theory-of-everything-eddie-redmayne-felicity-jones-sliceHow Some Sequences Are Like the Quarks in a Proton:

After several failed attempts to metaphoricize (106) my ideas about individual sequences, I finally hit upon the comparison stated above. [If you’ll remember from your reading of A Brief History of Time, the proton contains two “up” quarks, and one “down” quark.]

Sequences 1, 3, 4, 7, and 8 are what I call Proton Sequences because they should have two up StoryQuarks and one down StoryQuark. The overwhelming feeling that will confront a reader after one of these sequences is positive. We will believe that the hero can solve her story and defeat her antagonist.

The Remaining Sequences are Like the Quarks in a Neutron:

Our reading of Mr. Hawking’s book reminds us that neutrons have one up quark and two down quarks. From this we can deduce that sequences 2, 5, and 6, are mostly negative and will contain two Down StoryQuarks and one Up StoryQuark. These are the moments in the story where we doubt the abilities of the protagonist. Maybe, just maybe, she cannot defeat the antagonist.

The completion of the similes drawn between sequences and protons and neutrons allows us to fill in a little more detail on our:

Sequence Map: Version Three:

Sequence 1 (Proton):
2 up storyquarks 1 down storyquark

Sequence 2 (Neutron):
1 up storyquark 2 down storyquarks

Sequence 3 (Proton)
2 up storyquarks 1 down storyquark

Sequence 4 (Proton)
2 up storyquarks 1 down story quark

Sequence 5 (Neutron)
1 up storyquark 2 down storyquarks

Sequence 6 (Neutron)
1 up storyquark 2 down storyquarks

Sequence 7 (Proton)
2 up storyquarks 1 down storyquark

Sequence 8 (Proton)
2 up story quarks 1 down storyquark

Now we can do some sums. You should have five sequences that bode well for your protagonist and three that cast measurable doubt on her. You should have 13 up storyquarks and 11 down storyquarks. (107)

We have talked about the geometric circularity your completed sequences imply, and we can now get a firm grasp on the graph your storyquarks would make across a character equilibrium axis. Sequence one offsets sequence two. Three and four offset five and six. Seven and eight complete the story with the protagonist at twice the height at which she began. (108) All that remains is to flesh out the 24 storyquarks with names that will help guide the writing process.

The Up StoryQuarks:

1. The Hand Shake
2. A Special Quality

3. The Deflection

4. The Organizer
5. The Implementer

6. The Attacker
7. The Merciful

8. The Gambler

9. The Synthesizer

10. The Fortunate
11. The Implementer, Again

12. The Brave
13. The Conqueror/Hero

The Down StoryQuarks:

1. Lack of confidence

2. The Loser
3. The Island

4. The Waverer

5. The Cassandra

6. The Achilles Heel
7. The Act of Selfishness

8. The Beaten
9. The Unbeliever

10. The Unfortunate

11. Not Special Enough

Before we collect all of these ideas inside a single master blueprint, let’s devote a paragraph or so to illustrating what the names of these terms are supposed to mean. I propose to do this in sequential order to more closely resemble the feeling the up and down storyquarks would have in a script.

The Handshake (Sequence 1):

As the name implies, this is where we meet your protagonist. You want this to carry with it the same sort of feeling a real life hand shake has. You are wired to “like” the person in front of you, but the judgments that determine how far this “liking” is going to go are piling up rapidly. Make sure our hand shake ends with a good feeling about your protagonist. No one wants to spend two hours with someone they can’t stand.

A Special Quality (Sequence 1)

Here is where you give us some indication of why you chose your protagonist. She has to be special or unique in some way, or we’re just not going to care.

A Lack of Confidence (Sequence 1)

Now that we’ve met her and we like her and we know she’s special, we have to see her doubt herself. She must not believe that what is special about her separates her. She should look on her specialness as incidental or, perhaps, even a burden.

The Deflection (Sequence 2)

The first crisis in confidence is brushed aside. Our protagonist demonstrates her resourcefulness by sidestepping her disbelief in herself. We are seeing that, even when she runs on less than eight cylinders our hero is a formidable opponent.

The Loser (Sequence 2)

Except, maybe she isn’t. Her attempt at deflection ends in failure. She is strong and resilient but she can’t yet win.

The Island (Sequence 2)

Her failure intensifies her crisis of confidence. The result is a withdrawal into the self. Our character has damaged herself by trying to defeat the antagonist. She thinks to herself that, perhaps, she is better off alone.

The Organizer (Sequence 3)

Here our protagonist is gripped by a nagging suspicion that she has missed something important in her confrontation with the antagonist. She senses that there was a particular moment when she lost the fight, and she wants to understand how it happened.

The Implementer (Sequence 3)

She marshals the data she has collected on herself into an executable plan. At this point in her story she should realize that she is special. Her doubt is no longer about whether or not she is the only person who can face the antagonist. Instead, she just wonders if she has the courage to do what must be done. This storyquark always ends with the decision on the part of the protagonist to fight the antagonist again.

The Waverer (Sequence 3)

Some other character in the story uses this moment in the protagonist’s journey to remind her how she failed the first time. Now, the die has been cast, there will be another confrontation, but the protagonist is no where near sure she will win.

The Attacker (Sequence 4)

Caution is disregarded and a surprise assault is launched on the antagonist. The attack catches the antagonist off guard and is successful. The antagonist MUST retreat.

The Merciful (Sequence 4)

Here the antagonist displays her worthiness by not pressing her advantage to its natural conclusion—the destruction of the antagonist. She holds out for reform of the antagonist’s anti-social drives. The protagonist displays her worth by believing in the good of the antagonist.

The Cassandra (Sequence 4)

This storyquark has the same function as The Waverer, but its stimulus comes from within rather than without. The protagonist highlights the negative in her defeat of the antagonist. She sees that, if not for the unexpectedness of her attack, she would not have won.

The Achilles Heel (Sequence 5)

The antagonist “escapes” her confinement at the hands of the protagonist’s mercy. This forces the protagonist to doubt the value of the community of friends who have helped her in her journey so far. She wonders if the reason the antagonist is strong is because of a refusal to participate in the bonds of community. Could the individual be more important than the collective?

The Act of Selfishness (Sequence 5)

This is the point in the story where your protagonist commits her second most unheroic act. For the duration of the couple of pages that surround this point in the story, the protagonist will be no better than the antagonist. It’s crucially important that this element be in every script because it is one of the main ways that the audience identifies with the eyes into the story. If your protagonist isn’t capable of being selfish, then your protagonist isn’t real.

The Gambler (Sequence 5)

Bring back the character who put us into The Waverer position a couple sequences ago and have that person now be an inspiration to the protagonist. This character reminds the protagonist that, of all the people in this story, only the protagonist is special enough to defeat the antagonist. The community needs her. Allow the debate here to be framed in terms of “a gamble” on the community [led by the protagonist of course] being superior to the individual.

The Synthesizer (Sequence 6)

The protagonist looks back over the course of her story so far and sees that the character who led her to the knowledge of “the gamble” is correct. Each time she has won it has been because she put her faith in the ability of her SUMA combined with the support of her friends. Her losses, on the other hand, have happened whenever she lacks confidence in her SUMA and her friends. She has perfectly lined up all the causes and effects, but she has not yet seen the message in the dots.

The Beaten (Sequence 6)

Just as she is about to glimpse the meaning of her story, the antagonist [or a close representative of the antagonist] surfaces. A fight in her current half-formed results in decisive defeat.

The Unbeliever (Sequence 6)

Confronted with the choice to accept her place as the leader of a community, or retreat into the island-like shell of putting herself first. The protagonist choses… herself. This is her worst moment in the story. The audience should feel it as a tremendous defeat.

The Fortunate (Sequence 7)

Every screenplay has to have this one. It comes directly after the nadir in the unbeliever, and it is the intervention of providence. Basically, you have to let your hero catch a lucky break. She has to have something happen to her that defies the odds. This legitimizes her status as hero because it means she has been selected for her journey. It was meant to happen to her, etc. (109) Without it, your protagonist will not be fully accepted by the audience.

The Implementer, Again (Sequence 7)

The moment of good fortune rallies the protagonist to believe in herself. She now feels a duty to the community which she leads. It is, and she now knows it fully, up to her to defeat the antagonist. She forms a plan to defeat the antagonist which makes equal use of her SUMA and her community of friends.

The Unfortunate (Sequence 7)

The ontological giveth, and the ontological taketh away. Everything is going according to plan, the defeat of the antagonist is imminent and then… it all falls apart. Generally, this takes the form of putting a member [or symbol] of the protagonist’s community into danger, and then forcing the protagonist to choose between beating the antagonist and saving the friend [or symbol].

The Brave (Sequence 8)

Simply put, the protagonist chooses the community over the defeat of the antagonist. Most often, it will seem like this choice is going to cost the protagonist “everything”. [Depending on your genre, this will mean everything up to and including, her life.]

Not Special Enough (Sequence 8)

Since the antagonist is not subject to The Merciful drives of the protagonist, it looks as though the protagonist will actually lose. The antagonist tries to drive home the point that the protagonist was “not special enough”.

The Conqueror/Hero (Sequence 8)

The protagonist realizes, in a flash, what she has known all along:

She is special enough.

This knowledge is manifested in her SUMA and YOUR THEME. Whatever you mean to be the theme of your story, this is the piece of information the protagonist uncovers just before she turns the tables on the antagonist and solves her story.

Now that we have gone over what each of the storyquarks is meant to do, we can collect them all together in finalized blueprint form.

Sequence Map: Final Version:

Sequence 1 (Proton) – Story Setup
a. The Handshake
b. A Special Quality
c. A Lack of Confidence
d. Pages 1-7

Sequence 2 (Neutron) – Reason Protagonist is Unsuitable
a. The Deflection
b. The Loser
c. The Island
d. Pages 8-22

Sequence 3 (Proton) – Search for an Advantage
a. The Organizer
b. The Implementer
c. The Waverer
d. Pages 23-37

Sequence 4 (Proton) – False Victory
a. The Attacker
b. The Merciful
c. The Cassandra
d. Pages 38-52

Sequence 5 (Neutron) – Antagonist Defeats the Advantage
a. The Achilles Heel
b. The Act of Selfishness
c. The Gambler
d. Pages 53-67

Sequence 6 (Neutron) – Despair Grants a Superior Advantage
a. The Synthesizer
b. The Beaten
c. The Unbeliever
d. Pages 68-82

Sequence 7 (Proton) – Advantage Mastered and Deployed
a. The Fortunate
b. The Implementer, Again
c. The Unfortunate
d. Pages 83-97

Sequence 8 (Proton) – Victory and Resolution
a. The Brave
b. Not Special Enough
c. The Conqueror/Hero
d. Pages 98-105

There it is.

Before I leave this segment, I want to reiterate that the entire exercise was meant as a guide. I believe it will be useful to you as you design and begin to implement your project. Do not take away from this only the fact that it looks like [or amounts to] rules. Do not think that I will say your script is terrible if you don’t have The Waverer. Do not think that I will be opening your script up to page xx to see if what I said should be there is, in fact, there. I won’t be doing that, and I would never want this structure guideline to become the most remembered part of this essay. It has a PRACTICAL efficacy only. It is not Story Law.

Writing is not about rules, but it is about structure—and structure is very hard to get right. It is my best hope that this “blueprint” can help you improve and solidify your structure. No more and no less.


106  Technically, the section title is a simile. Since simile is just a subsegment of the category metaphor, and since I am here referring to the category rather than the specific instance, I’ve allowed the error to stand.

107  From here on out I will use my term, storyquark, interchangeably with the usual “plot point”.

108  The quantity being measured on the character equilibrium axis, by the way, is self-knowledge.

109   I don’t like this one from an ontological standpoint either!  But it still has to be in your script.


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