Stanley Kubrick and Story Units

“A story is comprised of six to eight non-submersible plot units. This is what Stanley Kubrick told writer Brian Aldiss… [Kubrick’s] approach is to look at a long story as a group of short stories, which come together to create something far greater than a long narrative ever could, Kubrick’s method focuses on scenes, each with its own mood.” (Source)

tl;dr

  1. Status quo
  2. Changes
  3. Trials and tribulations
  4. Mission start
  5. Low point
  6. Indications of success, beginning Act III
  7. Confrontation
  8. (Epilogue: new status quo)

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How to write a novel, according to Stephen Power

In author Stephen Power’s blog post “How Do I Write A Novel? Or, Hugh Howey Is My Co-Pilot” he says finding the Wool series led to a breakthrough of sorts:

“It dawned on me… that in today’s digital world, a novel doesn’t have to be 100,000 words. It could be far shorter, and who couldn’t bang out 40,000 words? You probably write that many words in memos and emails each month. Brandon Sanderson writes that many in 10 days.”

He goes on to talk about how outlining can give you a book in 4 steps, more or less. 40,000 words is often considered “novella” territory (20k-40k). Still, you can scale up the wordcount goals until you get to where you want to be. Power says he ended up with a draft of 105,000 words without originally intending to – and already has sequels on the way.

This is how he does it:

  1. 2,500 word pitch. A very rough and basic outline on the story’s premise, characters, etc.
  2. 10,000 word outline. Here you fill in more details, laying out each act and major scenes.
  3. 20,000 word storyboard. This is a scene-by-scene outline going through each beat and general emotion.
  4. 40,000 word first draft. (Note: Most fiction novels have a wordcount of 50,000 to 100,000.)

Breaking a large task into smaller, more manageable pieces, is how a lot of people do things. Why should writing be any different?

Plots, part 5

This is the last of the information I currently have on hand.

Three images showing different ways to plot your story. Note that you don’t have to use any of these. Writing is a fluid and creative process where you don’t have to adhere to strict guidelines. That’s all they are – guidelines. People talk about common elements because they’re established and readers tend to like them (in most commercial fiction.)

Here’s yet another variation of The Hero’s Journey.

a5acb45a82851374a819eace282fe702

And one more variation, called “the plot dot” by Derek Murphy.

Creativindie plot dot

And another take on the 4-act story structure.

fouracts11

For more information,:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheHerosJourney

http://mystorydoctor.com/escalating-your-story/

Plots, part 4

The Hero’s Journey (aka classic plot, archplot structure, etc) is popular yet also complicated. Everyone has a slightly different idea on what each part should be. There are general ideas, sure, and the specifics differ.

“[Archplot is a goal-oriented plot where] for better or worse, an event throws a character’s life out of balance, arousing in him the conscious and/or unconscious desire for that which he feels will restore balance, launching him on a Quest for his Object of Desire against forces of antagonism (inner, personal, extrapersonal). He may or may not achieve it.” – McKee

Billy Wilder has a really simplified view:

  • Act I: put the character up in a tree
  • Act II: set the tree on fire
  • Act III: get your character down

This is from information compiled by Ingrid Sundberg. (Source image at the bottom.)

Act I

The Ordinary World (beginning: 25%). In a movie, this would be the first 30 minutes.

  • Ordinary world
    • The known, the set-up, the status quo, limited awareness
  • Call to adventure
    • Inciting incident, the call to action, the catalyst
  • Refusal of the call
    • Threshold guardians, defining moment, separation, reluctance, new situation, the debate, meeting the mentor
  • Crossing the first threshold
    • Energetic marker 1: end of the beginning
    • The point of no return, committing to the goal, break into two, turning point 1, the threshold, awakening
    • Plot point 1, act 1 climax

Act II

The Special World (middle: 50% of the story). In a movie, this would take up the next hour or so. (Minutes 30-90).

  • Tests, allies, enemies
    • The fun and games, resistance and struggle, rising action and obstacles, belly of the whale, push to the breaking point, the special world, road of trials
  • Midpoint
    • Energetic marker 2: halfway point
    • Mid-act climax, moment of grace, mindfuck moment, moment of enlightenment, commitment to the journey, progress
  • Approaching inmost cave
    • Challenges and temptations, grace and fall, resistance and struggle, complications and higher stakes, the bad guys close in, intensification, preparation, rising action, obstacles
  • Inmost cave
    • Energetic marker 3: Crisis
    • Dark night of the soul, abyss and revelation, the major assault, death of the ego, death experience, rock bottom, the ordeal, the crisis, big change, epiphany
    • Plot point 2, act 2 climax

Act III

The Ordinary World (end: 25%). In a movie, this would take up the last 30 minutes or so. (Minutes 90-120).

  • Final Push
    • The descent, the sprint
  • Seizing the Sword (Climax)
    • Energetic marker 4: Climax
    • Seizing the prize, transformation, finale, break into three, the final incident
  • Return with the elixir
    • Transformation and return, rapidly falling action, the road back, denouement, new life, resolution, aftermath, a new status quo
  • End Scene

Here’s the full easy-to-read chart I took this information from. I typed everything out so I can copy-and-paste in the future, if need be. (It’s easier to use when I have both text and an image.)

final-revision_traditional-mountain-structure-handout_8-5x14

Plots, part 3

The Hero’s Journey (aka classic plot, archplot structure, etc) is popular yet also complicated. Everyone has a slightly different idea on what each part should be. There are general ideas, sure, and the specifics differ.

“[Archplot is a goal-oriented plot where] for better or worse, an event throws a character’s life out of balance, arousing in him the conscious and/or unconscious desire for that which he feels will restore balance, launching him on a Quest for his Object of Desire against forces of antagonism (inner, personal, extrapersonal). He may or may not achieve it.” – McKee

Billy Wilder has a really simplified view:

  • Act I: put the character up in a tree
  • Act II: set the tree on fire
  • Act III: get your character down

I’ll start with Christopher Vogler’s take.

The general plot:

Act I – The Ordinary World (beginning: 25%)

  • Ordinary world
  • Call to adventure
  • Refusal
  • Meet the mentor
  • Crossing the threshold (transition to act 2)

Act II – The Special World (middle: 50% of the story)

  • Tests, allies, enemies
  • Approach to Inmost cave
  • Ordeal (midpoint)
  • Reward – “seizing the sword”
  • The road back (transition to act 3)

Act III – The Ordinary World (end: 25%)

  • Resurrection
  • Return with the elixir

The general character arc:

Act I – The Ordinary World

  • Limited awareness
  • Increased awareness
  • Reluctance to change
  • Overcoming
  • Committing (transition to act 2)

Act II – The Other World

  • Experimenting
  • Preparing
  • Big change (midpoint)
  • Consequences
  • Rededication (transition to act 3)

Act III – The Ordinary World

  • Final attempt
  • Mastery

And here’s a random semi-related chart I found somewhere a long time ago.

ed2973c00416ed83a6ba219487f2c9a8

Plots, part 2

Larry Brooks’ story structure has several interlocking parts, but more or less breaks stories into four parts. (You could still argue that this is a 3-part structure: 25% beginning, 50% middle, 25% end.)

Setup

This is the first 25% of the novel. It includes the opening scene, a “hooking” moment, then a “setup inciting incident.” Optional: has a major plot twist that doesn’t establish the hero’s need/quest.

  • Hook reader
  • Introduce hero
  • Establish stakes
  • Foreshadow

Response

Begins the middle section, and comprises another 25%. It contains the first plot point (must define need and quest, opposition defined, actions need to flow from this point) followed by the first pinch point (antagonistic force asserts itself).

  • Retreat, regroup
  • Doomed fight back
  • Opposition reasserted

Attack

The second half of the middle section, and another 25% of the novel. It opens with the midpoint. New knowledge creates new context (must be game-changer) and the hero is empowered. There’s a second pinch point, where the antagonistic force hits back hard. There’s a “all hope is lost” lull near the end of this section.

  • Hero proactive and shows initiative
  • Opposition pushes back

Resolution

The final 25% of the story. The second plot point comes into play: final injection of information (gamer changer once again) and last piece of the puzzle.

  • Beyond plot point: no new information or characters
  • Problems resolved, for better or worse

Final resolution sequence

  • The last scene(s) ending the story.

Here’s another way of looking at the story structure, which is more concise and character-centric.

Orphan (25%)

  • Establish demons

Wanderer (25%)

  • Reacts and runs
  • Unsuccessfully strikes back
  • Failures related to character flaws

Warrior (25%)

  • Attacks the problem
  • Overcomes flaws

Martyr (25%)

  • Risks all
  • Conquers inner demons
  • Must be catalyst
  • Never rescued or passive

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Short beginnings and endings

“Effective stories introduce the apparent primary challenge as quickly as possible.” – Tameri

So what does ‘quickly’ mean? Tameri has a concise guideline depending on what form your story is in.

Short story

  • Plot introduced in the first paragraph (or within 50 words)
  • Story established within 150 words

Novella

  • Plot introduced by page 3-5
  • Story established by page 10

Novel

  • Plot introduced in the first 25-50 pages, (or within the first 3 chapters)
  • Story established within 50-100 pages

Script for a movie

  • Plot introduced in the first 5 pages
  • Story established within 10 pages

Script for a TV show

  • Plot introduced in the first 10 pages
  • Story established within 25 pages

It’s then suggested that ending is also quick, “like a roller coaster ending with a steep drop,” and is shorter than the beginning. For example, a novel whose beginning is 3 chapters would have an ending that’s 1-2 chapters long. In general it seems the end of your story should be 50-65% of the beginning’s length.