Story Structure: CRISIS RESPONSE

As Film Courage continues posting chunks of my interview with them, I want to supplement the videos with some added thoughts about my 6 Stage approach to structure.

Stage 2 (the New Situation), often proves confusing to storytellers who have trouble distinguishing it from Stage 3 (Progress). But it really isn’t that mysterious a distinction. After the Setup, the hero is presented with an Opportunity (Turning Point 1). Then in Stage 2, the hero pursues a preliminary goal, gathering information, formulating the Outer Motivation and preparing to take action toward that ultimate goal or finish line – action that will take the hero all the way to the Climax of the story.

This is true in real life as well. When we are presented with an Opportunity or a Crisis, we never leap immediately into action – we have to decide what we want in response, and figure out the best way to accomplish that goal.

If you meet someone you’re attracted to (Opportunity), you’re unlikely to instantly throw your arms around that person. You have to figure out, “Do I want to pursue him?” “How should I go about that?” “What is he like, and what will make him like me?” Only then will you take action and begin your attempts at seduction or conquest.

So it is with characters in movies, or novels, or the heroes of stories in speeches or sales pitches. Each of these heroes is presented with a crisis of some kind, and must then ask questions, get acclimated to his new reality, and formulate how to best achieve his objective. Only then, at the Change of Plans, will this protagonist take action and pursue his Outer Motivation.

I just saw the new movie ARRIVAL, which follows this exact structure. The hero, Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is living her everyday life as a professor of linguistics (Stage 1 – the Setup). Then 12 alien spacecraft land on Earth (Turning Point 1 – Opportunity/Crisis).

But Louise doesn’t immediately call the Pentagon and say, “Take me on board!” First Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), an emissary from the Pentagon, asks her help communicating with the aliens. Louise has entered Stage 2, and in this New Situation she not only moves to a new location, she must figure out, “What will this mean? Can I do this? HOW will I do this? Can I trust them? Will I die?”

Only when she has resolved these issues to her satisfaction does she enter the space ship (Turning Point 2 – the Change of Plans) and begin pursuing her Outer Motivation: to get the aliens to reveal their purpose in coming to Earth.

To see my more in-depth discussion of the Opportunity and New Situation (as well as why conflict is so essential to your story), just link to my Film Courage interview below: