English Major Stuff

Normally, this site is dedicated to nonfiction technical writing. However, I had to put my old English major skills to work this past week helping a friend describe the various parts of a story. Being the geek that I am, I decided to use Star Wars (the original) as my example. Perhaps this will be of some use to you.

Hook: What does the author do to get the reader interested in the story? Usually it’s a short sentence or a strange circumstance, or a curious/unique style. In Star Wars, the “hook” is a dramatic battle between two starships in orbit above Tatooine. Lots of action, lots of pretty effects, high technology, etc. The “hooks” are the look and feel of this new “universe.”
Ordinary World: To me, the story protagonist’s “ordinary world” would be the life that existed for the protagonist prior to the inciting incident (below). The character has had an expected way of life prior to the story–in Luke Skywalker’s case, a moisture farmer on the planet Tatooine–a period of stasis that was relatively consistent and didn’t need to be written about. Luke is a bored, frustrated teenager who wants to go off on an adventure somewhere.
Inciting Incident: An inciting incident shakes your lead character(s) out of their previous comfort level and into the story that the author wants tell. To return to my Star Wars reference, while there’s some shooting on the front end of the movie, the story really doesn’t get moving for Luke Skywalker until R2D2 runs away or his aunt and uncle are killed. The first action forces him out of his comfort zone while the second forces him to join up with Ben Kenobi, learn about the force, and face the big, bad universe on his own.
Rising Challenges: These are also called reversals because they are setbacks that block Luke from his primary goal, which is stopping Darth Vader’s Death Star. Luke faces a series of challenges on his way to galactic fame: hostile aliens push him around in the Mos Eiseley cantina, the ship he and Ben charter is captured by the Death Star, the heroes have to rescue the princess from the Death Star’s detention block, Ben is killed in a lightsaber duel, Han and Luke have to fend off TIE fighters after leaving the Death Star, and Luke and the rebels must face the firepower of the Death Star and its TIE fighters on the way to destroy it.
Climax/Resolution: The climax of the film comes when Luke joins the fight to overcome the tale’s central problem: the Death Star. The problem is resolved when he trusts in the force to do the work instead of his machines.
Denouement: Also called falling action, these are the activities that occur in a story after the central crisis/problem is confronted, and they are usually mercifully short. In Star Wars, everything that happens after the Death Star is destroyed is falling action–returning to Yavin IV, the reunion of the heroes, the ceremony at the end. The falling action gives the audience some sense of release. With the great tension of the story’s central conflict resolved, we can relax with the protagonist and expect that after the events of the story are concluded, he can look forward to a happier or more stable “ordinary world” afterward.

Check out Essentials of Screenwriting by Richard Walter for further reading on the basics of story craft. I’m reading it right now as a potential alternate creative outlet. If anything, movie writing teaches you one important thing: “Don’t be boring.”

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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