The following is the 7th installment in our series on story structure. Prior posts are available in the Story Structure Series tab in the Categories menu.
#7 – The Part 3 Attack
They don’t call them heroes for nothing. But thus far, through the Part 1 set-up and the Part 2 response, we haven’t seen many heroic chops from our protagonist. In fact we’ve watched our hero respond to her or his calling and the forces that oppose it with very human decisions and actions.
It is the humanity of their agenda in Part 1, and the empathy toward their response in Part 2, that hook the reader into your story. This is where we cement the relationship between hero and reader, because readers a) see part of themselves in this character, b) can feel what they’re going through, and c) are strapped in for a vicarious ride that allows them to escape their boring real life existence. That’s why they’re reading your story, and it’s incumbent upon you to deliver on these counts.
And it’s time for your hero to step up. Because now we’re in Part 3 of the story, and now is when the hero really gets down to business.
While Part 2 was about the hero’s response to Plot Point One (just as Part 1 one was a set-up for it), Part 3 is a full-on proactive attack to solve the problem at hand. It’s a pretty simple mission, really, but one with a few subtleties that empower it.
You may already have had your hero attempt to do something proactive back in Part 2, in fact it’s not a bad way to create momentum and tension. Hitting back is certainly a logical response to things that affect us. If you’ve had children you know this is so.
But none of that worked very well, at least in your story. In fact, it mainly just showed us how committed and powerful and cunning and sinister and complex the antagonistic force really is. The tension goes up because we know the hero is going to have to go deep and wide to meet their goal and smack down the bad guy.
Quick aside: I keep referring to an antagonistic force in these posts. That can take many forms – the bad guy, a sinister organization, the weather, a crappy boss, aliens who want to enslave earth, a cheating spouse, etc. But not all stories are about squaring off with evil. Just as many are about finding love or solving a problem for the betterment of mankind. About redemption and justice.
But in every story there must be opposition to what the hero wants and needs to accomplish in response to the First Plot Point – which, by definition, launches them on a new path – be it the avoidance of darkness or the attainment of something wonderful. It is that opposition, or obstacle, that is the antagonistic force. It’s usually a person – the bad guy, or someone who is not so bad but has a different agenda blocking the hero’s way – but it can be a force of nature or some social pressure.
Or the I.R.S. We can all empathize with that.
Back to Part 3.
Whatever the antagonistic force in your story is, it’s about to confront the emerging hero in your protagonist. Part 3 is where the hero literally fights back, hatches a plan, enlists assistance, demonstrates courage, shows initiative.
This is when they step up. They evolve from responder to attacker. From wanderer to warrior.
And just as importantly, this is where they begin to really fight about against their inner demon. Back in Part 1 you established some inner dialogue or programming for the hero that holds them back, and you’ve seen that weak link in play as a factor in whatever influenced and/or foiled the response efforts in Part 2.
But a good hero sees and acknowledges their own flaws, and here in Part 3 they begin to adjust and accommodate. They get over themselves in order to do what they must to reach their goal.
As in Part 2, these twelve-ish Part 3 proactive attack scenes – beginning at the Mid-Point and leading into the Second Plot Point, which arrives at about the 75th percentile mark – must once again show us, front and center, what stands in the hero’s way. And that flash of opposition should be pure and dramatic.
In fact, you need to devote entire – if not economical – scene to that mission.
It’s the Second Pinch Point, and it happens squarely in the middle of Part 3. It’s yet another demonstration of the nature, power and very essence of the antagonistic force. And it’s more frightening and unwavering than ever.
And like the hero, the antagonist has evolved, too. They’ve learned how the hero is fighting back, they’ve overcome their own weaknesses in pursuit of their own quest. This is how tension and pacing increases, because everybody’s picking up their game by this point.
We’ll cover these Pinch Points in more detail in entry #9 of this series, but for now put a placeholder in the middle of Parts 2 and 3 for it.
A quick example from The DaVinci Code: Robert Langdon spends the majority of Part 2 dodging those who are trying to kill him. You remember, the albino guy with the spikes strapped to his thigh to remind him of his mission: eliminate people who are getting too close to the truth. Preferrably in a church. But in Part 3 Langdon begins to wise up. He’s chasing leads into dark places, including churches, instead of escaping into them as refuge.
Read the book again, or rent the DVD. You’ll see this story structure in its full 4-part glory, complete with plot points and pinch points that might as well have sub-titled announcement graphics. That, and the conceptual juice at the heart of it, not to mention its themes, is the reason The DaVinci Code is the most successful single piece of commercial fiction in history.
Tomorrow’s post: #8 – The Second Plot Point