- A teacher explained that a story has a beginning, middle, and an end.
- A movie maven explained my story needed a beginning, change, climax, denouement (wha-at?), andÂ conclusion.
These were descriptions – where was the structure?
I cobbled together anÂ outlineÂ fromÂ booksÂ about writingÂ but it failedÂ to write my story; an outline practically writes a technical report so its failure to write a story came as a surprise.Â Frustrated,Â I spent an afternoon writingÂ a random scene – just to put something on paper.
I began byÂ writing the middle of the story.
It worked: only criticalÂ charactersÂ emerged.Â The seeker andÂ her comic relief, the love interest. The villain was implied: somebody was dead and a bad guy dunnit. As I developedÂ the bad guy, he brought baggageÂ andÂ suddenly I had aÂ dynamic cast, eachÂ withÂ a purpose andÂ the nuggets ofÂ a backstory.Â I could imagine where the scene might go (conclusion)Â and backgroundÂ needed to explain the significance (introduction).
My outline (below) placed the scene within aÂ larger story. New scenes became imperative, not for the sake ofÂ word count but becauseÂ I had to showÂ the bad guy was evil and show whyÂ the seeker was attractive. IÂ set them onÂ a collision course and encouraged conflict (that was aÂ hurdle: I shy from conflict) using thisÂ outline:
1. Identify the hero and theÂ Â status quo.
2. Introduce a change/challenge.
- how does the hero change/adapt/resist
- what happens to her/his friends
3. Introduce adversity/conflict.
- fear/sense of failure
4. Plan, work, stretch.
- discover abilitiesÂ & capacities
- make new friends or watchÂ friends grow to accommodate the adventure
- develop a plan andÂ Â execute
5. First plan fails.
- epic event so devastating the good guys rethink tactics, strategy, and the goal.
- The failure that wasn’t an option became reality.
6. Look inward and fight yourself.
- The main character grows and transcends a fatal flaw. This is not a happy occasion. The audience’s ability to connect and to empathize pivot on how your character handles it. Not to get all Musashi, but spend time on this scene.
7. Devise a second plan that requires sacrifice and fundamental change.
- What is more important: acquiring the cool toy or succeeding without it?Â Curing cancer orÂ accepting that bad things happen?
- What is success worth? Does the hero greenlight a cost s/he wasnâ€™tÂ Â previously willing to pay?
8. ExecuteÂ the second plan. Climax. Triumph – success at cost.
This success eclipses the first failure.Â Make it real; if youÂ squirm out, the audience will leave.