Conference Business

Last weekend I attended SCBWI BI’s annual Winchester Conference, the second writing-related conference this year. To put a long story short: I had a blast!

After this year’s Europolitan conference in Zurich–kudos to the regional team of SCBWI Switzerland–I realized was informed that Germany/Austria will be hosting the next Europolitan in two year’s time and I am going to be in charge of organizing it because I’m the Regional Advisor (RA).  (Cue some mild panic.)
I figured I better start looking around ASAP for a) ideas on affordable venues to host the next Europolitan, b) help to get it all sorted, and c) ideas what to do.
Naturally, I arrived at the idea of attending more SCBWI conferences to get a better picture of what can be done, how it’s done, and get some insights from my fellow RA+team who have been around a while. And along came Winchester. And there will be the annual Winter Conference in New York in early 2020. (Can’t wait!)

Pros and Cons from Winchester

On the plus side: the team, all volunteers, the venue, the faculty–well, everyone, really–was amazing. The whole conference was well planned. Talking to Natascha Biebow, I learned there were 200+ attendees, and despite the number of people, everything went like clockwork.
While all the breakout sessions I attended were informative and helpful, I liked the Friday Night Critique best: Feeback on the first 2000 words of my WIP. Neat! Peer feedback is such a crucial part of refining a manuscript! I got paired up with three other YA writers who all submitted super-exciting beginnings. If I had taken up those pages in book form, I would have wanted to read on for all of them.

On the ‘meh’-side – and I am well aware that point does not hold true to many others 😉 –the location is a teeny-tiny bit out of the way for those who don’t live in the UK. Coming from Karlsruhe, Germany, it took me a whole day of travel. (Train to Paris, Eurostar to King’ X, tube to Waterloo Station, train to Winchester; flights to Southampton were basically way beyond my budget) Of course, the time was not entirely lost as I worked on my WIP on the way to the Winchester and jotted down some post-conference notes on the way back. Unfortunately, after a few hours, even the comfiest train seat gets a bit old.

Meeting people

The SCBWI Germany/Austria region covers such a large area, I can’t possibly meet with all members. So, conferences are a perfect opportunity to seek out and meet with those people who you know only via social media. Below, a picture of the three Germany/Austria members in attendance this year. We all met for the first time, and it was great to finally shake hands in RL!

WhatsApp Image 2019-11-06 at 10.51.01.jpegThe brilliant Angela Murray and Helen Ishmurzin at our Ger/AT Region’s network meeting.

Also: THIS AMAZING CAKE at Saturday’s party, showing all the books of the SCBWI BI region’s mass-book-launch, topped with this year’s conference motto Telling Tales and the illustration/logo as sugar figurine.

WhatsApp Image 2019-11-06 at 10.50.44.jpegUnfortunately, I have no idea whom to credit for this masterpiece of cakemanship…but whoever is responsible: KUDOS! Just look at all these details–it’s amazing.

So, looking back to the past weekend, I am super happy I went to Winchester. I will definitely go again next year if I can manage at all and encourage everyone who is on the fence about attending such an event to go ahead – it’s been a blast.
I took home a few ideas for the Europolitan conference, too, so that’s another win. Yay!

Captain Marvel – Story Structure Analysis

Avengers: Endgame is going to hit cinemas in nine days – and I haven’t done the analysis for the last Marvel film, yet. Eeek! Time to change that: here goes my take on the Captian Marvel’s story structure.

Mandatory SPOILER ALERT!
Don’t read if you haven’t seen the Marvel’s Captain Marvel yet: spoilers galore ahead!
As I usually do, I use KM Weiland’s story structure to identify the beats of the rising action as well as the setbacks of the story and its climax.

Story Structure – Overview:

Hook: Kree Starforce member Vers suffers from weird nightmares.
Inciting Event: The Kree Supreme Intelligence clears Vers for a Kree mission with her commander Yon-Rogg
Key Event: The mission is a trap, Skrulls take Vers captive
First Plot Point: Vers escapes from the Skrull’s ship, crash-lands on earth, and meets Fury
First Pinch: Skrull leader Talos shapeshifts into Fury’s boss Keller
Midpoint: Vers learns about her past as Carol Danvers, the origin of her powers, the Kree manipulation, and the Skrull’s refugee status
Second Pinch: Yon-Rogg and his crew take over Mar Vel’s ship in Earth orbit, thwarting Skrull rescue plans
Third Plot Point: Carol successfully fights the Kree Supreme Intelligence’s mind manipulation and sets free her full powers
Climax: Carol/Vers fights her former Kree team incl. her mentor and commander Yon-Rogg, and protects Earth from Kree Accuser Ronan’s missiles
Climactic Moment: Carol refuses Kree teachings, allowing her to fully taps into her powers.
Resolution: Carol sends Yon-Rogg back to Hala with a warning/promise and leaves Earth to aid the Skrulls in their search for a new home

Detailed Analysis of the story structure: rising action, setbacks, and climax:

Captain Marvel starts out with setting the mood for the movie: the visuals of a battlefield with the heroine, battered and bloody amidst the remains of her vessel, facing an approaching enemy (Skrull). The audience soon learns that the scene is one of Kree Starforce member Vers’ dreams – reoccurring and disconcerting nightmares she can’t seem to shed nor make sense of. This works well as a hook: for one thing, most people relate to the trouble nightmares cause and for another, the obscure meaning of the dreams, their unknown cause as well as the questions attached to it, immediately pique the interest of the audience.

Vers’ night visions prompt a visit with the Kree Supreme Intelligence (SI), who tries to ascertain Vers’ ability to fight/function as a member of the Kree Starforce. The SI reminds Vers of her duty to use her powers for the benefit of the Kree race (or lose them again). Vers affirms her ability and willingness to fight in Yon-Rogg’s team of spec-ops. She is granted permission to join them on a search and rescue mission, extracting a Kree spy from behind the frontlines (inciting incident).

The mission turns out a failure. The whole thing is a set-up, a Skrull trap contrived to capture Vers. After abducting her, the Skrulls probe the same warped memories that feature in Vers’ nightmares, forcing her to re-live the same scenes over and over again (heavily featuring an older woman by the name of Wendy Lawson). In the process, she becomes aware of her situation and breaks free. She fights the Skrulls and escapes their heavily damaged ship on a rescue pod. The pod crash-lands on Earth. Some of the Skrulls make it off the destroyed ship and to the surface, too. These events qualify as the classic First Plot Point: Vers is stranded on a foreign planet = literally in another world, and she can’t easily remedy the situation.

Marooned on Earth, her gear somewhat damaged, and only mid-1990’s tech available, Vers try to contact Commander Yon-Rogg is shortlived. The connection is brief, barely long enough to submit her whereabouts, then fails. Now, Nick Fury of SHIELD shows up. His original amusement over Vers’ declaration of her status as “member of the Kree Starforce” vanishes when the Skrulls attack again. Vers’ Kree training kicks in and she springs into action at once. While she pursuits the Skrull on foot/public transport, Fury follows in his car. The chase ends with one Skrull dead, the other(s) escaped, Vers in possession of a Skrull data crystal, and a flabberghasted Fury, looking down on a Skrull corpse.

We arrive at the First Pinch Point when the antagonistic forces (the Skrulls) show their cunning and power. Fury, who can’t very well deny the alien’s existence flat-out anymore meets his boss Keller at the Skrull’s autopsy in the mortuary. But it’s not Keller, but Skrull leader Talos disguises as Fury’s boss. He deftly contains the scope of the investigation to Fury only. Meanwhile, Vers has accessed the data on the Skrull crystal and gleaned some hints where to continue her search for the ominous Wendy Lawson and any information that might shed some light at the whole business of seemingly contradictory dreams/memories/recollection.

She and Fury team up. They use Fury’s access to secret SHIELD facilities and gain knowledge about to Dr Lawson and more details of Vers’ past on Earth. They learn the whereabouts of Vers’ former Airforce (?) comrade and close friend Maria Rambeau. A shocked Maria provides Vers with her real name, Carol Danvers, and some more puzzle pieces for her still sketchy memories. The last pieces fall in place at the Midpoint, when Skrull leader Talos openly (and as himself) approaches the group in a last desperate bid. He succeeds – Carol, Fury, and Maria listen to the black box recording of Carol and Lawson’s plane crash. Vers/Carol finally remembers what has been purged/suppressed from her mind: she’s not a Kree at all, but a human who survived the explosion of a prototype engine core; Yon-Rogg is not so much her mentor but her captor; The Skrull are the victims, and she’s been deceived into believing otherwise.

The group decides to help Talos. With Carol and Maria’s help, they identify the coordinates Talos was looking for (supposedly to find the power core to help them flee the Kree oppression and start somewhere new) in close range to Earth. Skrull tech-guy Norex (?) refits the cargo plane for space usage, and they reach Dr Lawson’s (aka Kree rebel Mar Vel’s) cloaked lab in orbit. There, they not only find the power core she used to power her experimental engine (the Tesseract) but a large group of Skrull refugees, including Talos’ family. Unfortunately, the antagonistic force now comes back with a vengeance. (note: the antagonist has changed: the Skrulls are no longer the bad guys, but her old crew and the Kree in general are.) At the Second Pinch Point, Yon-Rogg and his crew arrive on Earth. He finds out Vers/Carol knows the truth about his deception. He kills Norex, calls for Ronan the Accuser to come and destroy Earth and takes over Mar Vel’s lab and captures Carol.

Carol is subjected to the mind-game of the SI once more. It’s even sassier than before, desperately trying to salvage any use of Carol as a puppet. But she’s having none of it. She realizes that she didn’t get her powers from the SI, but soaked it up in the explosion of the Tesseract-powered engine. She sheds restrictions imposed on her by the SI, escapes the imprisoning grip of its meta-plane, and comes back to herself. She is now finally able to use her power to its full extent. (Third Plot Point)

Carol’s break from the SI has blown the restrictions the Kree put on her. She can tap into her full powers, but she’s not yet capable of controlling it. She now tries to get the hang of her abilities while fighting against Yon-Rogg and her old crew, who are after the Tesseract. Since she left the artifact with Fury (later swallowed by Goose), this fight serves mainly as a distraction to allow Fury, Maria, and the Skrull refugees enough time to flee the ship. The group makes it to the cargo jet, off Mar Vel’s lab and back to Earth, Maria as the pilot. Unfortunately, now the stakes rise for one last time: Ronan the Accuser turns up and launches a massive attack on Earth. (Climax) Carol, earthbound in free fall, embraces her human core and the emotions she has been suppressing. This is her Moment of Truth (Climactic Moment) – the end of her character arc – where she finally sheds the last of the Kree teachings and banishes the lingering traces of the ‘Lie.’ As a result, she gains full control over her powers.

Now, an empowered Carol brings down Yon-Rogg, destroys the missiles Ronan launched and in a display of power forces him to retreat. She turns to Earth where she blasts Yon-Rogg one last time after refusing his bait to fight her sans powers, and sends him back to Hala with the promise/warning aimed at the SI, that she’d come and make an end to the Kree’s unjust war. The rest of the Resolution centers around her promise to help the Skrull find another home far from the reach of the Kree. She says goodbye to her friends and promises to return if Earth would be in dire need, leaving Fury a modified pager and the (at the time Goose-protected) Tesseract.

That’s it. I hope you enjoyed this post. Anything to add? Write to me in the comments.

Former Posts in this Category:
Marvel-verse: Black Panther and Black Panther Character ArcAvengers: Infinity War
DCEU: Wonder Woman and Aquaman

Aquaman – Story Structure Analysis

The last two story structure analysis posts concerned movies from the Marvel universe. Today, I want to switch back to DC. You can find the last one I did in the DC-verse here: Wonder Woman
I need to admit that I was positively surprised by the whole movie. That’s not just because Jason Momoa in action is nice to look at. The story structure is solid, the character development is well done and they did a good job with the visuals, too (no, not just the body-hugging Altantian-clothes.)

And the mandatory SPOILER ALERT!
Please don’t read on if you haven’t seen the movie yet and want to keep the suspense intact. As I usually do, I use KM Weiland’s story structure to identify the rising action and the main story points.

Story Structure – Overview:

Hook: Arthur Curry’s parents meet
Inciting Event: (pre-movie) Arthur’s half-brother King Orm decides on a war against the surface
Key Event: Orm’s flash floods almost kill Arthur’s father
First Plot Point: Arthur agrees to help to stop the war
First Pinch: Orm beats Arthur at the Ring Of Fire challenge
Midpoint: Arthur and Mera retrieve directions to the trident from the Kingdom of the Deserters
Second Pinch: Orm’s killer squad attacks in Sicily
Third Plot Point: Arthur wins King Atlan’s trident
Climax: Arthur enters the great battle at the border of the Kingdom of the Brine
Climactic Moment: Arthur refuses to kill Orm
Resolution: Arthur is declared king and his parents meet again

Detailed Analysis of the story structure and the rising action

The movie starts out with a series of scenes setting up Arthur Curry aka Aquaman’s history, starting from how his parents meet up to the point his mother decides to leave again to protect him. We get some glimpses from Arthur’s childhood, most notably the one in the Boston Aquarium where his ability to ‘talk’ to fish is introduced for the first time (Foreshadowing).

It’s a bit tricky to identify the Inciting Event here. One could argue that Arthur’s parents’ chance meeting (and his subsequent conception) could be a viable candidate because without that none of the movie’s events would have taken place. But since the movie’s main conflict is about the Atlantean forces threatening war on the surface (we’d be so screwed) the Inciting Event needs to be a moment that set this specific conflict in motion. Arthur’s mother Atlanna’s conviction for treason and her subsequent death in the trench comes to mind. That, at least, is the reason Orm hates the surface. But his deep dislike and suspicion of the surface dwellers don’t necessarily mean he’s bound to wage war on them. So only when he decides to do so and starts to pursue a war against the surface, does he start the chain of events that will lead to Arthur’s involvement in this conflict.

Orm’s plan (as becomes clear only in later scenes) is to force the other underwater kings to join him in the fight and declare him Ocean Master. To achieve this, he plans to stage an attack, seemingly carried out by the surface. This requires a submarine. The acquisition of said vessel is when Arthur gets in touch with his brother’s devious plan for the first time. He intervenes when Orm’s mercenaries, pirate Manta & his cronies, are about to take over a Russian submarine. He doesn’t know he’s interfering with his half brother’s plans.
Arthur rescues the submarine’s crew members (those still alive) but leaves Manta and his (incapacitated father), telling them to “ask the sea for mercy.” Manta’s father is killed and Manta himself is bound on seeking revenge. The submarine sinks but is later used for the intended purpose: an attack, seemingly by surface dwellers, on King Orm and King Nereus. Orm’s plan works; Nereus agrees to fight on his side.

But Arthur just brushed the conflict by his interference in the submarine. He is not yet personally involved. This changes when Mera seeks him out, asking his help. Classic “call to adventure.” Also classic: He (politely) declines. The Key Event hits, when Orm’s “retaliation flash flood” hits the coasts and he and his father get caught in it. Now, he’s personally affected. And offended. The guys who killed his mom now threatened his Dad, his only family left, as well. It’s not uncommon for the First Plot Point to follows right on the heels of the Key Event. When Mera helps to rescue his Dad and renews her plea, pointing out the dangers once more, Arthur can’t ignore her any longer. He agrees to take action, at last, entering Atlantis for the first time with her help. There, he meets Vulko again, his former Atlantean teacher/mentor. Vulko & Mera lay out their plan: “win the hearts of the people by proving to be worthy. Prove to be worthy by retrieving King Atlan’s lost trident, the legendary Trident of Neptun (*1), then challenge and dethrone Orm.

Quite the plan but bam! all goes awry when Orm’s soldiers capture Arthur right there the next scene. Orm baits Arthur into challenging him for the throne right then. They battle in front of a huge crowd and it goes increasingly bad for Arthur. We arrive at the First Pinch Point when Orm smashes Arthur’s trident. Luckily, Mera shows up. Arthur flees with her and they (barely) escape. Notable here is how they do that: They hide in a whale’s gullet after Arthur tells the beast to help them. This is the second time his ability to talk to fish (or let’s say sea creatures since a whale is technically a mammal) crops up and saves the day.

With the last sequence of scenes being action and tension heavy, it’s now time for a breather. The pace slows a little and we get some much needed comic relief. Arthur and Mera go back to their and Vulko’s original plan: retrieve the legendary Trident of Neptune, the key to the heart of Atlantis. For a change, things go well. They make it to the lost Kingdom of the Deserters, survive the fall/slide through the sand dune and the first room they walk in is the hall they were looking for. The artefact fits the hologram-machine-thingy and, with some coaxing, it even works. Neat. Here, at the Midpoint, Arthur and They Mera acquire, if not the trident, the next clue. They walk away unchallenged with a glass bottle and a map, showing where to go next.

They make their way to Sicily and, amidst some slightly cheesy exploration of the romantic subplot, find the place where to look for the next clue, and get the next location. Of course, it would be far to easy to just go on now, so the Second Pinch Point comes up, just in time to display King Orm’s extensive reach and his willingness to win this conflict by all available means. His forces arrive in the form of a killer squad headed by Manta. There are other scenes along the way that display Orm’s ruthlessness, e.g. when he kills the Fishermen Kingdom’s king and threatens its heir into joining him. But the attack on Sicily fits the characteristics of a pinch point better. For one, it’s a direct confrontation where both Mera and Arthur actively defend their lives. But also, because it involves Manta again, picking up a subplot from the first act. His enmity and brutality are hardly surprising.
Arthur and Mera battle their way out of this tight situation. However, it’s a narrow win and Arthur is hurt in the process. Of course, it’s nothing serious. By the time he comes to, he’s all but restored by the wondrous aid of some seaweed Mera applied to his cuts and stab wounds.

Arthur and Mera are en route to the next location. Alas, it’s in the Kingdom the Trench, the very place Arthur’s mother Atlanna was sacrificed for her treason twenty-odd years ago! But there’s no help for it, so down they go. Attacked and followed by an impressive swarm of Trench-creatures, they make it to the thunderbolt-lighted whirlwind/hurricane portal that looks like an underwater version of the Star War’s Maelstrom in-and-out of Kessel. Both Mera and Arthur are sure to be ripped apart inside but of course they go in anyway. And end up at The Hidden Sea where prehistoric beasts roam an undiscovered Jule-Verne-like Earth’s core complete with ginormous diamond crystals. In a not-so-surprising twist, Atlanna is here, too. She’s a bit worn and scrubby after her solitary confinement to the place for such a long time, but alive and well. (Such a sweet moment when they meet as adults for the first time.)

The only way out is to retrieve the trident from the late King Atlan’s grasp. Only snag: The Karathen, another mythical creature come alive, guards it. A nice touch at this point in the movie is Arthur’s inner growth in this and the next scenes. Much of his anger and resentment rested on the loss of his mother and the cruelty of the Atlantean sentence. (*2) To him, it equalled punishing his mere existence and he partly blamed himself for Atlanna’s death. Now she’s here and urges him on. He’s not fighting for is own inner lust for revenge anymore but to protect the people from Orm’s war.
So in he goes. He battles the Karathen and gets his ass whipped until, finally, the third instance (*3) of the heavily foreshadowed “talk to sea creatures” ability does the trick in a classic “the power is in you!-moment” that would make Dan Wells quite happy. (*4)
Karathen, sufficiently impressed by Arthurs words, calms down. Arthur claims the Trident of Neptune at last in a satisfying Third Plot Point.

Now everything moves on fast. Orm exposes Vulko and has him arrested. He then sounds the charge on the Kingdom of the Brine, the last one to bow the knee and make him Ocean Master. Thankfully, Karathen gives Arthur and his two ladies a ride home from the core. They engage in the conflict at the Brine’s border. Arthur wields the power of Atlantis via the trident, all the creatures come to fight for him. We get the climax of the romantic subplot now, too, complete with “fireworks.” (Dan Wells reference again, check out his 7 Point Structure talk!) Next, Mera’s father backs down and the Fishermen’s teenager-queen follows suit. She wasn’t all that eager to fight anyway.

So now it comes down to the Climax: the fight between Arthur and his little brother, warmonger Orm. This time, Arthur forces Orm to fight on land (thanks for the suggestion, Mera). Here, Arthur’s got the advantage and he uses it. The brothers battle. Arthur does well, his brand-new (or ancient – depending on how you want to see it) trident shatters Orm’s weapon. That, however, isn’t yet the climactic moment. That would be when Arthur refuses to kill Orm, distancing himself from the brutality and mercilessness of Atlantean habits. He’s better than this; he’s learned differently from his parents.

Now the resolution’s scenes begin. Atlanna calms down Orm. Vulko comes up, free and reinstated as vizier. Arthur is declared King. And last but not least, we circle back to the beginning and the relationship of Arthur’s parents. Tom Curry reunites with Atlanna. Perfect HEA. (I’m not crying; you are crying!)

This is where the movie officially ends. BUT…
Fast forward to the after credit scene. Surprise! Manta isn’t dead. And to top it off, he’s fished from a plank in the middle of the sea by the crazy, Atlantis-obsessed Dr Stephen Shin, the guy who’s been all over Breakfast-TV with his (not so wrong) speculations about Atlanteans. Patched up and on the mend, Manta vows to go after Aquaman once more, setting up the Aquaman 2 movie with the continued conflict between both men.

Annotations:

(*1)
I’ve read some pieces where King Atlan’s trident is called a classic MacGuffin/McGuffin. It’s not!
By definition, a MacGuffin is usually established in the 1st act as a motivator for the main character(s) and has its importance decline from then on. It is often not narratively explained nor serves a deeper purpose in the plot.
None of that is the case for the trident. The trident and its pursuit don’t come up until after the First Plot Point. Then, the trident’s history is explained at length and so is the reason for Arthur’s pursuit of it. It’s not a mere plot device for motivation either because by then, Arthur has already made up his mind to go against Orm. Later, the trident serves a significant purpose in the plot.
Therefore: NOT a MacGuffin at all.

(*2) Arthur isn’t the only one who’s inner conflict is based on Atlanna’s untimely demise. For both sides, protagonist & antagonist, her sentence and subsequent death in the Trench is the reason to resent the other. Both their inner motivation is to revenge her and that’s a nice touch. Of course, both act from opposite sides of the conflict. While Orm wants to wage war on the surface as a punishment for luring his glorified mother into treasonous acts, Arthur seeks revenge for the brutality of the sentence she received for loving his father (and giving birth to him). To Arthur, the conviction of his mother passes judgement upon himself and his existence.

(*3) The rule of (the) three, often used in storytelling (literature and film) states that a device/fact/action/motivation is employed three times for maximum impact and satisfaction of the audience. Read up about it here.

(*4) Dan Wells‘s a well-known author and podcaster with Writing Excuses. Check out his talk(s) about the 7 Points Story Structure to know what I’m referring to here. I recommend it for everyone interested in story structure. It’s brilliant. You can find a good summary of the corresponding Youtube clips on Karen Woodward’s blog. If you watch all of the five clips, you’ll see where the “The power is in you!” and “Fireworks!” references come from.

That’s it. I hope you enjoyed this post. Anything to add? Write to me in the comments.

 

Bye 2018, hello 2019!

I firmly believe looking back at the old year is the best way to start the new year. What to keep up, where to improve routines, what to avoid. I have to admit, I didn’t achieve all I had set out for in 2018, but it hasn’t been a complete failure either.
Here’s the list I drew up in my post at the beginning of 2018:

1) Finish the first draft of my current WIP — nope
2) Read and write more poetry — done
3) Read more in general, especially non-“on-the-craft” books — done
4) Put work into the blog: take-away-points from webinars, blog posts on story structure and character arcs  — partly done
5) submitting non-novel works – poems and possibly short stories – done
6) Use my time effectively and minimise social media procrastination — partly done

Recapping 2018, I realised I did a lot of poetry. That took up a considerable time that I eventually didn’t spend with my WIP. But I enjoyed writing poems. Some are on the blog, others I submitted to a number of magazines, journals and contests. Nothing ever came off it but I did enjoy the work with words. It helped improve my vocabulary and the sense for the English language.
I did read more in 2018, too and exceeded the 25 books Goodreads challenge by two. (27 books seems few? pls keep in mind that I’m a working mom with 2 kids and a household).
I didn’t finish my WIP, though. The focus on poetry took up a lot of time. But I’m aaaaalmost there. Another month and it should be finished.
In terms of social media, I did well with scaling down on Facebook and Instagram. I didn’t do as well with Twitter, though, partly because of the mess world politics is in right now, partly because many people of the writer community are there. I don’t want to quit Twitter, but working on an adequate time spent there is definitely on the list for the new year.
There’s one thing I didn’t note as a to-do for 2018 but am glad I did: I wrote a 5-Year-Plan to map out How to get to where I see myself in 5 years time. Breaking down large goals into achievable bits has helped me a lot.

Here’s what I’m challenging myself to achieve in 2019

1) Finish the first draft of the current WIP (Déjà-vu again) AND get it in shape for submission in 2020. I’m close to finishing the first draft anyway so the emphasis is more on the second part of this goal. Revisions will take time and since I’ve never done it, this will involve reading a few craft-books on this particular topic.
2) Do Goodreads Reading Challenge again. I read 27 books in 2018. Why not aim high? I’ll set the goal to 30 books in 2019.
3) I want to keep up the good work with the blog, but put up less poetry and more story structure posts.
4) In addition to the work on the WIP, I want to write and revise one short story.
5) In the 2nd half of the year, when I have to set aside the revised WIP, I want to outline a new novel (preferably pre-November) and write the first draft of it during NaNoWriMo.
6) And last but not least, the never-ending story of time management and reduce social media procrastination. I want to join the #5amwritersclub again more often, for a start, and use the time I got more wisely.

Now it’s your turn. What’re your goals for the new year? Anything to add? Write to me in the comments.

 

Avengers: Infinity War – Story Structure Analysis

My take on Avengers: Infinity War’s story structure.

Warning: The following text will analyze the three-act structure of Avengers: Infinity War and will, of course, include spoilers galore. If you haven’t seen this movie yet and want to keep the suspense, please stop reading now. Otherwise, please join me in my musings about IW’s structural composition.

As always I’m going to use the story structure elements known to result in a classic three-act structure. If you are not familiar with it, please visit K.M. Weiland’s site for a brilliant overview of the three-act structure and story theory. You’ll find additional possibilities and extensive descriptions for a deeper dive into all related elements.

I’ve toyed with the idea to draw out a story structure that is based on Thanos as the main character. He is the central (albeit antagonistic) force that drives the story forward and his character arc is the most pronounced – however, Thanos as the main character didn’t really add up with the story beats.
But who is it, then?
At first, I couldn’t identify any other character that would fit the role. Everyone finally comes together. The core group from Earth and Black Panther, Thor, Bucky, Spiderman, Dr. Strange, and the Guardians – there are just too many good guys and they all are in different locations, too. So where to start? Who’s the one with the most impact or the highest stakes?

Only after some days of pondering the issue, did I come up with an idea: the clue is in the title. It’s not an Iron Man or Captain America or Guardians of the Galaxy movie – it’s an Avengers movie! I hadn’t done a story structure analysis for any Avengers movie so far, but when I went so far as to treat the Avengers as a group as the protagonistic force, suddenly the story structure beats made sense. (Yes, that might be a controversial approach but it’s my solution to the structural setup.)

Overview of the story arc / structural elements for Infinity War

Inciting moment: (pre-story): Thanos acquires the Infinity Gauntlet
Hook: Thanos attacks the Asgardian refugee ship & acquires the Space Stone
Key moment: Thanos sends his Children to Earth to get the two infinity stones from there
First Plot Point: Cap, Natascha, and Sam return to defend Wanda and Vision (or, more broadly spoken Earth)
First Pinch Point: Thanos abducts Gamora
Midpoint (2nd plot point): Gamora reveals the location of the Soul Stone
Second Pinch Point: Thanos’ forces arrive on Earth and prepare for a fight in Wakanda (and Thanos sacrifices Gamora)
Third Plot Point: Dr. Strange hands over the time stone to save Toni
Climax: Thanos arrives on Earth and joins the (quite lopsided) fight
Faux Climax: Wanda destroys the Mind Stone
Climactic Moment: Thanos reverses the time and claims the Mind Stone and Thor is too late to prevent Thanos from snapping with his fingers
Resolution: Thanos wipes out half the universe, The Avengers have lost the fight and are heavily decimated. Thanos escapes.

Detailed Analysis of the story and the connection of the structural beats

The Inciting Event is usually described as the event that sets the story in motion. In Avengers: Infinity War, the story is about preventing Thanos from killing half the Universe or as he would say “to bring balance to the universe.” In short, the story is about preventing Thanos from controlling all six Infinity Stones. His first actions to achieve this goal happen way before the movie starts when he attacks Nidavellir and forces Eitri to forge the Infinity Gauntlet (gauntlet-shaped device that enables the wearer to wield all six Infinity Stones without getting harmed by their power.) The audience learns about these events only later. Afterwards (also pre-movie), he heads to Xandar where he wipes out half of the population and acquires the first Infinity Stone – the purple Power Stone.

(One could argue that forging of the Infinity Gauntlet is merely a preparation and not the launch of the overall plan of getting the stones. Without the device, however, even Thanos wouldn’t stand a chance to control all stones so the Gauntlet is a vital part of the storyline.)

The movie itself hooks us in with the attack on the Asgardian refugee ship. Just barely escaped from Hela and the destroyed Asgard, the ship is heavily damaged and corpses cover the floor. Loki and Thor are in a tight spot; even Hulk has no luck in stopping Thanos. This first scene sets up Thanos, his brutality and his goals within minutes. He seeks to give “balance” to the universe. He has been after one or the other Infinity Stone before (in The Avengers he sends Loki to Earth with a Chitauri army for the Tesseract (and the Time Stone?); in The Guardians of the Galaxy he’s after the Power Stone but both Gamora and his Kree puppet Ronan betray him.)
Now, he’s changed tactics and isn’t after one but all Infinity Stones to grant him powers hitherto unknown – godlike, even – and achieve his evil deed with the snap of his fingers. Naturally, Thor, Loki and the rest of the universe beg to disagree that this is the way to go about it, so the conflict/opposition between both sides is instant and unnegotiable.

However, neither Loki nor Thor nor Hulk are a match on their own and after acquiring the blue Space Stone from the center of the Tesseract, Thanos sends his Children off to Earth to bring back the two stones that are currently there. This is the moment where Thanos’ actions draw the rest of the Avengers into the storyline – it is the Key Event.

Now, the rising action of the plot kicks in. Earth is forewarned about the pending attack (courtesy of Heimdal who sends home the unconscious Hulk in a last heroic act) but not at all ready or prepared to deal with what’s coming. The aftermath of Avengers: Civil War still looms large and divides the forces of the earthbound Avengers.
The Maw and Cull Obsidian show up in New York. Hulk is a no-show after the severe beating from Thanos and Dr. Banner in his human form isn’t of any help in a fight. That leaves Toni, Wong and Dr. Strange the sole fighting protectors of the Time Stone. Even with Spiderman showing up mid-fight they barely manage to stay alive. They get rid of Cull Obsidian via a wizard portal to Antarctica (?), but can’t prevent the Maw from abducting the stone along with the immobilized Dr. Strange. Toni and Peter follow and make it (unseen) to the Maw’s spaceship last minute. (not so earthbound anymore, eh?)

Thanos’ second crew, namely Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glaive, sets out for Vision’s stone – the yellow Mind Stone – and attack him and Wanda in Scotland. After the fight in New York Dr. Banner has informed Cap (and Natasha & Sam) about the recent events and the dangers ahead. They arrive just in time to help fight back the attackers. Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glaive’s fail to retrieve the Mind Stone. That sets back Thanos’ plan considerably but more important, it serves to reunite the Avengers in one cause. Therefore, I’d identify this moment as the First Plot Point. All our heroes are now engaged in the fight against Thanos, even though they aren’t literally fighting side by side but spread out across the universe.

Thanos, in the meantime, marches on with his original plan. We learn about that plan when Thor recounts the inciting event(s) to the Guardians just prior to the First Plot Point. This sets up a rough roadmap of expectations for the audience and – following the reasoning that there are two tasks for the Guardians and Thor (acquire a weapon able to kill Thanos – and getting to red Reality Stone currently in Knowhere with the Collector ahead of Thanos) they split up.
While Groot, “Sweet Rabbit” Rocket, and Thor are en route to Nidavellir, the rest of the crew makes for Knowhere. On the way there, Gamora goes to some length to make Quill promise to rather kill her then let Thanos take her (foreshadowing.)

When they arrive on Knowhere the place seems deserted and of course, Thanos is there, threatening the Collector. Gamora doesn’t waste any time. She overpowers and kills Thanos in a quick series of battle moves. And when she’s done, she cries over his dead body, anguished by what she did. Promptly, Thanos reveals himself. The audience witnessed nothing more than a twisted version of reality, a fake. Thanos isn’t dead at all and already in possession of the Reality Stone. Even though Quill does, after agonizing moments of indecision, shoot to kill Gamora, Thanos’ reality control thwarts the effort. Thanos disappears with Gamora, leaving Quill, Drax, and Mantis amidst the burning Knowhere. The story has arrived at the First Pinch Point showcasing the (rising) power of the antagonist with actions that confirm the worst fears.

In the next scenes of the storyline, we return to several different locations where several Avengers make headway with plans to stop Thanos. On Earth, Cap and crew arrive at Avengers HQ and rejoin Rodes and Dr. Banner. They devise a plan to separate Vision and the Mind Stone and make for Wakanda. Toni and Spiderman free Dr. Strange and kill the Maw but, unable (or unwilling) to turn the spaceship around, they are now Titan-bound, ready to fight.

On this happy note we near the Midpoint that brings us back to Thanos’ ship. He is after the Soul Stone but doesn’t know where it is. He suspects Gamora knows (and there have been multiple foreshadowing moments by this time that the audience assumes it’s true.) Thanos now needs to find a way to bring Gamora to disclose its location to him. After playing nice for a short time, explaining his reasoning and still getting dismissed by her, he resorts to torture – of Nebula. Gamora denies, is confronted with indisputable proof; the torture escalates and Nebula’s pain proves too much for Gamora – she eventually reveals the location of the Soul Stone.

The pace picks up now. The audience suspects that Thanos is only moments from acquiring the Soul Stone while the protagonistic forces struggle with different tasks. They do make headway, though: Team Thor is on Nidavellir, setting to work on forging the “Thanos-killing-kind” of weapon (Stormbreaker) with Eitri’s help. Nebula escapes capture and sends a distress signal to Mantis. They are to meet on Titan.
There (after some comic relief) the Guardians join forces with Team Toni only to have Dr. Strange up the stakes with his remark about the 1 in 14 million chance to win this whole fight…

In the following scenes are two events that might qualify as the Second Pinch Point: the landing of Thanos’ forces on Earth and Gamora’s death on Vormir. The latter event follows closely after the Midpoint and while Thanos walks away with yet another Infinity Stone and therefore increased power, I think the scene informs more deeply on Thanos’ character arc and could be seen as an extension of the Midpoint.
Better suited in timing to qualify as the Second Pinch Point is the re-appearance of Proxima Midnight (and Corvus Glaive) on Earth, more precisely on the Wakandan border with an army of beastlike aliens in her wake. Her cold rage and the sneer about the sheer amount of “blood to spare” pose an immediate and serious threat to Wakanda’s defenders even if they show some (misplaced) attitude about it. I suppose, in the end, Cap and the others know that they don’t need to win-win this fight but simply need to give Shuri time to extract the Mind Stone from Vision’s forehead.

With Gamora dead on Vormir we are down to three major locations with protagonists fighting and moving the story forward: Nidavellir, where Thor helps Eitri with the forge in a near-suicidal act that even shakes teenage-Groot out of his video game stupor and prompts him to give an arm to finish Stormbreaker; Earth, where the fight turns ugly fast while Shuri is at work separating Vision from the Mind Stone; and Titan, where Thanos shows up, courtesy of the Space Stone once again, expecting the Maw with the Time Stone ready to be delivered to him.

Instead, he walks into a trap. Dr. Strange, Toni, Spiderman, Nebula and the rest of the Guardians execute a series of attacks. Mantis mind-sedates Thanos but struggles to keep it up. The group fails to get the Infinity Gauntlet off his hand before Quill blows it (moron!). The fight intensifies, Thanos winning ground until only Toni is left standing. They fight but Toni is in trouble – his suit’s capabilities are no match for Thanos and he severely injures Toni.

Now, Dr. Strange intervenes and trades Toni’s life for the Time Stone. Thanos accepts and, true to his word, leaves. Everything just changed – we’ve come to the Third Plot Point. Dr. Strange gave up the Time Stone despite his former assertions to never do such a thing. Thanos is five stones down, one to go. Even Dr. Strange mentions the significance of the event when at the closure of the scene prompted by Toni’s “Why did you do that?” he simply states “We are in the endgame now.”

And the endgame (AKA the Climax) goes down on Earth. Shuri’s attempt to separate Vision from the Mind Stone have been thwarted when Corvus Glaive raided the lab after Wanda joined the fight in the field. Cap calls everyone to order, but “Heads up, stay sharp!” is of no use. Thanos shows up and works his way through defenders with sickening ease. Vision and Wanda’s time is up and they know it. Vision begs her to end it and she finally sets to work. Holding off Thanos with one hand (You go girl!) she melts the Mind Stone with her other hand and succeeds – blasting Vision and the stone to smithereens. The audience only gets a short moment to enjoy this triumph – it’s a Faux Climax after all – and after Thanos is done commiserating with a heartbroken Wanda, he simply turns back the time and plucks the Mind Stone from Vision’s forehead, casting his dead body aside like a broken puppet.

Now, everything seems lost. Thanos fits the last stone to its socket in the Infinity Gauntlet and…gets Stormbreaker square in the chest. Thor for the rescue! The promise of Stormbreaker’s power seems to be true. The weapon is indeed strong enough to injure Thanos. The only problem is: he can still snap his fingers with the weapon embedded in his chest. And he does – in the true Climatic Moment. The gauntlet crumples, but the deed is done. Thanos won.

The Resolution follows instantly. Everywhere people start dissolving. On Titan, Nebula states the obvious: “He did it.” The audience is left to hope that Dr. Strange’s last words to Toini before crumbling (“There was no other way.”) might hint at the fact that this had to be part of the one chance in 14 million to win, but it’s a weak consolation. Half the Avengers/Guardians are gone while Thanos gets to retire to his hut overlooking a lush landscape, watching the “sun rise on a grateful (?) universe.”

The after credit scene is no ray of sunshine either: Director Fury curses when he sees Maria Hill dissolve and as he starts to go the same way, he at least got time to send out a last distress signal…
The Audience is left to deal with Thanos’ victory and to mourn the dead.

That’s it! Do you have anything to add? If so, please leave a comment.

Please note that this analysis is my personal opinion. I do not suggest my musings to be the absolute truth nor do I claim to know what the scriptwriters had in mind.
I have done similar posts for the movies Black Panther and Wonder Woman. Please head over there and read those, too, if you enjoyed this one.

To Dust – Weekly Poetry Challenge

Yesterday we went on a hike that led us to Alsace and three old castles: Loewenbourg, Wegelnbourg, and Hohenbourg – mostly reduced to ruins. The sight’s a good reminder: All that is now will eventually turn to dust. So here’s my entry to Colleen’s Poetry Challenge. Synonym words were CHANGE and DEFY.

2018-09-01 16.43.06picture: Castle Hohenbourg  – September 1st, 2018

~To Dust~

The hands of time turn
mercilessly—eat the world
alive, bit by bit.
Stone breaks to dust, flesh withers.
Nothing withstands time’s power.

All shifts, all crumbles—
memories that remain fade
into nothingness.

 

Another picture of one of the ruin’s doors/arches – it’s the entrance that led to a spiral staircase used to get to the upper part of the castle. Only a few steps are left, you can see the remains peeking out from behind the left door frame.
The castle was established in the 13th century and destroyed and rebuilt several times as ownership and allegiances shifted. This arch’s time stamp dates back to 1578. That’s 400 years between the year the stone mason chiseled those numbers into that slab of stone and my own arrival here on earth – 440 between that day and the day this picture was taken.

2018-09-01 16.41.58

Summer Peril – Tanka Challenge #96

My Tanka poem for Colleen’s Tanka challenge #96. It’s been unbearably hot in most of Europe – a poem about the summer’s cruel grasp seems to be a natural topic.
This week’s prompt words were CONGREGATE and PASSION. I chose meet and heat as synonyms.

~Summer Peril~

Meet me at the foot
of the thirsty willow tree.
Its leaves fall in sheets,
dancing pirouettes of death
down to the dry riverbed.

Last week’s rain dance went
unheard, is unanswered still.
The sky’s unblemished.
Below the weeping branches
we hide from the burning heat.