In Robert McKee’s book Story*, he wrote, “When talented people write badly, it’s generally for one of two reasons: either they’re blinded by an idea they feel compelled to prove or they’re driven by an emotion they must express. When talented people write well, it is generally for this reason: they’re moved by a desire to touch the audience.” For over a hundred years, L. Frank Baum’s masterwork, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, has touched readers. Today, discover how the Story Beats apply to Act 2B.
Recap from Prior Posts
The prior posts explain the process and Global 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 Global Story Beats: ACTION, POWER PLAY 2, and BATTLE 1.
In this sequence of scenes, the chief protagonist takes action based on discovery, changing the lead’s trajectory (i.e., up or down).
The MIDPOINT influences the ACTION scenes:
- False Victory: If the Midpoint was a false victory, the ACTION sequence will be a downward path where things get progressively worse for the lead.
- False Defeat: If the Midpoint was a false defeat, the ACTION sequence will be an upward path where things seem to get progressively better for the lead.
The lead’s discovery at MIDPOINT inspires action despite the obstacles and character flaws.
But regardless of the up or down trajectory, the lead’s unabating flaws and antagonists’ unrelenting attacks take a toll. The bad guys never give up and neither do the lead character’s issues. The lead must brave internal demons and external forces until the PLUNGE INTO 3.
- Is the lead’s ACTION trajectory the reverse of the PREMISE?
- 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.
- Trajectory: In scene 26, Oz asks Dorothy to commit an unspeakable act—kill the Wicked Witch of the West. Demoralized by the request, she’s on a downward trajectory, away from the story’s premise, which is her expectation the Wizard will help her return home. Scenes 27 through 30 reinforce the sense of a downward trajectory.
- Does the quest become tougher for the lead? One by one, Dorothy’s companions visit the Throne Room, and each come back with the bad news: Dorothy must eliminate the Wicked Witch of the West.
- Is lead inundated by external forces and internal issues? No one ever visits the Wicked Witch, so there is no road to her castle.
- What’s the awful truth lead can’t admit that perpetuates internal issues? Although not stated, Dorothy appears unaware that she already possesses the power to return to Kansas; thus, she remains dependent on others to fulfill her desire to return home.
- What strips away the lead’s comfort zone one layer at a time? Each time one of Dorothy’s companions return from their visits with Oz, it’s clear only if they help kill the witch will they get the Wizard fulfill their wishes.
- What adds to the lead’s struggle with the need to change? Dorothy’s companions have their unique issues, which complicates her ability to attain what she wants from Oz.
➨Beat and Scene Summary
- Scene 26: The young girl leads Dorothy and Toto toward the throne room. Along the way, they pass by ladies and gentlemen of the court, and one asks if Dorothy will look upon the face of Oz the Terrible, and the soldier messenger affirms she will because she wears the silver slippers and bears the mark on her forehead. When she enters the throne room, she gazes upon the enormous head without body, arms, or legs in wonder and fear. When Oz asks what she wants, Dorothy requests help to return home, and the Wizard demands she kill the Wicked Witch of West before he will grant her request. [Trajectory: Downward] Demoralized, Dorothy returns to her room and cries herself to sleep.
- Scene 27: The soldier leads Scarecrow to the throne room. Instead of the enormous head, Scarecrow sees a lovely lady sitting on the throne. Scarecrow asks for brains. Oz refuses to grant favors without some return and demands Scarecrow kill the Wicked Witch of the West in return for brains. In sorrow, Scarecrow returns and tells his friends, “She [i.e., the lovely lady] needs a heart as much as the Tin Woodman.”
- Scene 28: The soldier messenger leads Tin Woodman to the throne room. Upon entering the room, Tin Woodman sees a terrible beast instead of an enormous head or lovely lady. Tin Woodman asks for a heart and explains why. Oz demands Tin Woodman earn the heart by helping Dorothy kill the Wicked Witch of the West. Filled with sorrow Tin Woodman describes his encounter with Oz. To get Oz to grant their requests, Lion plans to roar if the beast, he will pretend to spring on her if the lovely lady, or he’ll roll the head around if it’s the enormous head.
- Scene 29: The soldier messenger leads Lion to the throne room. Lion cowers at the great heat from a ball of fire. Oz asks what he wants, Lion says he wants to receive courage. Oz demands Lion provide proof the Wicked Witch is dead. Upon Lion’s return to his friends, they discuss what to do. The companions decide to do away with the Wicked Witch, but all believe they face an impossible task.
- Scene 30: The soldier messenger leads them to the Guardian of the Gates. Dorothy asks, “Which road leads to the Wicked Witch of the West?” The Guardian of the Gates answers, “There is no road. No one ever wishes to go that way.” They debate what to do and learn the Witch will probably turn them into the slaves for she is wicked and fierce. They leave Emerald City and the ground becomes rougher and hillier while walking toward the West. Dorothy, Toto, and Lion grew tired, and that night, fell asleep on the grass while Tin Woodman and Scarecrow kept watch.
11. POWER PLAY 2
This scene hints at what is coming when the chief protagonist PLUNGES INTO 3, emphasizing the ever-increasing stakes.
The second POWER PLAY reminds readers and lead of what’s at stake. This scene focuses on the Moral Choice question. For example: How far will the lead go to defeat the antagonist and achieve goal?
The scene also forces the lead to make another choice: prepare for the BATTLE 1 with the antagonist or turn tail and run? The lead’s answer results in the resolve to do whatever it takes to achieve the story goal.
Information introduced here prepares lead for the upcoming events.
- How does the scene remind readers and lead what’s at stake? When the Wicked Witch summons a pack of great wolves, it becomes clear what’s at stake is life or death.
- Is it clear this scene is another turning point in favor of the antagonist? The Wicked Witch tells the leader of the wolves neither Dorothy nor her companions are worth making into slaves, and tear them to pieces.
- Does the scene force the lead to fight or run? Yes. Dorothy and her friends will need to fight or run.
- Does the lead show a reliance on the lie that perpetuates the internal issue? Yes. She depends on her friends for safety even though she wears the silver shoes (i.e.; Dorothy has yet to embrace fully her need for self-reliance).
- What reinforce lead’s resolve to do whatever it takes? Although nothing in this scene reinforces Dorothy’s resolve, she learned in the ACTION sequence of the ruthlessness of the Wicked Witch.
- What new information does the lead discover? Dorothy learns nothing new in this scene, but the change in point of view informs readers of the planned event to do away with Dorothy and her companions.
- How does the scene hint at what is coming? The scene hints at the contrast between the evil within the Wicked Witch and the good within Dorothy and her friends.
➨Beat and Scene Summary
- Scene 31: The Wicked Witch of the West uses her one eye like a telescope to spy on Dorothy and friends. In the distance, the Wicked Witch sees them inside her country, which angers her. The leader of the wolves asks if the Wicked Witch wants to make them her slaves. She orders the wolf leader to tear Dorothy and friends into small pieces. The leader and wolf pack dash off at full speed.
12. BATTLE 1
In this sequence of scenes, the chief protagonist fights the primary antagonist, and appears to win BATTLE 1.
When the antagonist seems posed to win, the lead’s flaw presents the most significant obstacle to defeating the external force, reinforcing the need for the character to change. Despite the flaw, the lead rebounds and claims victory.
In terms of action, it’s a slugfest, building tension and excitement with each scene. Even though the lead emerges as the winner in this sequence, it’s the story’s FALSE ENDING.
The upcoming PLUNGE INTO 3 will wipe out the victory and emphasize a reversal of fortune.
- How does lead win the raging battle at sequence end? In anger, Dorothy splashes a bucket of water over the Wicked Witch, causing her to melt.
- How does the antagonist’s loss leave little doubt the lead won? Dorothy throws another bucket of water on the puddle of what was the Wicked Witch, sweeping it all away.
- Is there room for a plausible rebound of antagonist? The Wicked Witch of the West is no more, but there are more antagonists to come.
- Does a celebration take place? Set free, there was great rejoicing among the yellow Winkies, for they had worked hard during many years for the Wicked Witch, who had always treated them with great cruelty. They kept this day as a holiday, then and ever after, and spent the time in feasting and dancing.
- Does something foreshadow the looming reversal? When Dorothy finds the Golden Cap, she doesn’t know the power of the charm, foreshadowing she’ll need its power as they head toward the Emerald City.
➨Beat and Scene Summary
- Scene 32: The Scarecrow and Woodman standing guard at night see and hear the coming pack of great wolves. Tin Woodman takes the lead with ax in hand. He slays the forty wolves.
- Scene 32 (Continued): Next morning, the Wicked Witch sends a great flock of wild crows to peck out the eyes and tear Dorothy and friends to pieces. Scarecrow kills the forty crows.
- Scene 32 (Continued): The Wicked Witch then sends black bees, and while Dorthy, Toto, and Lion stay safe under Scarecrow’s straw, the bees die trying to sting Tin Woodman.
- Scene 32 (Continued): The Wicked Witch then sends a dozen slaves, but the Lion scares them away, and the powerful witch comes up with another plan.
- Scene 33: The Wicked Witch retrieves the Golden Cap from her cupboard. Whoever has the Golden Cap can call on the Winged Monkeys three times, and the Wicked Witch had done twice already. With the cap on her head, she orders the leader of the Winged Monkeys to bring her the Lion and destroy the other friends. With a great deal of chattering, the Winged Monkeys fly away to do the Witch’s bidding. The Winged Monkeys destroy Tin Woodman and Scarecrow, capture Lion, but because Dorothy bears the mark of the Good Witch’s kiss, they only carry her and Toto to the castle. The leader of the Winged Monkeys tells the Wicked Witch her power over them has ended.
- Scene 34: The Wicked Witch dares not harm Dorothy, but manipulates the young girl, who does not know how to use the power of the silver shoes. The Wicked Witch makes Dorothy her kitchen slave, and because the Lion resists, plans to starve him into submission. Dorothy secretly feeds Lion, and although both remain healthy, they can find no way out of the castle. Threatened with beatings, Dorothy works hard (but out of fear, the Witch never lays a hand on the young girl). Dorothy grieves over her inability to go home, and because she is unhappy, Toto is sad, too.
- Scene 35: The Wicked Witch longs for the Silver Shoes, but she can’t steal them when Dorothy sleeps because she fears the dark, and she can’t take the slippers when the young girl bathes because she must avoid the water. Instead, the Witch causes Dorothy to trip by placing an invisible iron bar in the middle of the kitchen floor. Only one shoe comes off, the Witch grabs it, and she refuses to return it. Dorothy becomes so angry, she dashes a bucket of water over the Witch, who melts. Dorothy cleans away the mess, dries and puts on the shoe, and runs out to the courtyard to tell Lion they’re free.
- Scene 36: Reunited with Lion, Dorothy calls together the Winkies to tell them they’re no longer slaves. While the Winkies rejoice, Dorothy and Lion talk about rescuing Scarecrow and Tin Woodman. The Winkies agree to help them find their missing friends. They travel to the rocky plain, find Tin Woodman, and the Winkies’ tinsmith restores him.
- Scene 36 (Continued): Then they set out to find Scarecrow. Tin Woodman chops down the tree where the Winged Monkeys left Scarecrow’s clothes, and they restore their friend by stuffing him with new straw. Reunited and ready to claim their promises from Oz, Dorothy finds the Golden Cap, likes the look, puts on the hat, and she and friends head toward the Emerald City.
Act 2B 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 the next post, Act 3 will show how L. Frank Baum had Dorothy and friends build suspense, tension, and stakes as they progress toward the CLIMAX.
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How do you avoid the “muddle of the middle” and eliminate a lull in the action?
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