Do You Want to Personalize Story Structure? Now You Can! – Part 6

Part 6 - Personalize Story Structure

Robert McKee shared this wisdom. “Writing is a marathon, not a sprint.” The finish line is in sight for this series on L. Frank Baum’s action fantasy, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I’ll use the Preparation step from 7-Step Storytelling to emphasize essential takeaways.

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 Global Story Beats serve as a map, not a formula. Writers remain in control of all elements.

7-Step Storytelling

If you’re unfamiliar with 7-Step Storytelling, click here for an overview. The preparation step fleshes out the premise, characters, plot, and themes.

Premise

While researching The Wonderful Wizard of Oz book, I came across this humorous premise for an airing of The Wizard of Oz movie on TCM.

Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again. — Rick Polito

Here’s my take on the book’s premise:

When a tornado whisks a curious young girl into the clouds, she arrives shaken yet uninjured in a strange land, where she and 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.

Tip: The premise serves as your strategic compass as you follow the map marked by the Global Story Beats.

Characters

Baum’s strong characterization of Dorothy, Toto, Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion kept readers focused on the storyline despite introducing additional characters and conflicts. For more information about Characters, click here.

  • Chief Protagonist
    • Dorothy (Key Traits: Fairness and Protective; Need: Recognize Self-sufficiency)
  • Co-Protagonists
    • Scarecrow (Key Trait: Wisdom; Need: Recognize has Brains)
    • Tin Woodman (Key Trait: Compassion; Need: Recognize has Heart)
    • Cowardly Lion (Key Trait: Bold; Need: Recognize has Courage)
    • Toto (Key Trait: Devoted / Selfless Love; Need: Reveal Truth with Curiosity)
    • Glinda the Good Witch (Key Trait: Helper; Need: Show Dorothy her inner power)

The antagonists took the form of humans, creatures, and environment, each designed to draw out an emotional response from the protagonists and audience.

  • Antagonists
    • Black Bees
    • Environment, including weather, broad/swift river, unfamiliar landscape, great distances to Kansas and Emerald City, scarlet poppies field, and great ditch/broad gulf.
    • Fighting Trees
    • Giant Spider
    • Hammer-Heads
    • Kalidahs
    • Pack of Great Wolves
    • Wicked Witch of the North
    • Wicked Witch of the West
    • Wild Crows
    • Winged Monkeys
    • Winkies (Dozen Slaves)
    • The Wizard of Oz

The supporting cast members gave readers insights into the positive and negative traits of the protagonists.

  • Supporting Cast
    • Aunt Em (Dorothy’s Guardian)
    • Uncle Henry (Dorothy’s Guardian)
    • Boq
    • China Clown
    • China Milk-Maid
    • China Princess
    • Glinda (Gives Dorothy the secret to her happiness — the Internal Theme)
    • Green Girl
    • Guardian of the Gates
    • Monkey King
    • Munchkins
    • Quadlings
    • Queen of the Field Mice
    • Soldier with Green Whiskers
    • Stork

Tip: Even when the co-protagonists share the spotlight with the chief protagonist, make clear who is the lead.

Plot

The Global Story Beats empower writers to simplify summarizing the first to last page of your novel in 1,000 to 1,500 words. For more information about story structure, click here.

Here’s an example of a beat-by-beat synopsis.

  1. SETUP: Dorothy lives on the gray plains of Kansas with her devoted dog Toto, and her boring guardians Aunt Em and Uncle Henry.
  2. HOOK: Uncle Henry scans the horizon as the wind howls and the powerful southerly wind ripples across the grass.
  3. TRIGGER: Sighting a cyclone, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry run for shelter, but Dorothy must chase after frightened Toto, saving the little dog as the tornado whisks them into the sky.
  4. WRANGLE: Waking up in a strange but beautiful land, Dorothy wrangles with weird people, the death of a wicked witch, the gift of silver shoes, the order to go to the City of Emeralds, a command to follow the yellow brick road, the need for shelter, a scatter-brained scarecrow, a gnawing desire to return home, a tin man without a heart, the need for food, and ongoing journey to meet the Wizard of Oz. Note: At the book’s outset, she faces impossible circumstances.
  5. THRUST INTO 2: The dangers of Dorothy’s journey emphasize the difference between the stable world of Kansas and her desire to reach the Emerald City. Along the way she meets a fearful lion who wants courage as much as Dorothy wants to return home, a Scarecrow who wants a brain, and a Tin Woodman who wants a heart. Their desires compel the travelers to continue their journey.
  6. RESPONSE: As the travelers discuss their adventure, their decisions and actions hint they already possess what they desire: Tin Woodman shows compassion (heart), Scarecrow shares actionable ideas (brains), Lion jumps a dangerous ravine (courage), and Dorothy shows resourcefulness (self-sufficiency).
  7. POWER PLAY 1: The broad and swift river (powerful environmental antagonist) blocks the progress. Dorothy does not recognize the power within her (self-sufficiency). She depends on others, lamenting she can’t return home (i.e., her want) unless they reach the Emerald City and meet the Wizard of Oz.
  8. PREMISE: While traveling to the Emerald City, several events hinder the traveler’s progress. Scarecrow gets left on a pole in the middle of the swift river and a stork must rescue him. Tin Woodman shows compassion by saving the field mice from the yellow wildcat. Dorothy and Toto nearly die in the poppy field, but Scarecrow and Tin Woodman rescue them. Lion tries to run through the poppy field but falls asleep. The field mice repay their gratitude to Tin Woodman by rescuing Lion from the deadly poppy field. The travelers learn Oz does not see visitors, foreshadowing more trouble. At last, their journey ends, and a soldier escorts them through the Emerald City.
  9. MIDPOINT: Given all that Dorothy and friends have gone through to reach the Emerald City, the news that Oz will see them gives them a victory, but it comes with the caveat that the wizard will only see one visitor per day.
  10. ACTION: Because there was a “false victory” at the MIDPOINT, things get progressively worse after Oz demands Dorothy must kill the Wicked Witch of the West. He also orders Scarecrow to kill the witch. He tells Tin Woodman can only earn his heart by helping Dorothy kill the witch. Then he insists Lion must provide proof of the witch’s death. As they get ready to depart the Emerald City, they learn no road leads to the witch’s castle, forcing them to endure another arduous journey.
  11. POWER PLAY 2: The Wicked Witch of the West spies on Dorothy and friends, then raises the stakes by sending wolves to tear them to pieces.
  12. BATTLE 1: In a series of battles, Dorothy and friends appear to win, killing the wolves, crows, and bees, scaring away the dozen of the witch’s slaves, and surviving the Winged Monkeys. Dorothy inadvertently kills the witch by splashing her with water. After repairing Tin Woodman and mending Scarecrow, they head back to the Emerald City to claim Oz’s promises.
  13. PLUNGE INTO 3: Even though they thought victory was at hand, the journey back is worse than before. Dorothy loses heart, reversing their perceived win.
  14. PONDER: As Dorothy sifts through prior choices and actions, she finds out the Golden Cap has the power to summon the Winged Monkeys. They carry her and friends to the Emerald City. During the flight, Dorothy learns more about the cap, but when they arrive and inform Oz they’ve carried out the killing of the witch, he rejects their demands to fulfill his promises.
  15. FACE-OFF: Dorothy confronts Oz, reminding him of the promises, and he tells them to come back the next day. Again, she emphasizes the Wizard must keep his promises.
  16. BATTLE 2: The lion roars to frighten Oz. Toto tips over the screen to reveal a little old man, revealing he’s not a true wizard. Despite the man’s admission, they demand he fulfill his promises. Oz stuffs Scarecrow’s head with items to make him wise. He puts a heart into Tin Woodman. Oz gives the Lion an elixir to make him bold. Then Oz tries to fly Dorothy back to Kansas in his balloon, but the ropes break free before she can climb into the basket, stranding her and Toto in the Emerald City. Dorothy summons the Winged Monkeys to carry her home, but they cannot fly outside of their country. With only one more Golden Cap wish available, the soldier with green whiskers suggests they go see the Witch of the South — Glinda. They set out on another dangerous journey, encountering fighting trees, China creatures, wild beasts, and hammer-headed people. Dorothy calls on the Winged Monkeys who carry the travelers to Glinda’s castle, where Dorothy and friends gain immediate admittance.
  17. CLIMAX: Dorothy shares with Glinda her desire to return home. Glinda explains that the Dorothy already had the power to return to Kansas by clapping the heels of the silver slippers together three times. Dorothy clicks the shoes together and commands, “Take me home to Aunt Em!”
  18. RESOLUTION: When Dorothy arrives, she sees a new farmhouse, Uncle Henry milking the cows, and Aunt Em coming out of the house to water the cabbages. Dorothy runs toward Aunt Em. Folding the little girl into her arms, Aunt Em showers the child with kisses and asks, “Where in the world did you come from?” Dorothy answers, “From the Land of Oz, and here is Toto, too. And oh, Aunt Em! I’m so glad to be home again!”

Tip: Use the Global Story Beats to outline your novel’s scenes before writing, or perform an analysis afterwards. Either way, the combination of the synopsis and individual scene summaries helps you benchmark whether your story is working. Building a Story Spine and plotting the Story Body help you outline your story before you write.

Note: You’ll find the creation of a beat-by-beat synopsis is not a once-and-done process. Instead, you’ll update the beats and scenes as you fix issues and come up with more ideas.

Theme

For more information about story themes, click here.

➨External

The external theme of the book is when home-life prevails, a person feels secure and loved. When the tornado whisked Dorothy away from Kansas, she was torn from her home life — the status quo (i.e., the stable world).

In scene 8, Dorothy reinforces the external theme in this statement to Scarecrow.

“No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home.”

➨Internal

Although not conclusive in the THRUST INTO 2 (scene 10), there are hints that the combination of Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion will help Dorothy learn the inner theme: when self-sufficiency prevails, a person is not dependent on others to overcome adversity (i.e., the person is not a victim of circumstances).

In the PLUNGE INTO 3 (scene 37), Dorothy demonstrates she has learned the life lesson, and commits to overcome her situation.

“Suppose we call the field mice,” she suggested. “They could probably tell us the way to the Emerald City.”

In scene 38, Dorothy acts on her choice, highlighting how she is no longer the victim of circumstances.

In the CLIMAX (scene 51), the Good Witch Glinda confirms that Dorothy already had the power of the silver shoes to take her back home, but even if she had possessed that knowledge, she also had to exercise her self-sufficiency with a decision and action — an excellent lesson for Baum’s target audience: young readers.

“Your Silver Shoes will carry you over the desert,” replied Glinda. “If you had known their power you could have gone back to your Aunt Em the very first day you came to this country.”

The characters confirm the truth of Glinda’s statement, and highlight how experiences teach valuable life lessons.

  • “But then I should not have had my wonderful brains!” cried the Scarecrow. “I might have passed my whole life in the farmer’s cornfield.”
  • “And I should not have had my lovely heart,” said the Tin Woodman. “I might have stood and rusted in the forest till the end of the world.”
  • “And I should have lived a coward forever,” declared the Lion, “and no beast in all the forest would have had a good word to say to me.”
  • “This is all true,” said Dorothy, “and I am glad I was of use to these good friends. But now that each of them has had what he most desired, and each is happy in having a kingdom to rule besides, I think I should like to go back to Kansas.”

➨Philosophical

The philosophical theme is when good prevails, evil no longer has power over individuals. In scene 5, the “good witch” contrasts with the “wicked witch.”

Additional scenes emphasize good versus evil. For example, in scene 33, the leader of the Winged Monkey makes clear the overarching philosophical theme.

“We dare not harm this little girl,” he said to them, “for she is protected by the Power of Good, and that is greater than the Power of Evil. All we can do is to carry her to the castle of the Wicked Witch and leave her there.”

Tip: Study your chosen genre to determine dominant themes. Don’t worry about coming up with a new one. Themes are universal life lessons, and readers want to learn and experience the world vicariously through the thoughts, decisions, words, actions, and emotions of your characters.

Structure

➨Beats within in Scenes

Baum included essential local beats within scenes.

  • Hook: Based on prior scenes, showed action/reaction, foretold trouble, grabbed attention, or raised a new question.
  • Setup: Gave brief information about the characters or setting.
  • Trigger: Forced to the surface, either an additional issue or the story problem.
  • Wrangle: Showed point of view character reflecting on choices or planned action.
  • Action: Shifted the scene focus from a problem to a character’s want or need.
  • Climax: Showed an outcome as a cliffhanger, redirection, setback, revelation (secret or lie), new question, or twist.

Tip: Track the Hook, Setup, Trigger, Wrangle, Action, and Climax for each scene. Scrivener simplifies the process with the Custom Metadata feature, but you can do the same thing by making comments in your MS Word document or using a spreadsheet to track the information scene by scene. This habit will create scene-by-scene summaries for your entire novel.

➨Scene Order and Pacing

The author ordered the scenes in a pattern that challenged the protagonist and co-protagonists to go through a try-and-fail cycle repeatedly. Each cycle raised the stakes, escalating the potential for physical, professional, or psychological death.

  • Act 1: Dorothy and Toto faced a life-threatening tornado, including her emotional death if she cannot find a way home.
  • Act 2: Dorothy and friends fought for their lives many times, and all faced emotional death if they could not achieve their heart’s desires.
  • Act 3: The protagonist and co-protagonists faced physical and emotional deaths, and the Wizard of Oz faced professional death if exposed as a fraud.

Because Baum used the try-and-fail cycle throughout the book, the ebb and flow of tension increased until its release in the RESOLUTION.

In the story, conflict resulted from opposing forces, including characters, nature, self, society, supernatural, and technology (e.g., Wizards Throne Room and his balloon). Tension occurred as readers expected more conflict. Suspense grew as the conflict remained unresolved, and readers wondered, What will happen next to Dorothy and her friends?

Tip: Global Story Beats help writers organize their stories, but genres suggest essential scenes, conventions, and tropes. Authors remain in control of what and where they place content. Just like a map, Global Story Beats show the most direct route to a desired destination; however, detours can entertain, inform, and inspire!

➨Point of View

Except for scene 37 (i.e., the beginning of Chapter 14), where Baum briefly uses second person, the story is told from the third-person omniscient narrator point of view.

According to reedsy.com, “Third person omniscient is the point of view where the narrator takes a ‘God’s Eye View,’ freely relating the thoughts of any character and any part of the backstory. The word literally means ‘all-knowing,’ so third-person omniscient narrators are not usually active characters in the story but have an external narrative voice.” It’s probably the oldest form of storytelling.

In contrast, second person point of view, the author directly addresses the reader by using the pronoun ‘you.’

Tip: Make your point of view choice before writing to save time and frustration. For example, switching from first person to third person requires rewriting. Also, readers often associate a point of view with a genre. Baum’s choice to use third person omniscient aligns with the action fantasy genre. In contrast, many authors use third-person limited for thrillers and mysteries, where the narrative viewpoint is told from the close perspective of one character.

Series Wrap Up

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz continues to delight readers of all ages. For writers, this masterwork is worthy of in-depth study, especially Baum’s consistent and artful use of beats to capture and hold the audience’s attention.

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I value your feedback, so let me know what you think!

What other masterworks have you studied? Recommendations for another deep dive?

4 Comments

      1. Excellent question, Jacqui! The 7-Step Storytelling modules are Plan, Outline, Write, and Edit. With that in mind, I’m working on video courses, offering writers fun yet practical tools to put that knowledge to work. More to come…

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