ways of the Force, but they do have to move from point A to point Z by the end of the story.

Is anyone with them? 

Best friends.  Romantic partners.  Sidekicks.  Co-workers.  Family. Neighbors.  Are they people close to the main character that can assist them on their journey?  Every character in a story needs to serve the hero and the story in some important way.  Much like the protagonist and antagonist have a function in the story, the Secondary and Tertiary characters need to as well.  

These characters also help in giving us insight into the main character, they help dimensionalize them, and make them more relatable to the audience.  Who populates the world of the hero? Of the antagonist? What functions do those characters serve throughout the story?

The Big Moment

So, you’ve shown us a glimpse of the protagonist in their natural habitat.  All is good in the world.  And then…BOOM…something unexpected happens that throws their world into a tailspin.  Now, they have to regroup and figure out how to fix, stop, or change whatever has just happened.  The stakes are high.  The Opposition is great.  The way to achieving the goal seems impossible.  But they have a few folks to help them along the way.  

After a few missteps, things start to feel like they’re going the hero’s way.  Maybe getting to that goal will be easier than they thought.  All they have to do is…

BOOM

Something HUGE comes out of nowhere and knocks the wind out of them.  What they thought was the way forward is no longer the way forward.  Everything they thought they knew, every decision they were sure was working, is suddenly turned upside-down.

Welcome to Turning Point 1.

It’s a big moment in the story.  It’s something that shakes things up and takes the hero and the audience in a new direction.  Here’s an example from Legally Blonde (get used to it, I’m gonna use it a lot in this series):

Hero: Elle Woods

Antagonist: Warner

Inciting Incident: Warner dumps Elle as he heads to law school instead of proposing to her.

Hero Goal:  Get into and graduate from Harvard Law School (and reconnect with Warner).

Turning Point 1: At the first party of the semester, Warner tells Elle she’s not smart enough to get a prestigious internship with their law professor.  

Notice how Elle is initially crushed by Warner’s words but then actively pushes through and uses his Opposition to her goal as motivation to keep going.

In the film, this is the start of Act 2.  It’s the end of the Beginning, and the beginning of the Middle.

Homework

Watch some movies and determine what the initial stakes are for the hero and when Turning Point 1 happens. For most two-hour movies, it’s around the 25-30 minute mark.

We’ll talk about the Middle (of a story, not the series starring Patricia Heaton) in two weeks!