Day 17 of PREPtober

Today we’re going to review what Plot is and breakdown Die Hard into its different craft elements.


Hi, everyone and welcome to day 17 where we are going to be reviewing plot. Now, plot is simply what happens in your story, and the order in which it unfolds. Now, you may have heard the terms plot-driven stories versus character-driven stories, and the difference really is that your character for a plot-driven story is simply there to be put through the paces of your plot. For example, Hunger Games was really not about Katniss as much as it was about the Hunger Games and whatever character was put into that story needed to follow each of the different plot points in order for that story to be told, versus a character-driven story like Legally Blonde where the actions that she took in the movie were very much based on her personality, her goals, the obstacles she faced. Each of those, in turn, directed her into the next phase of that story.

The best way to learn plot is to reverse engineer a story, and hopefully, you will learn how to recognize this with the next time you watch a movie, you read a book or watch a TV show because pretty much all commercially viable genre fiction follows this formula. Now, out of scope is literary fiction, so I will not be addressing that at all.

In our example, if you had maybe checked your e-mail yesterday, I had suggested that you watch Die Hard as a homework lesson, so that is the story that we will be following. I believe that story is from the ’80’s. I’m not even sure when that story, that movie was made. It’s old, but it is a great example, and you see it everyday repeated, whether it is Paul Blart Mall Cop, which is simply Die Hard in a mall, or it is Speed, which is Die Hard on a bus. There are a lot of variations of Die Hard in different settings because it is such a well-written story. It definitely hits on all of the different plot points.In our story, and again, it’s going to help a lot if you have seen it at least once, or if you went to watch it recently, but we are introduced to our main character, which I talked about yesterday, should be in your opening scene. McClane is the hero of our story, and he is a New York City cop visiting his wife in LA. Immediately, he is picked up at the airport in a limo. Now, to help us sympathize and really like this character, he admits that he’s never been in a limo. He’s basically just like one of us. Instead of sitting in the back, he sits in the front with the limo driver and tells them that he’s here to visit his wife that he’s been separated from and estranged from for six months, so we feel some sympathy for him. That also sets it up so the limo driver stays in the parking garage while he goes to the party, just in case things don’t work out, and he needs a quick exit to leave. This is obviously a time before Uber existed.

Once he’s there, the inciting incident is that his wife, he finds out, is not using his last name. She’s returned back to her maiden name. I know you’re thinking, “Well, I thought the inciting incident was something with the terrorist.” Well, the story is just there to help go with the internal GMC that he had, which is to reconcile with his wife. Now, because he found out that she is using his name, it logically makes sense that when all of the terrorists come in and start taking everyone hostage at this party, he stays in her office, because he doesn’t want to interact with her. He’s upset, and he is able to escape then once the terrorists come in and go to a different floor and is not taken hostage like everybody else.

The first plot point is actually when her boss is killed, so the terrorist very much wants some money that is there in the building, and the boss, for whatever reason I don’t remember, doesn’t want to give up the codes or doesn’t have them, and so the terrorists kill him. Now, this is really great because it sets up for us that this is definitely a life and death situation, right? We talked about obstacles before, and we said they should be as close to death as possible, so that your obstacle is death of a career, a psychological death. This is actual physical death. This definitely raises the stakes for this story.

When we talk about act two, we talked about there’s a build up in act two. There’s a midpoint, which is your plot point number two, and then the descending part of act two. That leads up to the midpoint, and then comes down. Leading up to that midpoint, John McClane is playing a cat and mouse game with the terrorists where they know that he’s in the building because he’s pulled the fire alarm, but he’s been forwarded because the terrorists are able to mimic an American accent and let the police know it’s just simply a prank or problems with the building, and they have access to all of the security codes.

The midpoint is when the police officer is about to drive away because he comes to the building. He talks to security. He finds out that it is just a prank, and everything is fine. Right when he’s about to leave, McClane actually shoots at the police car and throws a dead body out the window, and it lands on the police car. Now we know that this is a small win for McClane. Now, from there, things go back downward, and he runs into Hans who is the main terrorist lead. This guy very much wants to kill McClane an get rid of him. Now, what happens is McClane is fooled because he’s very actually physically seen Hans. Remember, he ran away before all of the terrorists came in. He fools him by mimicking an American accent. He makes McClane think that he’s just someone who maybe escaped from the party and gives him a gun. Now, he wants his detonator’s back, and this is also something that’s used a lot in mysteries and other stories as a MacGuffin. Everyone wants to get the detonators back.

When McClane refuses to give him the detonators, he threatens to kill him, pulls the gun. We find out that McClane is pretty smart and gave him an empty gun. There are no bullets in it. He cannot shoot him. However, he does notice that McCLane does not have shoes on. Now, earlier, this was set up, and this is a great device that you can use in your stories if you find that you want to interweave something into the story later, but you don’t want it to come out of nowhere. What happened was on the plane flight over, McClane talked to a passenger because he was a little nervous. The passenger advised him to take his shoes off when he was upset to help alleviate his anxiety. What he did is he took his shoes off when he was alone in Holly’s office instead of joining the party when the terrorists were there, and so when he had to make a quick get-away, he left his shoes and did not have them.

When the terrorist notices, he shoots the glass. McClane ends up walking this famous scene on the broken glass and has his feet all bloody. He has to retreat in order to save his life, and because of that, the terrorist now has the detonator, so that is the end of act two and plot point number two. Now, we move forward.

We move forward to plot point number three where Holly is taken hostage. The reason Holly is taken hostage is because a new character was introduced that again, we set up a little bit earlier in the story. It is the reporter, and his name is Thornburg. Thornburg is looking for the greatest story ever, and this is obviously before cellphones and live streaming, but Thornburg really wants to get more information for the news story on McClane, so he goes to McClane’s house somehow in New York with another … Well, he has another reporter go in New York, and he gets an interview with the kids. Now, the children are on TV, and the terrorists are watching TV. They know exactly who his wife is within the group. Now, the terrorists have more leverage. Now, they didn’t know this before, and they were able to set this up because the inciting incident, remember, was that his wife was not using his last name. She was using a maiden name, and also, another set up in the beginning was he was so upset about this, he flipped the picture of them down on her desk.

When the terrorists came into her office or sweep the office looking for people, they did not find a picture of their family or McClane, so they did not know that they were related. Now, because of the news reporter, they do know that, and Hans goes ahead. the terrorist takes his wife hostage, so this is the point of no return. He’s definitely in. He can’t get out. He has to see this through, which then leads up to the black moment where there is a showdown on the roof, and they have Holly, and he has a gun to them.

What happens is McClane, without going through the details, gets the upper hand. He’s about to win the day, and then, the terrorist flips the gun on Holly and says, “Drop your gun, or I’ll kill your wife.” McClane drops his gun so that his wife isn’t killed, but he does have, and this is again set up before, an old trick that he knew about. He has a gun duck taped to his back, so it looks like he has nothing on him. When he distracts the terrorist, he’s able to save the day and shoot him. He goes flying off the roof.

Now, Holly ends up getting pulled with the terrorist off the roof. McClane goes over to save her, and again, another [jum 00:10:14] that was put in there in the very opening scene was that Holly was given a Rolex watch as a gift from the company. That is what the terrorist is holding onto, so he doesn’t plummet to the ground to his death. Instead, what McClane does is he disconnects the Rolex watch or unclasps it, and the terrorist is holding the Rolex watch but plummets to his death and dies.

We get to the resolution, which is outside. We see that he finally gets to meet the police officer that he’s been chatting with this whole time. The one whose car he dropped the body on who’s been helping him. Now, when he meets him, the police chief, I think, his boss or the FBI guy yells at McClane and says this is all his fault, but Karl, this is one of the bad guys, the terrorist comes out with a gun. He’s about to kill everybody because they’re all distracted and arguing about who was at fault for everything that happened. The police officer, Powell, pulls out his gun. Again, this was a jum that was set up again, I believe in plot point one or two or in act two.

McClane is bonding with the police officer on the walkie talkie and asks him why he is not a detective or doing something else. He said, he accidentally pulled a gun on somebody, and this is his deep wound that he’s living with, this Powell the cop. Because of that, he hasn’t had the heart to pull a gun on anybody since then. In this resolution, he is actually able to pull a gun, and he shoots Karl, the bad guy, thereby closing off that small part of the mini plot of the story.

You had a really great set up for all of these characters and for them to get over their internal deep wounds and figure out a way to come out on top in a way that’s satisfying for your readers, in a way that helps us to root for them and want them to succeed. Now, Holly runs into the reporter outside. She’s able to punch him in the face when he asked her for an interview, which is another satisfying moment for the reader or the viewer of the movie. Then, as magic, the limo driver who has been sitting in the basement this whole time pulls out, pulls up to McClane and his wife, and they both get in the limo and drive off into the sunset.

This is, I want to say, almost as perfect as possible of a story that is so well-written and follows all the rules on plot structure, but doesn’t seem boring because I know a lot of times, people will say, “I don’t want to follow a plot because it’s so boring, and it’s so formulaic. Everything looks the same.” I would argue that it’s not true. It is based on science and psychological studies that we know that people enjoy having stories told to them in this particular three-act structure. Now, obviously, there are so many things going on here that there are different ways that you can tell any story, but again, as long as you’re able to stick to this structure and this framework, it’s going to be a much better story in my opinion.

That is the breakdown for Die Hard, and I would strongly advise you to watch it and go through all of those plot points again. Then, watch another movie and see if you can break down your favorite movie into the different elements of plot when they happen in the story, especially one within your genre. All right. I hope that was helpful, and I will see you guys tomorrow where we will talk a little bit more about plot point one and what goes into that and how to really define that for your story. All right, bye.


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