What would you do? That’s the main question at the heart of every Character vs. the Situation plot line. Whether your character finds himself washed up on an island or trapped in a sinking ship, the situation will forever change his life.
There are two kinds of situation you’ll see in this plot line:
- The Life Changing Situation: Consider Tom Hanks’ character Chuck Noland in A FedEx executive who travels around the world for the company, Noland’s plane crashes during a storm, stranding him on a deserted island. A successful executive one day, a castaway the next. This situation forever changes Noland’s life. (Another example of the Life Changing Situation occurs in The Poseidon Adventure.)
- The Final Straw: The Hunger Games – Catching Fire. The theme throughout the Hunger Games series matches the Character vs. Society theme, but the second book in the series perfectly demonstrates the Final Straw. In the first book, people are plotting against the Capitol, but Katniss just wants to survive the Hunger Games. She has no interest in getting more involved. But in the second book she has to compete again. Then her fashion consultant/friend is attacked. Then her friend (and possible love interest) is captured. It’s the final straw. She’s ready to not only fight to survive, but to lead a rebellion.
Both of these situations put your character in a position where their lives will never be the same. The main difference is how they end up in that situation.
In the Life Changing Situation – whether it’s being stranded on an island, the death of a loved one, or being forced into slavery – your character doesn’t have a choice. He just knows that life will never be the same after that event.
When it’s the Final Straw, however,your character makes the decision to forever change her life. It can be as grandiose as Katniss Everdeen’s fight against the national government, or as small as George McFly finally standing up to Biff Tannen (Back to the Future) – either way, the character decides to step into a situation that will shape his or her future.
And there you have it – the last of the nine main plot lines! Take a look at your current work-in-progress and see if you can identify which of the nine plot lines you’re using. Can you make it stronger? More distinct? If you’re not sure, check out some of the book and movie examples for inspiration in your story.