This is my summary of a short, helpful book by James Scott Bell:
Super Structure: The Key to Unleashing the Power of Story
I wrote this outline for myself, so that I can refer to it later without having to re-read the book.
The book is free through Kindle Unlimited. I chose to read this one from Bell because it was published in 2015. I like my writing advice to be as current and relevant as possible.
The best part about this book is that, every step of the way, Bell gives great examples from classic stories like Gone with the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, Wizard of Oz, The Fugitive, Lethal Weapon, and The Hunger Games.
- Disturbance – the opening hook, the shocking scene, the striking of the match, that draws us into the story.
- Care Package – a relationship that the protagonist has with someone else, in which he shows his true concern, something that humanizes the protagonist and garners sympathy from the reader.
- Argument against Transformation – a way to emphasize theme and set up a character transformation. Example is Dorothy, at the beginning of the Wizard of Oz, dreaming to run away, to go someplace far away from home. At the end, when she learns there is no place like home, her character has been tied up in a satisfying arc.
- Trouble Brewing – somehow we get a glimpse of the great trouble that is brewing in the near future. We don’t see the full scope of it, just a hint for now that builds suspense.
- Doorway of No Return #1 – there can be no going back to the world as it used to be. The stakes have been raised to “Life or Death.” Either physical, psychological, or professional death is now on the line.
- Kick in the Shins – the first challenge on the protagonist’s way to the main conflict. Often a “deepening” of the emotional stakes. Or it could be an action scene in a thriller. Either way it sets the stage for conflict that is building and will continue to build.
- The Mirror Moment – This is one of the key beats for Bell. It’s one of the ideas that make his theory unique. He says you can open up to the middle of a good novel and find it, or you can go straight to the middle of a good movie and find it. The Mirror Moment is when the main character has to look at himself. They have a moment of introspection and probably dismay. They think, Who am I? What have I done? I can’t win this battle – I’m going to die. Bell theorizes that “The Mirror Moment” is a good way to plot your story, or to write “from the middle out,” because of the sheer thematic significance of this moment in any character arc or story.
- Pet the Dog – this is an often used beat that can happen once or twice or multiple times throughout a story. It’s when the main character does something good-natured, usually to their own disadvantage. These events deepen the emotional connection to the protagonist and assist their hero character arc on it’s way from selfishness to selflessness.
- Doorway of No Return #2 – Act II will go on forever (tension keeps rising and rising) until there is a crucial moment that catapults us into the climax. Close to the end of the story, something happens that really sets the life or death stakes. In Doorway of No Return #1, many things are still unknown, to the reader and the protagonist himself. Now after Doorway #2, the inevitable conclusion is becoming clear.
- Mounting Forces – the opposition gathers it’s wits. The antagonist powers seem to gain momentum. Things are not looking good for the good guys.
- Lights Out – all seems lost. There is no way that the hero can work his way out of this mess. Or it could represent a terrible dilemma where the hero has no good choice. Either way, the reader ideally sees no “good” outcome at this point.
- Q Factor – named after the character “Q” in the James Bond movies. It’s the extra edge that the protagonist finds at the last second, the last bit of courage or resiliency drawn up from the past. In a James Bond movie it’s the special gadget that he was given back in Act I that now comes into play. Often, the Q factor is an emotional element that comes into play when the hero needs it most, a “remembering”, or a “resolve”, or some reservoir of purpose that the hero pulls from.
- Final Battle – without the final battle there is no story. Everything leads to this point. It provides the release from the tension that up till now has only been building. Without the final battle, there is no resolution, and therefore no story.
- Transformation – the final note that you want the reader to walk away with. We need affirmation that the main character has changed, that some sort of transformation has taken place. Bell says, “a story isn’t over until the character changes.”