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Focusing on the TEAM
Writing Your Act III: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors
We’ve been going through the essential steps of Act III, but this post is for everyone, no matter where you are in your book or script!
For those of you just joining, I’ll be referring to the basic Three-Act, Eight-Sequence structure (which is really four distinct acts), which on a chart looks like this:
Three-Act Eight-Sequence Structure Story Grid
Focusing on the Team
The TEAM is the collection of allies: family, friends, teachers, kind strangers - who help the Hero/ine achieve the DESIRE that is driving the action of the story.
Let’s go through each Act, looking specifically at the role of the Team, so you can see how you can weave this element through an entire book or script as a powerful and meaningful subplot.
We may meet the Team in Act I, or they might not show up until Act II: Part 1.
They might be a collection of friends or colleagues or family (or just one or two) that already exists (Selma, Encanto, Notting Hill, The Incredibles, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Made of Honor, Sleepless in Seattle, The Matrix).
They might come together pretty quickly, in one focused sequence that you could call ASSEMBLING THE TEAM (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Wizard of Oz, The Hunger Games).
Or they might join the Hero/ine gradually, throughout Act I and Act II:1 (Gladiator, Silence of the Lambs), and once in a while, even in Act II:2.
The Hero/ine may deliberately go out and collect this Team (Ocean’s 11, Inception, Armageddon, The Seven Samurai). Or, just as in real life, when the Hero/ine declares a Desire or Intention, the Universe sends help!
But let me say right here:
It is really important that your main Team members have their own DESIRES.
Nothing is more boring and shallow and fake and embarrassing than an ally who exists only to help the Hero/ine. That is just bad writing, period. Make sure your main supporting characters have lives and desires of their own!
In a simpler story you may only have one or two Team members. When you have fewer, it’s even more important that they get their desires.
Think of mega-classics like The Wizard of Oz, and Jaws. You don’t even have to watch those movies again to say right now what each Team member wants, right?
In stories with larger teams, the Team might all have the same desire, or slight variations on the same desire. (Selma, The Dirty Dozen, Inception, Harry Potter)
One of the most satisfying things (for your reader or audience) you can do in your book or script is to show beloved Team members getting their heart’s desire. It’s a huge element of Act III.
So no matter where you are in your writing process, take a minute (or as long as it takes) to remind yourself of your Team members’ DESIRES. Or figure them out, if you haven’t already!
In the second quarter of a book or script, Act II: Part 1, the Team is usually quite involved in the story action.
The Protagonist has given them a Mission (THE PLAN).
The Team (including the Protagonist) might TRAIN, in a scene or a whole TRAINING SEQUENCE, to get ready for the Mission.
During the training and first TESTS, there will be TEAM BONDING—which is one of the biggest delights we get out of a story.
Team members’ weaknesses and fears will also be SET UP - to later be tested in battle (whether that’s a battle against the Empire or a battle for true love). These set ups fall into the category of PLANTS and PAYOFFS.
And at the MIDPOINT, there is often some kind of Battle or Test that involves the Team.
You’re more likely to see the Team involved in the Midpoint of an action, thriller or adventure story or a comedy.
A romance will often have a Midpoint just between the two lovers.
But - a romantic comedy, like Philadelphia Story; or romantic comedy adventure, like Romancing the Stone, will often have a bigger, more action-oriented Midpoint that involves the Team, too.
In the Downward Spiral of Act II:2, the action of the story will often focus more on the Hero/ine than the Team.
One of the elements we usually see in the third quarter of a book or script is that the increasingly desperate Hero/ine Makes Mistakes and Crosses a Moral Line to get what they want. And this tends to lose them some Team members.
As the Hero/ine starts to lose it, Team members might bail on them.
In darker stories, a Team member may die or be injured because of the Hero/ine’s obsession.
The increasing chaos we see in Act II:2 brings out the individual Team members’ fears and weaknesses —and further fractures the Team.
You can see that these fractures in the Team would contribute to the Downward Spiral!
And it’s a pattern of drama we see over and over again because, let’s face it—we’ve all been there. Remember, we’re heading toward the Hero/ine’s DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL, or ALL IS LOST Moment, and that crucible is something we usually have to go through alone.
But once the Hero/ine has had that REVELATION or found that CLUE that comes out of the ALL IS LOST MOMENT—
— The Team is going to REASSEMBLE FOR THE FINAL BATTLE.
The Hero/ine usually calls the Team back.
The Hero/ine gives the Team the NEW PLAN based on that Revelation from the All is Lost scene.
The Team may have to briefly TRAIN again, or GATHER TOOLS or WEAPONS.
And then the Protagonist and Team STORM THE CASTLE, as we’ve been talking about in the last several posts.
STORMING THE CASTLE often involves a TEAM BATTLE before the FINAL BATTLE.
The allies get to shine in this battle: their strengths and weaknesses are tested, PLANTS are paid off, and allies who have been at each other’s throats for the whole story suddenly reconcile and work together.
The Team Battle often involves the DEFEAT OF SECONDARY OPPONENTS or MINIONS. If we’ve come to hate a secondary opponent, we need to see them get their comeuppance in a satisfying way — think of Fanny and Lucy Steele cat-fighting in Sense and Sensibility; and Belloq, General Strasser, and Major Toht’s faces melting in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
This Team Battle is often the place that we see Team members get their DESIRE. Two team members might suddenly realize in battle that they’re actually in love. Or a team member realizes their true calling. Or has an unexpected Character Arc (like Han Solo returning to fight with Luke and Leia in the first Star Wars).
Of course, the TEAM BATTLE is generally a big, noisy SETPIECE scene.
It seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? — to have the bigger battle first, then a much more intimate FINAL BATTLE between just the Protagonist and Antagonist?
But that’s almost always the way it works. The action-filled, sometimes comic Team Battle sets up a great contrast for the sudden, intense, quiet focus between the two main characters. (I’ll say it again: these big CONTRASTS are a key to creating great drama.)
And just a reminder: in a romance, the antagonist is very often the love interest, and the Final Battle is between the lovers.
EPILOGUE: CEREMONY AND FINAL BOWS
In the Epilogue, we want to see the Hero/ine’s NEW WAY OF LIFE - a glimpse of the usually much better life they’re going to lead after the transformation they’ve gone through during the story. (Of course in a tragedy, this will be a much worse life.)
But the other components we often see at the end of a book or script are the CEREMONY/AWARDS and FINAL BOWS.
Not all stories have a ceremony in the epilogue; most movies and books wrap up very quickly after the final battle. But a story with mythic structure often has a longer resolution in which the CEREMONY is an important final step: the returning hero/ines are ceremoniously honored by the community that they have saved, often with AWARDS. You can see it in the first Harry Potter (the awarding of points and the announcement of the winner of the House Cup) and in The Wizard of Oz (the presentation of brains, heart, and courage to the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion). This element is often present in war stories or stories about the military (An Officer and a Gentleman), and in fantasies and science fiction (The Hunger Games, Spirited Away and the original Star Wars).
Of course, in a romance, the ceremony may be a marriage ceremony, or a significant holiday party.
The CEREMONY also incorporates a really important element of drama: THE FINAL BOWS.
This element is of course taken from theater, where at the end of a play, all the characters literally come out on stage and bow before the audience for applause.
But you need to give your important minor characters their FINAL BOWS in a book or script, too! Whether it’s in the midst of the Final Battle, or in the Epilogue, we want to get a last glimpse of these people we’ve grown to love. Don’t let them disappear without a final moment, or your reader or audience will feel there’s something missing.
Now, do you have to follow all these steps in this exact order? OF COURSE NOT.
I’m laying them out for you because I’ve analyzed hundreds, and worked with thousands, of different movies, scripts and books—and these are patterns I see over and over again in successful stories.
But as always, take what will work for you and leave the rest!
(If you’re working on creating a Team for your own book or script, it may also be useful to read up on CHARACTER CLUSTERS - Chapter 37 of Stealing Hollywood, with examples throughout the workbook.)
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From Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, © Alexandra Sokoloff