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Plot Reversals Shown in Scene

By Martha Alderson, M.A.

In real life, some people skate from one success to the next. Others hit a flat-line long before they ever actually die. Unlike people, all story characters suffer both ups and downs throughout the entire story.

These reversals play out in three major plot threads: Dramatic Action, Character Emotional Development, and the Thematic Significance. In other words, a story presents challenges that force a character to rethink her views and show what the ultimate transformation means overall.

Three Major Plot Threads

Plot Thread One

Dramatic Action filled with conflict, tension, suspense, or curiosity provides excitement. The Dramatic Action plotline gives the character something to be affected by and/or to affect.

Plot Thread Two

Character Emotional Development plot line offers audience identification. To care about what happens to a character, the audience must first care about the character.

Plot Thread Three

Thematic significance insures meaning.

Three Major Plot Reversals

Each of the three plot threads suffers at least one major reversal in each of the three parts of a story: the Beginning, the Middle, and the End.

The Beginning

In the final scene of the first 1/4 of the story, something happens that causes the first major reversal of the story. The End of the Beginning forces the protagonist to rethink life as she knows it and causes her to undertake a journey. In a scene signifying no turning back, the character heads into the heart of the journey and toward transformation.

The Middle

The character journeys into the story world where antagonists lie in wait. Each time the character falters, falls off track, gets turned around, is forced back to her old ways represents a minor reversal. The most significant reversal in the Middle occurs almost three-quarters of the way through the project at the Crisis.

Towards the end of the Middle and at the heart of the journey, stakes that have steadily risen in intensity culminate at the Crisis. At the Crisis, the dramatic action reaches the highest point in the story so far and shakes the character at her core.

The End

The protagonist now knows what's not working and goes in pursuit of what does. The Climax comes almost at the End of the story itself and shows the protagonist doing something she is now only able to do because of each of the tests and trials she underwent in the Middle. The action the protagonist takes in the Climax embodies her ultimate transformation.

The character starts the story in one place emotionally, suffers reversals in fortune, health, love, job, relationships, etc, and ends up in another place entirely. The best way to maximize the potential for each plot thread and for each major story scene is to analyze
your overall story plot and how the three threads unfold in each and every scene.

Keeping Track

1) The Plot Planner

Whether you write from a master plan or only later take the test, the Plot Planner keeps track of all the reversals, major and minor, for each of the three plot threads throughout the entire project. The Plot Planner mimics the Universal Story form and highlights the three major reversal points.

For Example:

Character Emotional Development Plot Line

To deepen your skill at showing character development, of the potential antagonists useful in creating dramatic action, the inner workings of the characters themselves offer the richest form of support. In terms of plot, the three basic character traits that have
the potential to create dramatic action scenes filled with conflict, tension and suspense or curiosity are the character's:

Flaw
Fear
Hatred

The End of the Beginning
In the Beginning of To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee introduces Scout, the protagonist, with the flaw, among others, of being insensitive to other people's feelings. At the End of the Beginning, Scout discovers her malevolent, across-the-street neighbor Boo is responsible for the blanket draped over her shoulders.

At the End of the Beginning, Scout is forced to reverse her thinking about her neighbor as all bad. She leaves behind her childish belief of Boo with bloodstained hands to enter an unknown world where every belief she has held to be true will be threatened.

The Crisis

In the Middle, Lee turns the tables on Scout. Now, rather than continue to see all the ways Scout demonstrates her insensitivity to others, the audience sees how Scout suffers the effects of others' insensitivity, from her cousin's acts of cruelty towards her to how a
white townsperson married to a black woman deals with the insensitivity of the community around him.

Towards the end of the Middle, Scout suffers a Crisis when she hears the jury's guilty verdict in Tom's rape case. This Dramatic Action forces Scout to reverse her ideas of not just her greatest fear, her across-the-street neighbor, but the entire community of people she has grown up around.

Scout's flaw is not the only antagonist that creates more conflict, tension and suspense in very scene. The Middle is fraught with antagonists of every sort. Her father serves as an antagonist when he asks Scout to control her temper and her fists. Because of scenes in
the Beginning showing Scout's impulsive fits of anger, the reader knows as well as Scout and her father just how hard it will be for the eight-year-old to control these two shadow aspects of herself.

Lee employs other antagonists in the Middle: an old mad dog down yonder; Mrs. Dubose, a neighbor who symbolizes the collective consciousness of the town folk or society at large; Aunt Alexandra; grown men of the community; etc.

The Climax

In the End, the dramatic action heightens to frenzy when Scout and her brother are attacked at night. Traditionally speaking, the protagonist affects the Climax of the story by doing something she was incapable of at the beginning of the story, and demonstrates true transformation.

Scout does not affect the change in the Dramatic Action Climax. However, because she intervened in the Middle of the book in a heroic way that ultimately saves her father and Tom both, she has proven she has heroic aptitude. The true Climax occurs in two smaller and successive moments after Scout realizes the stranger in her brother's sick room is, indeed, Boo.

At the End, Scout demonstrates her new-found compassion or the ability to walk in someone else's skin when she suggests Boo would be more comfortable in the shadows of the front porch and then again when she positions his arm so the neighbors will see him escorting her rather than she taking him home.

2) The Scene Tracker

After all three plot threads are plotted out for the overall story and meet the criteria for each of the three major scenes on a Plot Planner, next analyze each individual scene for reversals and its part in advancing each of the three major plot threads. A Scene Tracker shows which of the seven essential elements each individual scene contributes to and the overall affect step-by-step.

Meet the Author: Martha Alderson, M.A.

Martha Alderson, aka the Plot Whisperer, is the author of the Plot Whisperer series of plot books for writers: The Plot Whisperer Book of Prompts: Easy Exercises to Get You Writing, The Plot Whisperer Workbook: Step-by-Step Exercises to Help You Create Compelling Stories – a companion workbook to The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master. She has also written Blockbuster Plots Pure & Simple (Illusion Press) and several ebooks on plot. As an international plot consultant for writers, Martha’s clients include best-selling authors, New York editors, and Hollywood movie directors. She teaches plot workshops to novelists, mem...