A Strong Spine
In life a strong spine means a strong body, upright posture and the ability to move with agility and force. A plot is not all that different. A strong Story Spine ensures that your plot will move with a forcefulness that compels the reader to stay engaged.
Elements of a Story Spine
After we have figured out our loglines, worked out our plots, done a beatsheet and written up our outlines, it’s time to write. Along the way from logline to outline, things changes. Characters are combined, eliminated or created anew. Locations changes. Story points get moved around.
While this creative change is occurring, we need to make sure that our plots still work. The best way of doing that is by using this handy checklist to make sure we are on the right track.
Spine Structure Checklist
1. Who is your MAIN CHARACTER?
S/he is a specific and original person with a unique, defining quality:
“A(n) _(adjective)_ _(male/female with a distinct skill, trait, job etc.) who wants…”
2. What is the INCITING INCIDENT that sets your story in motion?
What is the event that forces your character to begin to engage in your story?
3. What does is the CLEAR WANT that your main character has…?
Literally. And specifically. What does your main character want? Whatever it is, whether or not they get it, that goal/desire/need/want should be in the logline. Whether or not s/he obtains it will come later. This want will be the dramatic goal for the rest of the script.
4. What ACTION CHOICE does your main character make to obtain his/her want?
This choice is what sets the plot in motion. It is the transition from Act One to Act Two. This action will drive the plot to its dramatic end.
5. Who is the ANTAGONIST who prevents the main character from achieving his/her goal?
Who is your antagonist? What is the obstacle the main character faces? Who is the person who personifies this obstacle?
6. What is the MIDPOINT SHIFT that creates an epiphany for your main characters as to what s/he is facing and what s/he must do to satisfy the Clear Want?
This is the midpoint in your script and the End of Act Two. It is the moment when the main character realizes something about his or her situation that clarifies what s/he is up against and/or what s/he must do achieve the thing they want.
7. What creates the RISING CONFLICT and how do the STAKES INCREASE as your main character moves forward?
Based on the epiphany of the Midpoint Shift, what action choice does your main character take? In what ways does that force a greater response from the antagonist to prevent your main character from achieving his/her goal? In the process, how are the stakes increased? What does your main character stand to lose if s/he fails?
8.What is the LOWEST MOMENT in your story?
At the end of Act Three, in what way is your main character the furthest from achieving his/her goal as possible? How have the attempts at achieving the Clear Want from Act One failed? What stakes appears to be lost for the main character
9. When faced with defeat, what MOMENT OF RESILIENCE enables your main character to continue?
This is the beginning of Act Four. Having hit his/her lowest moment, what does your main character do about it? How does s/he find the inspiration to continue, and what is the Action Choice that your main character takes?
10. What is the CLIMAX of that struggle?
This occurs in Act Four of your script. How does your main character pursue his/her goal…? What action choice does s/he make that embarks on that journey? What does s/he do to overcome the antagonist? What is the final, great act that the main character does to attain his/her goal? Is the main character’s want attained or denied?
11. What is the CHANGE that has occurred in the world of your story?
What happens in the end of your story? What is different from the beginning? What does your main character learn? How does s/he change?
12. How is the RESOLUTION ARTICULATED at the end of your story?
What image or scene demonstrates the shift in behavior by your main character or others that enables the audience to understand what has changed in the world of your story from beginning to the end?