In this episode of the fifth season of Community, we are exposed to a detective movie parody where Jeff and Annie try to figure out the mystery of the Ass Crack Bandit, who has been terrorizing the school by putting quarters in people’s butts.
It’s the juxtaposition that sells it—the decision to partner what might be the single silliest plotline in Community history with a parody of one of the most decidedly not silly filmmakers in Hollywood, the dour David Fincher.
In my heart of hearts, I am a plotter. The problem is that, in my brain of brains, I have a sadly inconsistent grasp of story structure.
Pure pantsing, in which I attempt to write while having no idea what my characters are moving towards, leaves me floundering and paralyzed; trying to articulate every twist and turn of the story before I start to write, however, makes me break into a sweat as I contemplate the (inevitable) gaping holes in my imagination. I need an approach to a story that protects me from the feeling of being in free-fall while helping me to tolerate (and even embrace) all the stuff I don’t yet know about What Happens Next and Why.
Briefly, here are the foundational scenes:
1. The Initiating Event/The Inciting Incident/Where The Trouble Begins
This is exactly what it sounds like, the event that brings the protagonist into the central story conflict. It is amazing how long it can take me to actually nail this down. Sometimes I know very clearly what the event is, it just takes me an exasperating amount of time to actually write my way there. God only knows what I’m doing with myself in the meantime.
2. The First Turning Point/The Trouble Gets Worse
I feel like this is also Crossing The Threshold (if you’re familiar with the mythic structure Vogler talks about in The Writer’s Journey). It’s the point where the protagonist has to commit to dealing with whatever the trouble is, because the stakes have just increased, and Business As Usual isn’t going to cut it. Read also this post with advice for aspiring authors.
3. The Midpoint/The Point of No Return/The Reversal of Fortune
This is a big moment for plot AND character. It’s the point at which major discoveries are made that change the game that the characters are playing, and it’s the point at which the characters have changed so much that they can’t go back to the way they were before.
This is the point in my current WIP where the hero discovers that his parents’ accidental deaths were actually murders. I knew that from the very beginning, of course, but it took me a while to understand why I should have my hero arrive at that conclusion at this particular point in the story. If you want to know what they all say to first-time writers, check out this article.
4. The Crisis/The Dark Moment/All Is Lost
At this point, the protagonists are defeated; they don’t yet possess the knowledge/abilities/headspace necessary to defeat the Antagonist, and it seems clear that a Happily Ever After with the love of their life is a complete impossibility.
Unbelievably, this bit is really vague for me right now; I think it’s because I haven’t spent a lot of time with my Antagonist, yet, and so I don’t know exactly how he’s going to be pushing back against my hero’s attempts to uncover the murder of his parents. I have a sense of how my hero’s going to back away from my heroine as a result of the threat posed by the Antagonist, but that’s about it.
5. The Climax/The Final Push
Defeated though the protagonist is at the Crisis, they can’t give up. They are forced to finally integrate the abilities/self-knowledge/growth they’ve been developing throughout the story, and because they do this, they have what they need to finally defeat the Antagonist.
Thankfully, this point isn’t a total fog for me; I know what the heroine’s relationship with the hero is going to provide for him that will turn out to be pivotal in the final showdown, and I know what the heroine’s arc will be contributing to this scene, so I’m OK with discovering the rest. Above all: keep your writing functional and fashionable.
6. The Resolution/The Happily Ever After/The New World
The protagonist’s world has changed for the better, and so have they. They’ve grown, and are more authentically themselves than they were at the beginning of the story.
Again, I’ve got at least a general sense of what this will look like, and am happy to fill in the details when I get there, especially since I’ll get hints of this as I continue to move through the book. See also this post about Amazon, a writers friend or foe…