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NOVEMBER

Movie of the Month:

Harriet

 

Books of the Month:

Blink (Nonfiction), Five Feet Apart (Fiction)

WHY MASTER THE 5 COMMANDMENTS?
Shawn likes to compare this to the human body.


“Just as cells form tissues, which interact to form organs that work with other organs to form systems (skeletal, nervous, circulatory, etc.) with ultimately fourteen systems making up the anatomy of a human being, so do beats combine to form scenes which combine to form sequences which combine to form acts and subplots and ultimately the beginning hook, middle build and ending payoff of a global story.” 


DEFINING THE 5 COMMANDMENTS OF STORYTELLING
Before you can study or master the 5 Commandments, you need to know what they are. Better yet, you need to understand what signals the identity of each.
 
In a nutshell, the 5 Commandments are the following:

  1. Inciting Incident

  2. Progressive Complication Turning Point

  3. Crisis

  4. Climax

  5. Resolution

 
INCITING INCIDENT
The inciting incident probably sounds familiar—this is a disturbance in the main character’s ordinary world, or essentially some sort of action/event that uproots their state of homeostasis.
 
What Shawn identifies about inciting incidents in The Story Grid that makes this even more effective is inciting incidents occur in one of two ways. It’s either:

 

                                                                                                          causal or coincidental
 
Causal is when an action/event occurs because a person/character creates that disturbance in a way that throws off your main character’s forward motion. When looking at global stories, this could be when Gandalf arrives at The Shire in The Hobbit, or any other classic stranger comes to town moment. Another causal inciting incident is when Peter Pan appears in the nursery in Peter Pan. In both cases, a character has caused the disturbance. Get it?
 
Coincidental inciting incidences occur by chance. In other words, a character does not play a role in the part of the disturbance, the event simply happens beyond their control of events. This could be aliens invading earth like in Independence Day or the tornado in Twister (not The Wizard of Oz, since the inciting incident in this story is when Miss Gulch threatens to take and euthanize Toto—a causal event).

 

PROGRESSIVE COMPLICATION TURNING POINT
I know what you’re probably thinking, “what the heck does that long, wordy phrase mean?” This was at least what my creative writing students uttered, mouths agape, when I first wrote these words down on the whiteboard.
 
Don’t let the length of the wordy terminology roll you over even if this might be the most difficult plot point to identify in a story beat, scene, sequence, act, subplot, or global story.
 
Just break it down.
 
Progressive—something that develops gradually
 
Complication—a circumstance that makes something more difficult
 
Turning Point
—a moment in the story element when the value shifts (the moment when the main character comes closer to or further away from getting their external/internal want, which should be clearly established in the beginning of the beat/scene/sequence/act/subplot/global story).
 
Now put it all together.
 
The Progressive Complication Turning Point is the moment in the scene when something happens—some sort of complication or event—that makes it more likely or less likely for the main character to get their external or internal want established at the beginning of the scene.
 
In Story Grid terms, this is when the main character’s value shifts—it moves from a character wanting something to getting closer to (a positive movement) or further away from (a negative movement) that internal or external want—i.e. it turns the scene.

 

And it’s done with either an:

 
action or revelation

 
An action is when some sort of force motivates the main character to react to their increasingly complicated situation.
 
revelation is when the main character understands something that they didn’t know before, motivating them to, again, react. 
 
Action or revelation, this conflict (or complication) creates the PCTP—and ultimately gives the story event purpose.
 
A scene that lacks a turning point, unless portrayed for exposition’s sake, is better off being “killed” for the sake of strong story structure—despite how much you might love this “darling.”   
 
We will take a closer look at the PCTP in the scenes from Blood Diamond and The Great Alone, studied at the end of this lesson.

 

CRISIS
View the crisis as a decision. This is the decision that a main character must make in response to the PCTP. There are two kinds:

 

Best Bad Choice or Irreconcilable Goods

 
Here’s the difference.
 
Best Bad Choice is when a main character must make a decision that will end unfavorably either way. Still, one of the choices bodes better than the other, enticing the main character in that direction. For example, when Katniss Everdeen is chased up a tree by the elite tributes she can either jump down and fight (and likely die) or try to wait them out in a super vulnerable situation (she could still die by infection, dehydration, or starvation—but the chance is less likely, or at least less immediate).
 
Irreconcilable Goods often confused my students but it’s not as bad as it sounds. In layman’s terms this means that two or more characters make a decision that will benefit one and oppose the other—i.e. an irreconcilable (or opposed/incompatible) want benefits one character while setting back the other.

 

CLIMAX
 Most likely the easiest term to define as well as the moment most writers think about first. The climax is the moment in a beat/scene/sequence/act/subplot/or global story that all readers/viewers wait anxiously for—it is the final showdown of everything that the story builds to reveal, based on the decisions the main character makes to get to that point. Looking at the global story in The Lion King this is when Simba confronts Scar, or examining at the scene level—in the Elephant Graveyard scene—this is when Mufasa attacks the hyenas.
 

RESOLUTION

Also known as the outcome of the scene, sometimes this is assumed/supposed rather than verbally written out, other times it is communicated through written language. Regardless of how it is delivered to the reader/viewer, this moment is a clear understanding of whether the main character is now closer to (positive value shift) or further away from (negative value shift) their external/internal want, as established within or prior to the other commandments. For Disney’s The Little Mermaid global story the resolution is Ariel marrying Eric; at the scene level—let’s say when Triton destroys Ariel’s treasure trove—the resolution is Ariel curled on a rock crying and Triton looking a bit disappointed at how he reacted (though too proud to admit this).

 

 

STUDYING THE 5 COMMANDMENTS 
IN BLOOD DIAMOND and THE GREAT ALONE

 


For this next section of the lesson, we’re going to study how the 5 Commandments of Storytelling drive purpose at the scene level. You’ll need to screen this scene from the movie Blood Diamond (screenwriter Charles Leavitt) and read the first chapter (and scene) from The Great Alone (women’s fiction writer Kristin Hannah). While you screen and read each, try to pinpoint how the scene applies (and is driven by) SG’s 5 Commandments.
 
Hint: A good way to start this is by screening/viewing the scene in its entirety and then asking yourself what you think the main character wants (what is the value?) at the beginning of the scene and how does it end (are they closer to or further away from getting that want—i.e. has the value shifted in a positive or negative way?). 
 
Once you’ve identified this want, it will make finding the PCTP easier, as well as the other 5 Commandments established in the scene.    
 
I’ll wait here while you do this.

 

BLOOD DIAMOND 
*Value Shift* The main character, Solomon, starts out a slave, and in this particular scene he wants to find a way to escape. So whatever action or revelation shifts this value from getting closer to or further away from freedom/hope is what I will look for in the PCTP

 

  • INCITING INCIDENT

    • Causal or Coincidental?

      • Coincidental. Solomon finds a massive diamond while being forced to work for the rebels. If he can smuggle this diamond without getting caught by the rebels, there is a chance he can use it later as leverage to escape—and then get his global story’s external want, his family.

 

  • PROGRESSIVE COMPLICATION TURNING POINT

    • Active or Revelatory?

      • Active. The rebel captain catches Solomon burying the diamond and points a gun at Solomon’s head. This turns the scene from being enslaved to potentially being killed, which inevitably brings him further away from his scene’s external want.

 

  • CRISIS

    • Best Bad Choice or Irreconcilable Goods? 

      • Best Bad Choice. With a gun to his head, Solomon must choose to give up the diamond at the off chance the rebel captain won’t shoot him anyway (but surviving will also put him under extreme scrutiny going forward), or not surrender the diamond and be killed.

 

  • CLIMAX

    • Soldiers arrive unexpectedly at camp, giving Solomon the chance to run (after successfully burying the diamond). 

 

  • RESOLUTION

    • Solomon is surrounded by the soldiers and taken to a nearby village—he doesn’t know what will happen to him once he gets there, but he has managed to hide the diamond in a spot only he knows. 



THE GREAT ALONE
Since I am an editor who specializes in stories that celebrate women with the main character’s emotional journey driving the plot, I had to pull a Kristin Hannah book for my second study example.
 
While doing this, I also ran my viewpoint of the scene by my good friend and story-study champion, Kim Kessler, a Story Grid editor who specializes in stories that craft authentic character-driven stories, leveraging the complexities of the human experience to captivate readers.
 
This is what we came up with:
 
*Value Shift* The main character and POV in this scene is Leni. She starts out independent and shifts to powerless. As Kim pointed out brilliantly, “she gets herself ready for school and handles her business, feels like an adult, voices her concern about moving again, but ultimately has no control.”
 
 This is how that shift (independent to powerless) unravels.

 

  • INCITING INCIDENT

    • Causal or Coincidental?

      • Causal. Leni starts out independent even though she feels “edgy”—her parents are fighting again, not surprisingly triggered by her Dad’s irrational, uncontrolled anger elevated by his PTSD after being fired, not being able to handle his nightmares, and Mom making endless excuses for his inappropriate behavior.   

 

  • PROGRESSIVE COMPLICATION TURNING POINT

    • Active or Revelatory? 

      • Active. Bo leaves Ernt (Leni’s dad) a house and property in no-man’s land Alaska.

 

  • CRISIS

    • Best Bad Choice or Irreconcilable Goods? 

      • Irreconcilable Goods. The family—determined in the climax by Leni’s Mom, Cora—questions if they should move to Alaska for Ernt’s sake or remain in their current residence. The IG here is defined as such because what’s good for Dad (moving) isn’t good for Leni, and vice versa. Their wants are at odds with one another and are thus pinned in this scene’s crisis.  

 

  • CLIMAX

    • Cora decides the family will move for the sake of “Dad”—she claims that they don’t have any other choice because the family doesn’t stand a chance at helping Ernt if they don’t move. Cora justifies this choice by emphasizing to Leni that Dad needs a change and they have to be “strong” for him. 

 

  • RESOLUTION

    • The family plans to move; the next actions they take—and what we can expect in chapter two—will illustrate how the family makes this transition (classic main character goes on a journey storyline). 

Did our analysis line up with yours? If not, I’d love to hear what you came up with in an email. Feel free to reach out to me after you complete your writing prompt with any questions.