WRITE:TALK is a blog series about the craft of Christian writing.
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Now that you've seen the Save the Cat plot structure outline for a story, from a previous post, why don't we try a trial plot? I think a run-through for practice could be an excellent next step. This will create a "tight outline." We will create a paragraph or two describing each beat in the plot outline. Once you have that, you are very close to beginning to write your story. So... Here We Go!
The New Story
- Character #1 Stanley Beaman, is fifty years old and is an unsuccessful Aeronautical Engineer that has burned every bridge. His crazy ideas have alienated him from his co-workers because they are too far out, never work, and are unrelated to the company's project of designing a computer system to run a local transit train.
- Tracy Stokes is a happy janitor for the company studying science on the side, dreaming of becoming a robotic engineer.
(NOW YOU MAKE UP TWO NEW CHARACTERS OF YOUR OWN)
- Opening Image : An opening snapshot that welcomes the reader into the story's world.
Stanley steps out of a shabby two-story brick building and locks the door. Clutter is seen inside, with mechanical things piled up, and a cat in the window. A young lady is waiting for him beside his beat-up compact car. They drive off with her talking constantly. They arrive at an aerospace corporation, park, and go their separate ways.
Later that day, Stanley is in his lab at his desk, working late as usual. It's a mess, and he has a strange gizmo on his desk and is poking his screwdriver at it. It is a pile of odd parts assembled together, unrecognizable. It makes a mechanical sound and pops. Smoke comes out and Stanley groans. He puts his head down on the desk in frustration. He looks at a calendar with red xs on days and reaches for the red marker. He says under his breath, "Lord, help me. It'll never work." (NOW WRITE YOUR OPENING IMAGE, then keep building your story after you read each step.)
- Theme Stated : We are introduced to the central theme or lesson of the story. This is a moral lesson that a side character states to the main character and can come in the Set up stage.
Stanley looks at a sign that reads: Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed Proverbs 16:3. He hears a squeaky wheel. It's Tracy pushing her trashcan into his office. She tells him not to give up. She goes into her story and dreams. She is talkative and animated.
- Set Up [1-10]: The hero and the 'ordinary world' are introduced. A longer beat that shows relevant detail and the MC status quo.
She asks him if he is ready to go. They carpool in his shabby car, with lots of clutter. They discuss on the way their backstory and encourage each other. Stanley is ready to give up on his invention of a sentient AI. They arrive at her place, which is a 2nd story apartment over his cluttered place downstairs. He owns the building. She hops upstairs to a neat, swanky living room, and downstairs, he shoves junk out of the way and feeds the cat, Mr. Tangle. He has toy robots sitting on shelves from a childhood collection.
The cat knocks over one of the toy robots, making a crashing noise as it sets off another really loud amplifier. Tracy sticks her head in an opening from above and asks if he is alright, starting a conversation, and offering to bring dinner downstairs for him. He gets buried in thought on one of the gizmos on the work desk in the apartment. She says something in the conversation which sparks an idea and he begins to work on the new idea, and she wanders back to her apartment after comforting Mr. Tangles.
- Catalyst : Something happens that sets the story in motion. This breaks the status quo and presents an opportunity.
The next day at the office, a fellow worker teases Stanley, and his boss gets on him for being behind schedule. The gizmo pops on its own, but they barely notice it. Later that day he takes a lunch break and the words "Stam-ree" come out of the gizmo. He looks but doesn't believe it. He thinks he made it up in his head - but gets interested. His boss interrupts him demanding he make progress on the schedule for the company and threatens to let him go. He puts the gizmo into a closed drawer. After everyone is gone for the day, the gismo is doing something and makes enough noise that Stanley opens the drawer and looks at a dead hunk of junk. He pokes at it, but nothing happens so he closes the drawer.
- Debate [12-25]: The hero is hesitant to take action, and discusses whether to take the opportunity.
Tracy comes by and asks "What's new?"He tells her that his gizmo must have said something. She can't believe it, they look at it, but nothing happens. She tells him he should start his own business: have faith and go out and do something on his own. They get up and he leaves the gizmo at his desk, then comes back to get it, and puts it in his tote bag. Back at the apartment- dinner as usual, except, Mr. Tangle hisses at his tote bag and circles carefully. They take a look at it again and open the bag to find a lit-up small robot.
- Break Into Two : The hero takes up the challenge. A plan is set into motion.
Surprised, the cat runs off, and Tracy and Stanley close in to inspect. "Stam-ree" is voiced again by the gizmo. It attempts to stand. It has made two rudimentary metal sticks to stand on. It falls back down and says "Ouch." They look at each other and are overjoyed. They do a happy dance. When they come back to Gismo he seems dead again.
- B Story : The subplot kicks in, introducing a character who helps the hero in their transformation. This is often a new relationship.
- Banging on the door interrupts them. It's Barker Stoval, the loan collector ready to get his payment or put a lien on the building. He is the son of the lender - QuickyLoan Inc., thus he is Tracy's age. He's interested in her and uses an endearing nickname, Trace. It doesn't have its intended effect. She is kind but firm - not interested in Barker. He is stern with Stanley with threats to take the building, but nice to Tracy. He changes in mid-conversation between the two. Promises are made to get the rent and they close the door while Barker is trying to get one more flirt in with Tracy.
- Fun and Games [30-55]: The hero in the throes of their challenge or journey. The promise of the premise plays out as the goal is pursued.
- They get back to work on the project and try several things to help it. They name it Gismo with an S instead of a Z and build him better legs, and a face. Working late, they talk about their dreams and fears. He fears that he is no good. She fears that she will be trapped as a janitor, not getting through school, and always picking up after people. Working so late they fall asleep with no luck. The next day Tracy brings down breakfast to a sleeping Stanley and drops the tray as she sees a standing Gismo, swaying slightly. She wakes Stanley, they look, and Gismo looks at Tracy and says Mom-ma.
- Midpoint : The stakes are raised as a false victory or false defeat happens.
- Mr. Tangle comes in and hisses at Gismo, which scares him and he blinks out and falls over. He seems dead. They can't revive him no matter what they try. They are late for work and have to go. They stuff him in the tote bag and speed off to work. He is late and gets a reaming from the boss. Nearly gets fired again. Has to work on company projects instead of Gismo. He looks in the drawer, Gismo is still dead. No life. Stanley looks at his calendar and red Xs and the sign.
- Bad Guys Close In [55-75]: Things start going downhill for the hero. Antagonist threatens.
- The boss calls Stanley to his office for his annual review and fires him. He packs up his stuff and can't find Gismo. Looking around he sees him out of reach on a computer above the boss's head. Talking to the boss, Stanley has to glance only occasionally at Gismo as he crawls into the computer when trouble begins. Gismo is doing something to the main frame, and fluid gets spilled. Tracy is yelled at to come and clean up, while Stanley is packing his things up and watching for Gismo, lifting panels, crawling under tables, and trying to get his new creation. The computer dies and the room dims. The boss doesn't know what to do, so he tells Stanley to stay and fix it. When he can't the boss fires Stanley.
- All is Lost : Things go from bad to worse. The hero hits rock bottom. It seems as if there is no way forward.
- Stanley gets Gismo with Tracey's help and they go home only to find the debt collector waiting for them. He announces that he is taking possession of the building in 3 days, and makes a pass at Tracy. They get rid of him and get inside to pull out Gismo, who has devolved into less than he was. One arm has fallen off, and he has no life. They work again on him, in a scene that looks like a surgery that night. Finally, they say a prayer over him, asking God for help.
- Dark Night of the Soul [75-85]: Faced with defeat, the hero must reckon with their loss and how they got there.
- A conversation about the loss of the job and the building takes place. All seems lost with the dead robot and no money to pay back the loan Stanley took out for all of the equipment. They brainstorm ways to find money, with no luck. Late that night after they go to bed, a light blinks on Gismo. An electrical spark from another machine on the desk comes to life.
- Break Into Three : The hero realizes a truth that’s been evading them all this time. A new plan is hatched for a final attempt to reach a goal.
- Stanley wakes to hear Tracy yelling for him from above. When he climbs up to her apartment, he sees Gismo riding around on the back of Mr. Tangles. "He's alive!" they scream. "And he can ride a cat."
- Finale [85-110]: Putting their new awareness into action, the hero conquers the bad guys. Highest tension in the story where the goal is won or sometimes lost.
- Backstage somewhere unrevealed, Stanley looks nervous as Tracy tries to reassure him. She is holding Mr. Tangle and petting him, as they hear applause in the background. An announcer's voice is talking as a crew member approaches Stanley who is holding his tote bag. "Are you ready?" Stanley shakes his head, looks down into the tote bag, and asks the same question. They hear the announcer state: "Please welcome, Mr. Tangles and Gismo!" Curtains part to find them in front of the Tonight Show crowd. Gismo is brought out of the tote bag and mounted on Mr. Tangles. They strut around the stage to a roaring crowd.
- Final Image : A snapshot that mirrors or contrasts the opening image.
- The fresh newly styled two-story building with a sign reading: Gismo Inc. is seen. Inside Tracy is at work in the new lab with Stanley. Several sentient robots are in the process of being built by Stanley, Tracy, and Gismo on cat-back.
- So that's it. It's not the greatest, but it was fun. I did it in one sitting to show you how this can happen. In reality on your story, you may need to work for a while to get this tight outline tuned just right.
ASSIGNMENT: You try it.
"As iron sharpens iron, so one sharpens another,"