This structure thing is kicking my trash! I’ve read several books and articles on the subject, but Save the Cat! came the closest to helping me wrap my head around it. Well, I should say Save the Cat! in conjunction with several blog posts from Lydia Sharp (who is AMAZING, btw, at making abstract concepts less, well, abstract). She ROCKS! Just check out my For Writers page for a long list of articles she’s written on the matter.
However, I think I’ve made some breakthroughs. I recently watched a movie–PRIEST–that led to some epic aha moments. My brain lit up like a pinball machine in the hands of a wizard. Even my hubbs could hear the ching-ching-ching-ching as one idea after another clicked into place!
Attached is an outline of structure I put together based on the Save the Cat! model with examples from the movie (most of the terms are my own with Synder’s terms in parentheses… my way of trying to understand the professional terminology). I know Snyder wrote a whole book on this but I’m still trying to wrap my brain around it.
Thought I’d share in case you were interested. If you see something I missed or have questions, feel free to ask. And if this model doesn’t work for you, no worries! Keep searching until you find the one that does!
PRIEST (by way of Snyder’s book & Deb’s brain)
The First Domino (Inciting Incident): A small or large event that sets the story in motion. Without it, this story wouldn’t be the same. Does NOT have to include the MC, but does have to affect his/her world. However, the First Domino does NOT require the MC to choose between their current world and a new one.
Priest: A friend and member of the order is taken by vampires during a raid on the hive. (The fallen priest will eventually come back to seek revenge on the society who sent him to die).
[Note: Somewhere within the inciting incident &/or setup we need a “save the cat” moment where the MC wins our hearts. The sooner the better. In Priest, it’s the pain we see when he can’t save his friend from the vamps and then later as he continues to have nightmares/remorse over the incident.]
Status Quo (Set Up): The current life/world of the MC. If the story never happens, this would be their existence forever.
Priest: Priests are disbanded and shunned by society. The MC has nightmares and is searching for solace but only receives rhetoric as comfort. We learn to go against the Church is to go against God and we see the Priest trying to follow the rules. He wants to find peace in the Church.
Second Domino (Catalyst): The situation that forces the MC to their initial crisis/debate. Forces them to look at their world and decide whether to maintain the status quo or to choose something different.
Priest: Priest’s brother and sister-in-law are murdered by vampires and his niece is taken. The boyfriend of the niece asks Priest for his help.
The Choice (Debate): The MC is forced to choose between the status quo (current world) and giving that up for a new goal… following the white rabbit (to upside down world).
Priest: The Church denies his request to rescue his niece or even leave the city. If he leaves to save his niece, he breaks his vow and turns his back on the Church, which also means he goes against God. If he stays, his niece will most likely die or be changed into a vampire slave.
Steps through Door 1–The Rabbit Hole (Break into 2): The MC chooses a new goal, takes action against the status quo and essentially turns the world on its head.
Priest: He determines to save his niece (goal), kills the police force who tries to arrest him and leaves the city.
Exploring Wonderland (Fun & Games): As MC pursues goal… We learn more about MC’s character (past, old world vs new world and any powers or secrets the MC has been hiding). MC overcomes obstacles blocking the goal. MC gathers a support team, information and tools to accomplish goal.
Priest: He visits his brother’s home where we learn Priest loved his brother’s wife. He tests Sheriff’s abilities and allows him to come along. We learn priests don’t use guns (though we don’t know why… story glitch, perhaps). We learn about the war, vampire reservations and familiars (essentially vampire culture). Priest teaches Sheriff how to kill a vamp. We see vampires & Priest in action. Yay fight scenes! The gathered info leads the two men to the old vampire hive. We also learn the Church has sent other Priests to kill the renegade.
Raising the Stakes (Midpoint Shift): This is a false high or false low. The MC learns something that changes how he views his goal. The ultimate premise of the story remains the same, but the goal changes (whether big or small). It could encompass more people or the MC’s understanding can shift or alter directions, etc. (What’s the MC’s main story goal? What is her plan to reach that goal (made clear by Break into 2)? How can I change the goal or viewpoint w/o changing the story premise? (Credit to Lydia Sharp for most of this. See her article Writing Toward Your Midpoint.)
Priest: He learns the vamps have created a whole new army and that said army is on its way to Jericho. We learn niece is really his daughter. Now it’s not just about saving his daughter, but about saving humanity as well.
All Things Fall Apart (Bad Guys Close In): The opposition comes closer and closer to obtaining their evil goal. MC doubts self, abilities, outcome, etc. Team members fight and dissent. Some people might die. The goal becomes increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to obtain.
Priest: Vamps kill entire town of Jericho and their leader kills three priests (impossible up to this point). Priest reminds sheriff that if his daughter is infected, he will kill her. Sheriff dissents against priest because of it. Tension raises between Priest and Priestess because of an unrequited love. The train is already headed to the cities where cloud cover creates endless night. Essentially 2.5 fighters vs. an army of vamps. (The sheriff is an idiot and doesn’t count for more than 1/2 a person).
All is Lost & Dark Night of the Soul: MC is out of options and seemingly defeated. May include “whiff of death” moment where someone important dies. MC must reach deep down and find the guts to face the bad guy.
Priest: (in the film this moment actually happens after they storm the castle) His team has been thrown from the train, his daughter knocked unconscious, the bomb detonator destroyed, and finally priest is pinned to a wall, seemingly killed, and the train car is set on fire. And, to add insult to injury, Black Hat is about to turn the daughter into a Familiar. Priest wakes, frees himself from the wall, and then looks at the old weapon. He finds the power to fight Black Hat. (Maybe this could have been when they find the dead priests in Jericho, but it didn’t seem very dark night of the soul to me).
Storming the Castle (Finale): MC rallies team and spirits, heads to the lair of the bad guy, takes out his minions and fights the end boss. Components include: gathering the team, executing the plan, the surprise (bad guy has an ace up his sleeve), dig deep down (a deeper dark night experience), and the new plan that leads to victory.
Priest: He and sheriff board the train to fight the vamps. Priestess goes ahead to blow up the tracks. They fight familiars and vamps on their way to getting Black Hat. After almost being defeated, Priest catches his daughter from falling, Priestess finds a way to blow up the train, and Sheriff comes back to give his girl hugs. (Sadly, Sheriff turns out to be a rather weak character. I expected more of him).
Final Domino (Final Image): MC is shown in new world order (a converging, perhaps, of the status quo world and wonderland).
Priest: He returns to original clergy with vamp head. Everyone knows the truth now. He leaves the city and meets with Priestess. The Order of Priests will support him. He does not need the Church to be on the side of God.
What do you think? Anything you’d add or change? What resources have you found helpful for understanding story structure?