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.
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?
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.