I had the chance to tune in to Dan Wells series of YouTube videos on seven point story structure and learned a lot about the finer points of its ins and outs. It really is the ninja of the writing world because it’s everywhere, just invisible. The five video series is well worth the time spent to watch and Dan is a tremendously entertaining speaker. I’ll warn you in advance that there is really cheesy music at the beginning and ending of each video that eats into some of the dialogue, deal with it.
In essentially every story there are seven different elements that occur to take the character from beginning to end, we will discuss each one in-depth. Yay!
Here they are:
- Plot Turn 1
- Plot turn 2
The Hook – This is where we start our story. At this point the main character (MC) needs or wants something that he doesn’t have. If this is a book with a happy ending then the end of the book will be when the MC achieves his goal. If it’s a tragedy then he fails spectacularly. At this point the MC needs to grow in some way.
Example: Lightning McQueen wants to win the Piston Cup, but more importantly wants the attention and respect of other cars. He has no friends and racing is his life. He can’t keep a pit crew and won’t take advice.
Plot Turn 1 – Also known as the call to adventure, is when the MC starts down the path that will ultimately bring him to his goal.
Lightning’s arrogance costs him the race and now he has to travel to a tie-breaker race.
The Pinch – This is where we apply pressure and extra stress to the MC. In some stories this is where danger is introduced.
On the way to the tie breaking race Lightning falls out of the trailer and gets lost.
The Midpoint – Contrary to the name, the midpoint can occur very early in a story. It doesn’t have to be halfway. What identifies the midpoint is the attitude of the MC. This is when the MC comes to grips with his problems and either learns what he needs to know so he can do something about it, or finds someone who can help him. His actions will change from reaction to action.
Lightning Mcqueen, after having sentenced to community service, decides that it’s important to finish the road properly and do a good job. He realizes that he’s not as big of hot-shot as he thought he was and makes friends with Sally, Mater, and the other townsfolk. Although he still plans on leaving the second he’s finished to compete in the big race, it’s not the only thing important to him anymore.
Plot Turn 2 – Something has to happen to prevent the MC from reaching his new goal. The difference is, now the MC has what he needs to succeed although he might not realize it at the time. Dan Wells explains that this is often the moment where the MC is told “The power is in you!”
Lightning has finished repairing the road in Radiator Springs and has learned to love the little town so much that he wants to do something special for the people he has come to appreciate, especially Sally. He encourages them to fix up their neon lights and stages a party. Suddenly the press shows up with his trailer and he is hauled to the big race without being able to say a proper goodbye.
Pinch 2 – Our MC faces defeat and stands to lose everything. Often at this point the people he leans on for support are gone or killed. The MC is forced to grow in some way. This, along with the resolution is the climax of the story.
Lightning is in the big race and he doesn’t have a pit crew. He can’t focus on racing because his thoughts are back in Radiator Springs. Despite his efforts it looks like he’s going to lose unless he can pull it together. Suddenly over his headset he hears the voice of Doc, the Radiator Springs friends have rallied together to help him. With their help he redoubles his efforts and is on track to win the race.
Resolution – Our MC finally gets what he wants. This could be in the form of a final big fight scene where he wins, or in a mystery we finally learn ‘who dun it.’ This is when the plot thread is wrapped up and the goal of the MC is achieved.
Just when it looks like nothing can stop Lightning, there is a crash. King, one of the most respected racers of the racing community, flips and spins off the track. Lightning decides that it’s more important for the King to finish his last race than to win the Piston Cup. When he does this he wins the respect of the racing community and is offered a valuable sponsorship. He goes from arrogant loner to a caring team player.
If you think this looks a little like scene and sequel, you’d be right. Seven point story structure embodies the try/fail cycle in a more meaningful way. It guides the moves and motivations of the MC and leads them toward their goals. If the goal is too easy to reach then the character doesn’t have the chance to grow or lean anything. If Lightning’s story ended with him winning the Piston Cup the first try it would have been a failure. At that point we didn’t like him and the win would be meaningless.
I hope this discussion of seven point story structure comes in handy for you as it did for me!
As always -