Star Wars Story Structure

 

Outlines, outlines and more outlines.  I’ve spent the past few days mulling over major milestones of several well-known stories.  I wanted to jot some of them down, because this exercise is helping me feel the cadence of writing an entire novel.

STAR WARS (A New Hope):  I can’t do a post about story structure without discussing STAR WARS!!!!  There are MANY, MANY posts on this topic.  I’ve skimmed a bunch of them and chosen the points that make the most sense to me.  Here goes:

HOOK:  Most of the posts I’ve read online have stated the hook in Star Wars is that Luke Skywalker is a bored young farm boy who longs for adventure.  Now, as a new writer, who am I to question the experts, right?  But as a movie spectator, this was NOT the hook for ME.  What hooked me was Darth Vader storming Leia’s ship and taking her hostage.  I wanted to find out what happened next.  Isn’t that the very definition of a hook?       

INCITING INCIDENT:  This story never would have happened if Luke Skywalker had left R2D2 alone.  But Luke’s adventure begins when he accidentally triggers Princess Leia’s distress message in R2D2.  

PLOT POINT #1:  I always think of this milestone as the “point of no return.”  The hero must make an important decision at this point in the story.  In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker CHOOSES to go with Obi Wan Kenobi to fight the Empire.

PINCH POINT #1:  Ah, yes.  The antagonist makes his presence known in this part of the story.  Luke Skywalker narrowly escapes capture by Imperial Storm Troopers when he tries to leave Tattooine with the droids.

[NOTE:  ENTER THE ALLIES – Luke Skywalker picks up allies (Hans Solo and Chewbacca) who help him escape being caught in this pinch point.]

MIDPOINT:  The story COMPLETELY changes when Luke Skywalker shows up where the rebel base is supposed to be and discovers that the entire planet of Alderaan has been blown up.  Well, if THAT isn’t a game changer, then I don’t know what is.  Oh, wait.  There’s more.  He and his new friends are pulled into the Death Star.  They discover Princess Leia is on the ship.  NEW PLAN!!!  Rescue Princess Leia!

PINCH POINT #2:  Avoiding death by garbage compactor and then escaping the Death Star was a pretty big pinch point……  And let’s not forget the infamous “All Is Lost” moment:  Obi Wan Kenobi dies.  Luke loses his mentor.  This is definitely the bleakest moment in the story.

PLOT POINT #2:  This milestone was a little trickier for me to see clearly in this story.  It’s supposed to be the point when the hero finally attains the final object or piece of information that he or she needs to achieve his or her goal.  After several attempts at trying to detonate the Death Star, Luke finally decides to trust his ability to manage “The Force.”  He shuts off the computer on his ship and just lets The Force guide him.  So, to me, it isn’t that he finally ACQUIRES something – he finally USES something that he always had.  So maybe he acquires confidence?  I’m not sure.

RESOLUTION:  Yay!  The Death Star is blown up and everyone is saved.  Of course, there has to be tangible recognition of the hero’s victory.  What better way to tangibly acknowledge the hero’s victory than an award ceremony?  Princess Leia awards Luke and Han with an award and everyone in the large audience claps.  Woo-Hoo!

Well, that was fun.  It definitely gave me some ideas for the cadence of the Charlie Weaver story.  I hope that this post helped some of you out there too.  Thank you for reading!

My Thoughts On Outlining My First Novel

After a long internal battle, I admit to defeat.  This pant-sing thing isn’t working for me anymore.  (FYI, pant-sing means to write “organically” or to write “by the seat of your pants.”)

I have to outline my story.  I don’t fully understand my resistance to this idea, especially since I’m such a list maker.  I love making lists and checking things off.  An outline is basically a list.  This should be right up my alley.

I honestly thought that just writing a bunch of scenes as they appeared in my head and then lining them up into the semblance of a story would be my process.  No such luck.  I’m a little overwhelmed by all of the directions these characters are taking in my head.  So I need a way to organize them.

Enter “THE OUTLINE.”

Here are the major milestones of story structure, as I remember them:

  • Inciting Incident (Hook)
  • Plot Point #1 (25% mark) – End of Act 1
  • Pinch Point #1 (37.5% mark)
  • Midpoint (50% mark)
  • Pinch Point #2 (62.5% mark)
  • Plot Point #2 (75% mark) – End of Act 2
  • Resolution (80-100%)

I’m going to walk through each of these milestones right now and see if I can write a sentence or two describing what could happen in my story.  For those of you who are new to this blog, I have a borderline nutjob female protagonist named Cassandra (Nick name Sondra, but Cassie to her best friend).  She is a “Sanctimommy” (a.k.a. someone who enjoys telling strangers how to parent their children.).  The male protagonist is Ryan.

INCITING INCIDENT/HOOK:  This milestone kicks off the story.  What’s an interesting way for the male protagonist to meet the female protagonist?  I think I’ll use the scene I already wrote for Day 3 of this challenge.  Ryan encounters Cassandra at the mall, where she pulls a “Sanctimommy” move on him and his best friend’s wife.  (QUESTION:  Is this enough of a hook for a reader?  I don’t know.  But I’m putting this scene in here for now.  I can always change it later.)

PLOT POINT #1:  This milestone is the “point of no return.”  The protagonist has to make a choice that puts him or her on the path of this story.  In this case, I’m going to try this.  Cassie discovers that the jerk she encountered at the mall and the coffee shop (Ryan) is actually her professor and she MUST take his class to graduate on time.  She chooses to grit her teeth and see the semester through.  They can’t avoid each other.  Point of no return.

PINCH POINT #1:  This milestone introduces the antagonistic force that interferes with the protagonist’s objective.  For me, this is a tricky milestone in a romance.  An unlikely romance is brewing between Cassandra and Ryan.  What can I use as an obstacle to keep them apart?  Maybe I should use Cassandra’s best friend in the first pinch point.  What if she is interested in Ryan?  Other potential forces keeping these two apart are Cassandra’s own personality issues and Ryan’s emotional unavailability.  I’m not sure if these are “technically correct,” but they sound like good reasons to keep the two main characters apart.

MIDPOINT:  This milestone reveals new information to the protagonists.  It changes how they approach the next events in the story.  I think Ryan catches a glimpse of Cassandra’s “softer” side.  She does a lot of volunteer work in her spare time.  One of the places is in the NICU of the local hospital.  When Ryan’s best friend’s wife, Mandy, goes into early labor, the baby has to stay in the NICU.  I think Cassandra will somehow help Mandy out and show her kinder side to Ryan.

PINCH POINT #2:  This milestone is another opportunity for an antagonistic force to present itself.  Cassandra and Ryan don’t despise each other at this point.  Their feelings for each other are softening.  This is the perfect time to throw another obstacle in their path.  But what?  Hmmmmm……  I think this would be a good time for Ryan’s best friend Jake to discuss leaving his wife Mandy.  And guess what?  Ryan always had a crush on Mandy, but Mandy chose Jake over Ryan in college.  Should Mandy reveal that she also had feelings for Ryan?  That would definitely pose a dilemma for Ryan……..  (QUESTION:  Does Cassandra also need an obstacle?  Is there another man interested in her?)

PLOT POINT #2:  This milestone is the final injection of new information into the story.  I have an idea for Ryan.  His mother is suffering from Alzheimer’s.  She is in a nursing home after suffering from a bout of pneumonia at the hospital.  I think Ryan will discover that Cassandra is a volunteer at the nursing home and has a special rapport with his mother.

RESOLUTION:  I know that Ryan and Cassandra will figure out that they should be together, but other than that, I have nothing.  I’d like to throw in a few surprise plot twists.  I guess I will figure it out once I write the first 75% of this book!

Well, at least now I have an idea of what I want in my first draft.  Time to start writing this out and see what happens.  A big thank you to anyone who read this post and for your support.  It meant a great deal to me.

My Three Revelations About Storytelling

I’m starting to realize a few things about writing and storytelling that I wanted to share in this post:

Writing vs. Storytelling

There’s a difference between being a good writer and a good storyteller.  I used to believe that the two were always interlinked, but recent book successes (cough, cough, 50 Shades of Grey, cough, cough), have proven otherwise.  I haven’t read Fifty Shades.  The subject matter doesn’t interest me, but I do admit that I was intrigued enough by the hype to read a preview of this book on Amazon.  I couldn’t get past the first few pages without growing irritated.  Why on earth is this book selling?  The 1-star reviews on Amazon were written more eloquently than the book itself.  (Plus, they were hysterical.)

But, obviously, the international sales figures for this book speak volumes, so who am I to judge?  E.L. James did something right.  If you can look past the questionable writing and subject matter, which I admit was difficult for me to do, she’s a genius when it comes to connecting with her audience.  Readers identify with her characters.  There are plenty of well-written books gathering dust on the shelves of libraries and bookstores across the nation.  I have to give credit where it’s due.  E. L. James is a phenomenal storyteller and I can learn a lot from her.

Scene Construction

My last post on this blog, I Am The Daughter Of Foreigners, received the most response.  People actually read it and sent me positive comments.  That’s huge compared with the crickets chirping after some of my other posts.  So, I’m scratching my head trying to figure out what I did differently on this one so that I can replicate it in future posts.

The bottom line is that I focused on the story.  I wrote for myself.  I had a clear picture of the scene in my head, since I actually lived it.  This post took all of 15 minutes to write.  I spent another 45 minutes polishing it, which included walking away from it and returning to it a few times.  But that post almost wrote itself.

When I went back to analyze it, I noted a few points about how I constructed the scene:

1.  Title:  A few friends told me that they stopped to read it because of the title.

2.  Setup:  The first paragraph setup the story at the Secretary of State’s office and introduced the main characters.

3.  Framing:  I didn’t start the scene too early and I didn’t drag the story on for too long.  I got to the point.

4.  Conflict:  There was an obvious confrontation between me (the Protagonist) and the older couple (the Antagonist).

5.  Resolution:  The “story” had an emotionally satisfying conclusion.  “Justice” was served.

6.  Emotional Premise:  The “racism/immigration” theme of this post would make most anyone’s blood boil.

7.  Information Exposition:  I knew the point that I wanted to make with this post without even thinking about it.

I’m not sure if I can replicate this each time I post something.  Every day of my life isn’t a conflict (thank goodness!).  But I think the takeaway from this is to have a clear picture in your head of the scene and the point that you want to make before writing it.

Selling A Book Will Be Harder Than Publishing A Book

Okay.  Let me be up front about this.  I don’t have a finished manuscript.  I’m nowhere near publication.  But only two months into this blog, I’m starting to realize that it’s hard to get people to read what you write.  There’s so much noise.  How does a person cut through all of that?

As challenging as writing a book is, publication is harder.  As hard as publishing a book will be, selling it is the ultimate challenge.  If I can’t get people to read the FREE content on a 900-word blog, how will I get people PAY MONEY and read 300 pages in a book?  (NOTE:  The assumption is that the free content on a blog is technically well-written and emotionally evocative.  That’s the minimum requirement in this market, and I’m still learning the craft.)

Let’s assume that I’ve written the next Harry Potter book and that it’s been published.  (I know that this is arrogant, but hear me out.)  So what’s the next step?  How do you get readers to actually look between the covers of this supposed jewel if you’re an unknown author?  How did J.K. Rowling, who had her struggles getting HP published, get people to read her book before she became a writing legend?  At some point, no one knew who she was.  How did she break through the barriers to entry?

I’m an engineer.  I like to figure out puzzles and to me, this is the ultimate marketing puzzle.  I will definitely share any insights that I uncover, so stay tuned!  Happy Selling!