Story Structure: Part Two

This time we’re going to look at all the terminology I introduced last week in action. I’m going to put the plot of Mulan into my structure outline to demonstrate how each part works.

Enjoy!

Normal World:

Status Quo – We see Mulan running late. Which is a usual thing for her, we gather. She’s going to meet the Match Maker so she can get a good marriage and serve her family like girls should. Naturally, because Mulan is not like other girls, this goes disastrously. She doesn’t get a match. She doesn’t make her family proud. She doesn’t bring honour to them. This reinforces her Lie (this is very important and I will explain this in a later post) that she is not good enough and will never bring honour to her family and is all round just a massive failure who can’t get anything right.

Inciting Incident – The Huns have crossed the Great Wall of China. This causes the Inciting Incident as one man from each family is called upon to serve the Emperor. In Mulan’s family there is only one man: her father. He was a War Hero and is greatly respected, but he was injured in the last war. He has no choice but to accept the honour of serving the Emperor. He has no son to take his place. Mulan intervenes, and gets berated for once again dishonouring her father.

Turning Point into Act One (decision) – Mulan decides that there are more important things than honour, and her father is blinded by honouring the family and is risking getting himself killed. So we get one of the best montages in Disney history (in my opinion) where Mulan takes her father’s armour, sword, and scroll and rides off to join the army in her father’s place.

First Doorway of No Return – Once she is in the camp, there is no turning back without being a deserter, which would surely result in her death, just the same as if anyone found out that she was a woman.

Act One – Running:

In Act One, the protagonist is not entirely sure what they are up against so they use this act to gauge what they are doing and why, who are they fighting against etc. They are essentially running. They have no real plan and they are nowhere near prepared to fight the main antagonist yet. In this act, they are preparing to become a Warrior.

Run For Your Life – Mulan has to learn how to be a man as well as a soldier, and fast. Luckily she isn’t alone when it comes to the learning to be a soldier thing as the rest of them are just as unprepared as her. Cue my favourite song in Mulan – Make a man out of you. By the end of the song, they are all quite prepared to go off battle. And Mushu makes sure that is where they are headed.

Turning Point into Act Two – This is a little tricky to pin point but this has to be where Mulan learns about the main antagonist and what they are facing. So, this point is twofold. First, Mushu creates a fake letter saying Shang’s troops are needed at the front. So, off they head. Then (this is the second part) as fate would have it, it turns out they really are needed. They come across a village which has been burned to cinders. And just beyond it, a battlefield full of their own dead soldiers. Shang’s father has been killed, leaving him as the next in charge. And with the rest of the army dead, they are left as the only ones who can stop the Huns. This knowledge is what propels Mulan into Act Two where she will become a Warrior (in a rather literal sense).

Act Two – Warrior:

In Act One, the protagonist gains a bit of information which shows them what they are up against so they can prepare a plan to fight the main antagonist.

Making a plan – Their plan is to catch up to the Huns and stop them by any means possible. Not much of plan, but alright Shang. Once they get to the pass, the Huns reveal themselves. They have overwhelming numbers but they each hold fast as they were trained. Then Mulan comes up with her crazy plan to create an avalanche to wipe out the Huns.

High Point – And it works! Sure Mulan gets hit by Shan Yu, but the avalanche happens, none of her side are killed, and the Huns are buried under the snow. Victory!

False Victory – But… Mulan is hurt. They discover she is a woman. Shang spares her life for saving theirs, but she is shamed and left there in the snow to contemplate how she is still the same failure as before.

Darkest Moment – In terms of the character arc as well as plot, the darkest moment is the confirmation of how she is an eternal failure and will forever bring shame to her family. She decides it’s time to go home and face the fact that she must accept her duty as a woman and get her act together.

Turning Point into Act Three – Suddenly, the Huns are ‘popping out of the snow like daisies’ as Mushu says. This realisation that the Huns are not dead propels her to continue to the Imperial City. She was just thinking about going home, admitting her wrong-doing, and was moping about how much of a failure she was. Anyone else would have said, they have the army down there. I owe them nothing. What could I possibly do that they can’t? But not Mulan. No, Mulan is transitioning into a Hero in this moment. She picks herself up, dusts herself off, and says she has to at least warn them that the Huns are on their way straight to them.

Act Three – Hero

There’s not much to go into this act. The journey has led to this one moment. It is do or die. There is no turning back now

Second Doorway of No Return – This comes immediately after the Turning Point into Act Three. Mulan has decided she must continue on to the Imperial City to warn people of the presence of the Huns. There is no going back, she has made her decision. But no one will listen to her. Everyone looks at her differently now she is a woman. Shang feels betrayed. But she tells her three companions to keep an eye out, hoping that they would listen to her too.

Climax/Big Boss Battle – But, what do you know, no one heeds her warning. Not properly anyways. The Huns pop out of the dragon, take the Emperor hostage and bar the doors. The remainder of the army are desperately trying to break down the doors, but our Mulan thinks outside of the box. She tells them she has a plan, and they follow her. After all, she is the one who managed to save all their lives back at the pass. They manage to get to the Emperor, distract Shan Yu, and get the Emperor to safety. Mulan reveals herself as the soldier who destroyed most of his army, and so the two of them face off. This is essential. It HAS to be the protagonist who goes up against the main antagonist. It couldn’t be Shang. It couldn’t be the Emperor. It couldn’t be anyone but Mulan. Otherwise, it is not their story. Sure, you can have sidekicks – like Mulan has Mushu and Cri-Kee. But it is Mulan’s plan that is put into action, and it is Mulan who defeats Shan Yu.

Cool Down Moment – I’ve added this one in myself. I wasn’t sure what to call it, so just went with this. You can’t just end with the Big Boss Battle. You have to tie everything up nicely. For Mulan, this comes with the Emperor giving her his medallion and the sword of Shan Yu, which we see her take home to her father. This story is all about honour, and that is all Mulan has ever wanted. To do something that will finally bring honour to her family, especially her father, and make them proud. We see this goal has been accomplished at the end when her father tells her the greatest honour is having her for a daughter. *cries* Then Shang shows up and he is beautifully awkward, a nice change to all the charming princes. And there is a hint that they will end up together. Beautiful.

New Status Quo – This goes hand in hand with the above moment, but I felt it worth pointing out that after the events of the story there needs to be a new status quo. For Mulan, this is her new status as a war hero, just like her father, and her no longer feeling the need to adhere to societal stereotypes where she can only bring honour through marriage. She is allowed to be herself, and is even celebrated for it.

So, that is my little outline for story structure, updated from my Four Part Story Structure post. I hope it all makes sense. Please feel free to drop me a comment if you’re unsure on anything, or just to give your thoughts on it!

The Wound—Because Damaged People Make the BEST Stories

Kristen Lamb's Blog

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Many emerging writers come to me when they find they are struggling with their WIP. I always begin with the same question, “What is your story about?” Often, I get this response, “Well, my story isn’t plot-driven. It is a character-driven story.”

Translation?

I have no plot…and please stop asking me because it makes me want to drink heavily.

There really is no such thing as a purely character-driven story. Character and plot are like two keyed cogs. One drives the other. The plot pushes the protagonist to grow and as the character grows, this in turn drives the plot.

For instance, in The Lord of the Rings the plot problem (Toss evil ring in a volcano before power-hungry necromancer takes over Middle Earth) is what forces the Hobbits to leave The Shire. Ah, but once they leave, how they respond to escalating threats determines plot.

For instance, they…

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Story Structure: Part One

So, a while back I wrote a post called Four Part Story Structure. Today, I am going to expand on that with the knowledge I have gained in the past few months.

First off, I am going to explain some terminology that I will use in the structure outline. These are the essential parts of story structure, and we must first understand exactly what these are in order to understand how each one contributes to the story structure overall.

Let’s get straight to it then.

 

Inciting Incident:

This is the moment that changes the protagonist’s life. The ball is set in motion and everything the protagonist knew changes. HOWEVER, this is not the moment where action is taken. This is simply the point at which the main antagonist’s goal first comes into contact with the protagonist’s – and this marks conflict.

 

Doorways of No Return/Turning Points:

Hmm how to describe these… The ‘Doorways of No Return’ are something I learned from James Scott Bell in his book Write Your Novel from the Middle. I liked the idea of the door slamming on the protagonist, with no possibility of returning – they must simply forge on. HOWEVER, this is not exactly the same as Turning Points.

Why did I put them together then? I hear you cry. Well, because two of the Turning Points are the exact same moments as the two Doorways of No Return (though they are not the exact same thing – let me explain).

The First Doorway is the Turning Point into Act One. I wanted to put these together to show how they interact. The Turning Point is the protagonist’s decision to take up the metaphorical sword (or literal depending on your genre) and take action. They don’t yet know what exactly they are up against, but they are taking action none the less. This CHOICE marks the First Doorway. Once this choice has been made, there’s no turning back. The door is firmly closed and the only way is forward. Without the choice, the door remains open. Do you see? I hope this makes sense…

The next Turning Point is into Act Two. This is not a Doorway. Instead, this Turning Point simply marks the place where the protagonist gains new insight into what they are up against. Some little nugget of knowledge is bestowed upon them and now they are coming up with a plan. A real God-honest plan that just may well work.

Our third and final Turning Point is also the Second Doorway of No Return. This comes after the High Point and the Darkest Moment (both of which will be discussed below), and it marks the Turning Point into Act Three – the moment our Warrior turns into a Hero. This is the moment when most people would have packed up and gone home, but not our protagonist. No, they pick themselves up, dust themselves off, learn something new about themselves, and carry on straight into the Big Boss Battle. So the Turning Point is the choice to keep going, and then the Doorway comes into play, slamming on them forever with no way back. Makes sense?

 

High Point:

Ok, the High Point is an interesting one. It ties in really nicely with the Darkest Moment. The High Point is when the protagonist is putting their nice little plan into action… And it’s working! And everything seems to be going their way. Finally, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The end is in sight!

Until it’s not. Cue the Darkest Moment.

 

Darkest Moment/Black Moment:

Spoiler alert! The High Point is a false victory. Everything is going peachy… and then something terrible happens and everything not peachy anymore. This is the Darkest Moment. The biggest setback that could ever have happened just happened. The setback to end all setbacks. Everything they just achieved turned to ash before their eyes. This is not a good moment for the protagonist. In fact, it’s their worse moment.

This is when the Turning Point into Act Three kicks in. Once they’ve mourned their greatest setback, and reflected upon themselves and why this setback happened, they get right back up and carry on. They’ve come too far for anything else.

 

Climax/Big Boss Battle:

Now it is do or die. And most likely the protagonist with feel like this is most certainly the case – whether this is a literal death or metaphorical (for example the death of everything they once knew – I’ll explain about this in another post I promise).

The Big Boss Battle is when it comes down to the main antagonist and the protagonist, battling it out. Only one can come out unscathed (well…*). If it’s the protagonist, then we have a happy ending. If it’s the antagonist, we have a tragedy. Either is a viable option. Sometimes you can go half and half, with a bittersweet ending.

*Well… no one is coming out truly unscathed. The story itself makes sure of that. What I mean here is that one must be defeated, leaving the other the victor. In a romance, perhaps unscathed is the right word. But for fantasy, usually the character arc is brutal and the protagonist will be changed, and sometimes not for good. This is where the bittersweet ending can come into it. Maybe the protagonist wins, but it comes at a dire cost. Often that will be the case. But not necessarily.

 

I hope this has all made sense. If not, please feel free to drop me a question and I will try to answer to the best of my ability!

Next time I will put this all together to show how each moment plays out. This time I will use Mulan as the example.