Earlier this week we put on the shoes of George Lucas. We started with a blank pages and broke two of the hardest plot points in our movie that we’re calling STAR WARS. The heavy lifting has already been done. Now it’s time to bring it home.
Beat #3 (End of Act 2) is the famed “All is Lost” moment. Usually, the “all” that gets “lost” is whatever our hero wants in Act 1. If our hero was driven to be president, the scandal he was trying to cover up would get exposed here. In your case, you’re telling a war story so the war is what’s at stake. Unfortunately, you can’t come back from a lost war so you’ll have to lose something dear to the protagonist. You’ll have to lose “the girl”.
Another way to look at “all is lost” moments is to have the antagonist appear to win. He should gloat a bit. Strut. Monologue. But what should the beat be? It has to be bad because of Rob’s Bad Guy Rules #1 and 2: “Bad guys do bad things and die in horrific ways.” So, we’re building a horrific moment that will put our hero on his heels. Something that will make the audience want to cheer when the bad guy dies. If he seems even remotely redeemable, the audience will feel ambiguous about his death and they’ll never cheer. You want that cheer. You need that cheer.
Kill the girl? It’s still buzzing in your head, right? Well, let’s explore the alternatives. You could kill the hero. That would score an apparent win for the bad guy but it would be completely impractical. He could destroy a village or blow up something big. But, remember, you’re building an emotional low point for your protagonist not the universe. Stay focused, George! Something bad has to happen to somebody our hero loves. We’ll build “her” next week but, for now, all we know is that the bad guy is going to kill her in Beat #3.
After that, our hero sulks, grows a 3-day-beard and watches reruns of “Sanford and Son” while pizza boxes pile up on the coffee table. Don’t be afraid of “all is lost” moments. Low points make high points work. Show the grief and get back to the third act build. Man, you wouldn’t believe how many people begged us not to have Facilier kill Ray, the world’s most adorable firefly, in THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, but the story just doesn’t work without it.
Now we’re at Beat #2 (Midpoint): “The hunted becomes the hunter.” The hero’s 180 degree turn. Based on Beat #3, we know that this beat will have to give your hero purpose. You’ll have to build a cathedral of motivation. But whatever it is can’t be magical. He can’t believe in magic yet or he’ll arc too soon. So what’s the most impactful terrestrial thing that can happen? Okay. Placeholder. We blow up a planet of puppies. That works for now.
Beat #1 (The Inciting Incident) is a toughie. I think of it as the point where the way the hero has no choice but to be propelled into action. In order to do this we usually take away the thing our hero loves the most. It’s the point where Marlin “the father” loses his son and must find him in FINDING NEMO. It’s the point where Woody finds out there’s a newer cooler toy in town and now he’ll do anything to regain his status. It’s the point where Mr. Incredible “The Greatest Superhero ever” finds himself in a world where being a superhero is illegal and he’ll do anything, even skip bowling night to save people. In your case, you’re starting with a simple farm boy so we’ll need to close the door on that world. So let’s Spitball:
A) He can decide to leave home (KUNG FU PANDA).
B) He can find out he’s adopted (SUPERMAN).
C) He can get called away (HARRY POTTER).
If we get desperate we can always burn the farm and kill the family, but let’s put a pin in it for now.
So let’s take a step back and see what we have:
1: INC/INC – A messenger from an incredible world comes into our hero’s possession. Maybe an owl or a robot or something.
2: MP – Our antagonist shows his willingness and reckless disregard for life by blowing up a planet of puppies. Our hero decides he can’t let this act go unpunished.
3: EA2 – Our hero’s mentor is killed leaving him rudderless and questioning the power of his teachings.
4: SB – In the climactic battle, our hero tries the “sword” twice and fails.
5: SUPERFREAK!!! – Our hero puts away his “sword”, closes his eyes, uses his “elixir” and wins the Star War in spectacular fashion!
Congratulations, George! You’ve broken your story! Now take a nap. Next week, we’ll make our 5 plot points into 15 and we’ll bring the antagonist and the girl to life.