Signposts

by Damar Anzig
(India)

Question: "each signpost is an event that may be subdivided into three or four smaller events, becoming thus a sequence itself. Each signpost can have its own ...

Scene 1: Inciting event
Scene 2: Complication
Scene 3: Conflict
Scene 4: Resolution
Turning your 16 signposts into sequences will give you 48-64 events or scenes"

How can "Overall Signpost #1: The inciting incident" have Inciting Event, Complication, Conflict, and Resolution? Pls. explain with adequate illustrations.

Answer: Let's take Star Wars: Episode 1, A New Hope as an example.

The first signpost of the overall story is "Delivering the stolen plans to Obi wan Kenobi."

This signpost is the Setup of the overall story, but it is subdivided into its own four-stage arc:

1. Inciting event (or Setup): R2D2 escapes Princess Leia's ship with the stolen plans and a message for Obi wan.

2. Complication: R2D2 is captured and sold to a farmer who plans to erase his memory (including the plans).

3. Conflict or Crisis: R2D2 escapes and tries to reach Obi wan, but is intercepted by Luke and C3PO and the party is attacked by Sand People. During the attack Obi wan shows up and drives off the Sand People.

4. Resolution: R2D2 can finally deliver his message to Obi wan.

In fact, we could go a step further. If we take the first stage of this sequence, "R2D2 escapes Princess Leia's ship with the stolen plans and a message for Obi wan," we can see that it too is divided into a sequence:

1.1: Setup: Imperial troops board Leia's ship in search of the stolen plans.

1.2: Complication: Leia secretly entrusts the stolen plans to R2D2 and orders him to take an escape pod and find Obi wan.

1.3: Crisis: Imperial troops capture Leia, but cannot find the stolen plans, nor can their scanners detect R2D2 aboard the escape pod.

1.4: Resolution: R2D2 arrives safely on Tatooine with his friend C3PO.

Now could you have presented the overall story signpost #1 in one scene? Sure. You could have simply shown Obi wan sitting at home one night. He answers a knock at the door and finds R2D2 there, who delivers the Princess's message. And if you were writing a half-hour screenplay, that might be what you do.

The point is that you can expand or contract the length of your story without padding or leaving any important steps out.

You can turn single events into sequences, or sequences into single events, depending on the length of work you are writing and the story you want to tell. Every event will still be an integral part of a dramatic arc.

Comments for Signposts

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Feb 25, 2014
Brilliant!
by: Damar Anzig

Thanks Glen for enlightening me.

Feb 28, 2014
subplots
by: Damar Anzig

Hi Glen,

Pls. oblige me by answering these few stupid questions.

1. Can you tell me your TOP 10 literary classics with the narrator, MC (principal POV), and protagonist distinct from each other?

2. If the MC is the character that needs to change at the climax of the Main Plot, can his story be a subplot?

3. Can the Impact Character's story be another subplot and if so can I tie the resolution of the IC arc to the resolution of the Main Plot?

Thanks for being there.

Feb 28, 2014
Response
by: Glen

re: 2 & 3: Dramatica calls the main character's arc and the impact character's arc "throughlines" rather than subplots, so as not to confuse them with less important subplots.

re: 1: It's fairly common to have the main character and narrator be the same, even when the protagonist is someone else (examples: The Great Gatsby, Romeo & Juliet, Equus, Moby Dick).

When the main character and protagonist are the same, but the narrator is different, that's usually an omniscient or character narrator, as in Wuthering Heights.

I don't think it's possible to have the narrator and protagonist the same, but the main character different.

Mar 01, 2014
subplots
by: Damar Anzig

Thank you again Glen.

1. By the way what's the standard, industry-endorsed ratio of througline volume? 35% main plot? 25% main character throughline? some % for impact character throughline and relationship arc.

2. Should the impact character of the protagonist be a character other than the main character or would it be alright for the two to influence each other?


Mar 01, 2014
Response
by: Glen

1. "...standard, industry-endorsed ratio of througline volume?"

Seriously? Would you really want your creativity curtailed by something as formulaic and rigid as an industry-endorsed ratio?

Take any signpost, in any throughline. It can be as short as a single line or as long as a lengthy sequence. What matters is that it is there to be appreciated by the reader, so there are no plot holes. Beyond that, you follow your instincts about the needs of the story you're writing.

2. The guideline is that the main and impact characters are different, so that internal conflict is created. Either one can also be the protagonist.

The quasi-exception are stories in which the impact character exists only in the main character's imagination, so that their argument occurs inside the main character's head.

Sep 19, 2014
Rejoinder
by: Damar Anzig

Hi Glen,

1. "...standard, industry-endorsed ratio of througline volume?"

Seriously? Would you really want your creativity curtailed by something as formulaic and rigid as an industry-endorsed ratio?

Ha-ha-ha...perhaps "standard, industry-endorsed ratio of througline volume" is overkill, but what I really meant was, there has to be acceptable aesthetics of balance. Take the human body for instance, would you prefer an elongated head, on top of a deflated accordion torso on top of a Chinese bamboo-high pair of legs? If this translates to wordage, what would be the ideal count, aesthetically, as opposed to "industry-endorsed" ?

Oblige me :)

Sep 20, 2014
Re: ratio
by: Glen

There is no standard, though genre does play a role. For instance, romances tend to emphasize the relationship throughline while the overall throughline may be pushed into the background or be merely a device to get the two lovers to interact. In adventures, thrillers, or other plot-driven stories, a disproportionate amount of time/space will be given to the overall throughline, whereas in character-driven stories it will take a backseat.

And there are always exceptions. You just have to trust your instincts and interests.

Oct 13, 2014
MCA Signpost
by: Anonymous

Hi Glen,

1. Would you kindly provide a similar illustration of signposts (Initial Rising Action, Complication, Climax, and Resolution) for the Initial Rising Action signpost of the Main Character Arc (MCA), the Impact Character Arc, and the Relationship Arc ???

2. If the MCA is all about choices, decisions, attitude, and perspective as you have explained, how can it be made manifest? How does it translate to tangible actions that can be projected on the screen?

3. If my main character (Principal Point of View) is also the Protagonist (the one pursuing the story goal) would it mean that my Main Plot Arc and Main Character Arc is basically one and the same? The delineation seem clear when the protagonist (pursuing the main story goal in the Main Plot Arc) and the Main Character are separate entities. What do you say?

4. Are these arcs separate chapters or are they woven into the Main Plot Arc?

5. Does the Impact Character need to pursue its own goal or is it just a convenient utility to show the Main Character alternative actions or attitude (view) ?

6. How would these signposts look on a timeline?

Again, thank you and best regards.

Oct 13, 2014
re: main character throughline
by: Glen

Re: 1 and 2... All the throughlines can be illustrated by events.

Take a look at the opening sequence of just about any James Bond film (or other action film). Usually, it is a 10-minute mini-story which may be the inciting incident of the overall plot, but more often serves as either...

1) MC Signpost 1: Illustrates who the main character is at the start of the story, his skills, attitude, problem-solving style, etc.

2) Relationship Signpost 1: Illustrates the initial relationship between the main and impact characters (are they rivals, lovers, enemies, friends, etc.?)

In the case of Luke Skywalker, his arc goes like this...

S1: Luke's argument with his uncle shows he lacks the confidence to stand up to his uncle and pursue his dreams.

S2: Luke's training with the remote (while blindfolded) shows him struggling to gain awareness of the Force and trust his feelings.

S3: Luke's personal crisis is the moment when he shuts off his targeting computer and decides to trust his own feelings as to when to fire on the Death Star.

S4: Luke gets a medal from the Princess, showing that he made the right choice and has earned the confidence of his friends and allies.

Re: 3

At the same time as Luke's personal arc is progressing, Luke plays the role of Protagonist, pursuing the overall story goal of destroying the Death Star. This is illustrated with other events and the two throughlines run parallel. Emotional depth is created when the protagonist/main character pursues the overall goal while at the same time dealing with his internal, personal struggle.

Re 4: Each arc should unfold via its own series of events. Whether these appear in separate chapters or scenes is up to the writer.

Re 5: It is through watching the impact character wrestle with his/her own concern that the main character is forced to question his approach. For instance, when Luke observes how Obi wan deals with situations confidently (even letting himself apparently be killed by Darth Vader), it inspires him to trust in himself.

Re 6: It helps to work out all four throughlines separately at first, and then braid them together into one master sequence. The guideline is to completely show the first signposts from all throughlines (in any order) before moving on any of the second signposts, etc. This creates the feeling of acts.

Oct 14, 2014
wonderful illustration
by: Damaranzig

Thanks again, Glen for being the archetypal Guide in this story.

1. BTW, is the 3rd person limited POV essentially the same as 3rd person subjective POV ? Can both go beyond space and time or do they hang on the eyelashes of the character POV ? I realise this question belongs to a different thread but pls. oblige me. Thanks.

Oct 14, 2014
3rd person limited/subjective
by: Glen

Yes, they are the same thing. What makes them limited or subjective is that the reader perceives the story from the point of view of one character, as opposed to omniscient narration where the perspective is broad and can switch from place to place and person to person.

Oct 27, 2015
Awesome mentoring
by: Claudia

You are truly our own Obi Wan! Excellent explanation. I always find myself coming back for more.

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