In this series on personalizing story structure, Part 3 explores how the Story Beats apply to Act 2A of L. Frank Baum’s action fantasy, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Recap from Prior Posts
The prior posts explain the process and Story Beats.
Principles, Not Rules
There is no single right way to structure stories. Instead, the Story Beats serve as a map, not a formula. Writers remain in control of all elements.
Full Text Available for Each Scene
Click on a scene link (e.g., Scene 01) to see the full text from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in a separate browser tab.
This week, we’ll analyze 6 through 9 of the 18 Story Beats: RESPONSE, POWER PLAY 1, PREMISE, and MIDPOINT.
In this sequence of scenes, the chief protagonist responds to the unstable world, and meets who will help the lead learn the internal theme.
The new character (“helper”) can be a co-protagonist, love interest, a nemesis, a mentor, a family member, or a friend. Whoever fills this role has a story that will provide a departure from the hero’s story.
- Is the helper capable of assisting lead learn Story Theme? Dorothy’s companions represent co-protagonists, each in their unique way shows a level of self-sufficiency, yet each has a recognizable flaw (e.g., Scarecrow discounts his intelligence; Tin Woodman discounts his compassion; Lion discounts his bravery).
- Would Helper seem out-of-place in the lead’s stable world? A talking scarecrow, wood-chopping tin man, and roaring lion would all be out of place on the Kansas plains.
- Is the Helper’s story a clear breakout from the lead’s story? Each co-protagonist’s backstory clearly departs from Dorothy’s background and drives what each wants.
- How does the helper serve as a representative of the story’s themes?
- Each character has a strong want.
- Dorothy wants to return home.
- Scarecrow wants a brain.
- Tin Woodman wants a heart.
- Lion wants courage.
- All share the need to recognize their individual levels of self-sufficiency.
- Dorothy already posses the silver shoes.
- Scarecrow already has spot-on ideas.
- Tin Woodman already shows compassionate actions.
- Lion already shows brave actions.
- Each character has a strong want.
➨Beat and Scene Summary
- Scene 11: Dorothy and friends had to sleep in the forest, for there were no houses. Tin Woodman chopped wood, Dorothy built fire. She felt less lonely by fire, but worried she had no food for the next day. Tin Woodman begged Lion to not kill a poor deer for food. [Note: Tin Woodman shows compassionate action.] Lion went into the woods and hunted his food while Scarecrow gathered nuts for Dorothy. She laughed at Scarecrow’s clumsy efforts, but he didn’t mind because it took him away from his fear—the fire. With warmth and food, Dorothy slept soundly until breakfast.
- Scene 12: At daylight, they started for the Emerald City. After walking for an hour, they come to a great ditch. No one knows how to cross the chasm, deep and filled with jagged rocks at the bottom. Dorothy worries about what to do, and Scarecrow laments they can’t fly, climb, or jump over the ditch. Lion offers to jump over the ditch, carrying each across one at a time. [Note: Lion shows brave action.] Once safely across, they find a darker and gloomier forest, filled with strange noises and a new danger—the Kalidahs live here.
- Scene 13: Dorothy asks, “What are the Kalidahs?” Lion describes bodies like bears and heads like tigers. Lion fears Kalidahs could tear him in two. They come to another great gulf, too wide for Lion to jump across, discuss what to do, concluding Tin Woodman can chop down a tree that will serve as a bridge. As they start across the bridge, two great beasts (Kalidahs) run toward them. Scarecrow comes up with the solution. [Note: Scarecrow shows a spot-on idea.] Lion roars to hold off the Kalidahs. [Note: Lion shows a brave action.] The beasts keep coming. Tin Woodman chops off the end of the tree-bridge. [Note: Tin Woodman shows a compassionate action.] The Kalidahs fall into the deep ditch and die. Lion admits fear caused his heart to beat and Tin Woodman responds, “I wish I had a heart to beat.”
- Scene 14: The dark forest thinned the farther they walked. On the other side of a broad river, they see the yellow brick road bordering trees hanging with delicious fruit, but swift flowing water blocks their progress. They discuss how to get across and Scarecrow recommends a raft. [Note: Scarecrow shows a spot-on idea.] Tin Woodman chops wood for the raft, but it’s not completed before nightfall. Dorothy sleeps under the trees and dreams of the Emerald City and the “good Wizard Oz.” [Note: The use of “good Wizard Oz” in scene 14 foreshadows a twist when the man is revealed as a “bad wizard” in scene 43.]
7. POWER PLAY 1
This scene shows the antagonist’s power, provides clues, and establishes the core conflict.
This scene represents a small but important turning point in the story, reminding readers of the antagonist’s ability to thwart the chief protagonist’s goal.
POWER PLAY 1 shows a mixture of internal and external obstacles. The lead’s “need” is an internal obstacle to the external “want”, and the antagonist also represents an external barrier to the lead’s goal.
The scene provides additional information for the plot and serves as the setup for the MIDPOINT and POWER PLAY 2.
Each POWER PLAY foreshadows what will happen in BATTLE 1, BATTLE 2, and CLIMAX.
POWER PLAY 1 and POWER PLAY 2 scenes help with pacing, increasing the suspense by reminding readers what is at stake. Also, POWER PLAY 1 scene plants a seed of tension—a denial of an expected or desired action. This inaction embeds a detail that contributes to more tension in a later scene.
- Is the antagonist’s power greater than protagonist’s abilities and resources? Yes, and by the end of the scene, they lost control of the raft because of the environmental antagonist (i.e., swift current).
- Does the scene remind readers of the core conflict? Yes. Dorothy and friends continually struggle as obstacles block their pursuit of having Oz fulfill their individual wants.
- Is this scene an explicit turning point in favor of the antagonist? Yes. By the end of the scene, they’ve lost control of the raft, taking them further away from the road of yellow brick.
- Does the scene show antagonist’s ability to block lead’s goal? Yes. The swift current blocks reaching the other side of the river, and without the yellow brick road, they can’t find the Emerald City to ask Oz to grant their unique heart’s desire.
- Is this conflict reflected in chief protagonist’s reactions and emotions? At the scene’s end, the characters lament over the loss of what each wants.
- Does scene reveal information essential to progress the plot? Yes. It’s essential they gain control of the raft; else, the swift current will carry them into the land of the Wicked Witch of the West and she will turn them into her slaves.
- Does the scene hint of the future? Yes. Getting to the Emerald City is essential to their plan.
- Does the scene contribute to the suspense? Yes. It seems like an impossible situation, leaving the reader in suspense and wondering how they’ll find a solution.
- Is the seed of tension—essential detail—worth growing later? Yes. This foreshadows the internal theme of self-sufficiency because they appear to lack external resources and must turn inward to discover what else is available to overcome adversity.
- Are the ever-increasing stakes clear for the lead? Dorothy makes it clear: unless she gets to see Oz, she’ll never get back to Kansas.
➨Beat and Scene Summary
- Scene 15: The travelers wake up fresh and full of hope. From the edge of the dark forest, they see a sunny country lays ahead. Although the broad river still blocks their progress, the raft is nearly complete. Tin Woodman completes the raft, and they load on but nearly tip over when the heavy Lion steps aboard. Scarecrow and Tin Woodman steady the raft with long poles as they push through the swift current and travel downstream. Dorothy and each friend lament over the potential to become slaves of the Wicked Witch of the West and never getting their wants fulfilled by Oz.
This sequence of scenes fulfills the novel’s premise, giving readers the events and emotions they crave.
The PREMISE delivers on the book’s promise and increases the intensity of events until the MIDPOINT. In the thick of things, the chief protagonist either loves or hates the action.
From the POWER PLAY 1 scene, the lead gained a sense of what might happen, but not the details. The PREMISE scenes increase tension and fear (i.e., the “seed of tension” grows).
The events challenge lead’s ability to handle things in the unstable world, and throughout these scenes and up to the MIDPOINT, it’s not clear if the chief protagonist will fail or succeed.
- How do the scenes the deliver on the premise? The scenes fulfill this premise: when a tornado whisks a curious young girl into the clouds, she arrives shaken yet uninjured in a strange land, where she along with three companions face endless obstacles from witches, environment, and a bad wizard as she struggles to return home, and along the way she discovers the secret to her happiness.
- Are there enough stand-alone action scenes (i.e., set pieces)? Each scene shows action.
- Is there one scene that defines what the novel is all about? Scene 23 mirrors the home life of Dorothy prior to the tornado—a hard life that still offers levels of comfort and love—qualities that draw people back to their roots.
➨Beat and Scene Summary
- Scene 16: The swift current sweeps them toward the country of the Wicked Witch of the West, where they’ll become slaves. Scarecrow will not get brains, Cowardly Lion will not get courage, Tin Woodman will not get a heart, and Dorothy will never get back to Kansas. Scarecrow pushes hard, and pole sticks in the river bottom. Before he can get it unstuck, he’s left hanging on the pole in the middle of the broad river. Scarecrow bids them goodbye, complaining he’s worse off than before meeting Dorothy and now he’ll never have brains.
- Scene 17: They leave Scarecrow on the pole in the middle of the broad river. Lion says they can hold his tail and he’ll pull the raft to shore. Lion springs into the water and Tin Woodman holds his tail. They fight against the strong current. Tin Woodman holds fast to Lion’s tail while Dorothy pushes with a long pole. They make it to the shore of a lovely country, but the yellow brick road is not in sight. They must walk to find it, and feel sorry for poor Scarecrow.
- Scene 18: As they walk along in the lovely country, Tin Woodman spots Scarecrow. Still clinging to the pole in the middle of the broad river, he looks sad. Dorothy says, “What can we do to save him?” While they discuss the impossibility of rescuing Scarecrow, a stork lands near the water’s edge and Dorothy asks for help to pluck their friend from the pole. The stork flies across the broad river and grabs Scarecrow by the arm, reuniting him with his friends. As they joyously walk toward the yellow brick road, Scarecrow and Dorothy thank the stork, and she zooms away to take care of her babies.
- Scene 19: The colorful birds and flowers dazzle Dorothy, but brainless Scarecrow and heartless Tin Woodman can’t appreciate the sight, yet Lion relates to the helpless and frail flowers. Dorothy, Toto, and Lion grow sleepy because of the scarlet poppies. Scarecrow and Tin Woodman discuss how to keep Dorothy, Toto, and Lion from falling asleep forever. They urge Lion to run ahead and they’ll carry Dorothy with Toto to safety, but near the edge of the poppies field, they find Lion asleep—too heavy to move. After reaching safety, Scarecrow and Tin Woodman lay Dorothy down in the sweet grass and wait for the fresh breeze to wake her up.
- Scene 20: When Dorothy awakes, Scarecrow remarks they cannot be far from the yellow brick road, for they’ve come nearly as far as the river carried them away. Tin Woodman hears a growl and sees a great yellow wildcat chasing a little gray field mouse, and intuitively, he knows it’s wrong to harm the mouse. Tin Woodman cuts the head off the beast, saving the mouse, who tells them she’s the Queen of all the Field Mice and asks how she can repay them for saving her life. After hearing the Lion needs to be rescued, the Queen orders her attending mice to get all her people.
- Scene 21: Scarecrow tells Tin Woodman to build a truck to carry the Lion. The Tin Woodman cuts the wood for wheels and body. Dorothy stirs from her deep sleep, and meets the Queen, who orders the Field Mice to help rescue Lion. To keep from falling asleep, they hurry to Lion’s aid, lifting him on to the truck, and return to safety. Dorothy thanks the Queen, who says, “If ever you need us again, come out into the field and call, and we shall hear you and come to your assistance.”
- Scene 22: After a long sleep, Lions wakes up and is glad to be alive. They explain to him what happened, and he’s taken aback by how little flowers nearly killed him and how small mice saved him. Dorothy says they must continue on their journey to the Emerald City. Along the way, they see people dressed in green, but no one approaches because of Lion. They stop at a farmhouse, but at first, the woman appears afraid to let them stay overnight. After the woman hears Lion is tame, she invites them inside for supper and a place to sleep.
- Scene 23: Dorothy and friends enter the farmhouse. They meet the woman, two children, and a man. The man asks about their journey, and he tells them the Great Oz never sees people. They discuss Oz’s many forms of appearance, and how the Wizard has the power to fulfill their desires. Dorothy and Toto enjoy the dinner, but Lion complains the porridge was fit for horses, not for lions. Dorothy and Toto sleep. Lion serves as guard, while Scarecrow and Tin Woodman stand quietly in a corner all night.
- Scene 24: The green glow in the sky suggests they’re near the Emerald City. A wall surrounds the city, and the yellow brick road ends at a gate with a bell. The Guardian of the Gates greets them and tells them about the Emerald City rules. He makes them put on green spectacles to prevent blindness from the splendor of the city, and locks the glasses on their heads as per the order of Oz. The guard escorts them into the Emerald City along the streets to the Palace.
This scene shows the chief protagonist’s status (i.e., winning or losing), increases the stakes, and gives the protagonist insight, shifting the focus from want to need.
At MIDPOINT, the PREMISE sequence culminates in either a false victory (the lead has been succeeding) or a false defeat (the lead has been floundering). By the end of the MIDPOINT, something raises the stakes and “insight” subtly shifts the focus from the external goal to the need for change (i.e., the need to learn the theme). A character from the RESPONSE scenes contributes to this shift in the lead’s focus.
The lead shifts from reaction to action, concentrating on how to overcome the antagonist’s obstacles. The lead gains some insight into what it takes to master character flaws.
The insights in MIDPOINT represent the shift from reaction to action, but it’s only the beginning of the long process because chief protagonist’s newfound knowledge does not equate to applied wisdom.
Pinpoint what in the story’s middle culminates in the lead’s false victory or false defeat, raising stakes and forcing the chief protagonist to continue toward genuine change. The latter requires the individual to move beyond mere awareness of the “need,” and begin applying the life lesson to make actual progress toward achieving the “want.”
- Is a False Victory or False Defeat clear? It looks like Dorothy and friends are winning, and all they have to do is wait out the required days it takes for Oz to visit with each of them (i.e., a FALSE VICTORY).
- Are rising Stakes forcing lead to continue? The emotional stakes are rising because they must wait days to see if the Great Oz will grant their requests.
- Who or what forces chief protagonist’s “want” to cross over to the “need,” moving the character beyond awareness to some level of action? The green girl leaves her alone in the room with only Toto.
- Is it clear the lead’s focus shifts from want to need? The scene is more of a foreshadow that she’ll have to deal with the internal theme of self-sufficiency, which becomes clear in the next scene.
- Does a time issue create a sense of urgency? Oz forces Dorothy and companions to wait, but they want to see him now.
- Does the event force lead to declare a shift from want to need? It’s the setup for the next scene.
- Is lead now aware of how to overcome antagonist’s obstacles? Dorothy is blissfully ignorant of what is coming and unprepared for the Wizard’s agenda.
- Is lead now aware of what it takes to overcome personal flaws limiting actual progress toward goal? No. This scene serves as the setup for the next one, which is the true awakening.
- Do the visual in the scene show discovered truth in contrast to the perpetuated lie that sustains chief protagonist’s flaws? Her lack of awareness is not uncharacteristic for a young girl, and to expect more in this scene would be unrealistic. [Note: In the next scene, young readers learn that just because someone appears powerful and knowledgeable, that does not mean they can or will selflessly help you.]
➨Beat and Scene Summary
- Scene 25: The splendor of the city amazes Dorothy and friends. They see men, women, and children who appear afraid because of Lion. At the door of the palace, the Guardian of the Gates transfers escort duties to a soldier. They wait inside the palace as the soldier leaves to tell the Great Oz of the group’s demand to see him. When the soldier returns after a long time, they learn Oz will see them, one each day, but must wait until tomorrow. The soldier introduces them to a young green girl. She takes them to their assigned palace rooms, and Dorothy must wait with Toto until the next day.
Act 2A Wrap Up
Regardless of whether you like to preplan your writing or prefer to free-write and edit later, story structure enables you to surprise and delight readers.
In an upcoming post, Act 2B will show how L. Frank Baum had Dorothy and friends deal with setbacks and increasing stakes in the unstable world.
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As you write, do you sometimes deviate from story structure to emphasize a point, increase tension, or stretch out suspense, and if yes, describe how?
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