Last week, we took a look at the best place for a story to begin, and how to get the most out of the first minute of a P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box skit. Now, it’s time to take a look at what the middle of a story has to offer.
If you’ve ever been a coach or judge for P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box, you know that students rarely use their full five minutes. They end up rushing because they are afraid of the penalty for going over, or they didn’t plan a very long story to begin with. The middle is often sacrificed in the race to the end, but the middle is actually the “meat” of any story. A great way to help your students understand how much time they really have is to set a five-minute timer, then make them sit in silence until it goes off. Suddenly, those five minutes feel like an eternity! If you do this exercise before each Meet, or even just once at the beginning of every season, it will make a big impact on the length (and by extension quality) of the skits your students plan and perform.
In the last Elements of Storytelling post, we talked about the opening image, establishing the protagonist’s identity by using a State of Perfection (SOP) or State of Imperfection (SOI), and the purpose of an inciting incident. Right after the first event occurs to knock the protagonist out of their SOP/SOI, good stories show at least a moment of debate. This doesn’t necessarily mean that characters have to actually discuss whether or not to go on the adventure and why, but they certainly could. An exchange of even a sentence or two at this stage is a great way to really bring the theme to the forefront of the skit.
For example, during our Round Robin #3 Meet, we asked our Triathletes to examine the idea of ingroups and outgroups, and the power of groups to shape our actions. If the protagonist experiences an inciting incident where they are faced with a decision to hang out with the soccer team at the expense of their best friend’s feelings, the decision-making process can easily be shown through a quick discussion between the protagonist and a teammate who thinks a friend isn’t worth their time. This will clearly illustrate the theme, and the audience will know exactly what the conflict is about.
One advantage of a live performance rather than a book is that characters can also make asides to the audience. Shakespeare often wrote the private thoughts of his characters as monologues, or brief moments where they step out of the world of the story to say something directly to the people who are watching. This is a great way to bring the audience deeper into the story, and has the added benefit of making thoughts and motivations transparent. You have to establish the moment of hesitation as well as the moment the protagonist takes the plunge in order for the story to feel compelling.
Plot Point #1
Not long after the debate, it’s a good idea to have a distinctive plot point. This should be the first time the antagonist (or antagonistic forces) are fully realized for the audience. A lot of the time, this is a scene where the protagonist isn’t even present. The audience has the chance to see the antagonist, their motives, and understand what is at stake if the protagonist fails at defeating them. If we use the original Star Wars movie as an example, this is the scene where we find out about the Death Star. Sure, we met Darth Vader as part of the inciting incident, but he isn’t the biggest threat to the safety of the galaxy. The evil empire and its planet-killing laser, on the other hand, are not to be trifled with.
This is a step that often gets skipped in a P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box skit, but actually has a lot of potential for creativity and earning points. If you can give the audience an interesting villain, and maybe even one with a special talent or funny way of looking at the world, it will definitely catch the attention of the judges. Remember, the antagonist is the opposite of the protagonist, and they are both there in order to show the audience different aspects of the theme. Taking 30 seconds to really hone in on the conflict and the consequences makes it easy for the audience to follow your tale, and lets the judges know you know what is being asked of your team. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to show off your team’s artistic skills with a second backdrop!
“Wait, isn’t the whole post about the middle?” you ask. It sure is! But the Midpoint is a very specific moment within the middle section of a story. Specifically, it is the moment when the protagonist either thinks they succeeded but has actually failed (false peak), or thinks they have failed but actually succeeded (false collapse). For our soccer player protagonist torn between the group and a friend, the false peak occurs when they have gained acceptance from the group. They think they’ve gotten what they truly want, but will ultimately find that it doesn’t actually make them happy.
In a story with a false collapse, let’s look at Star Wars again. The Millennium Falcon comes out of light speed on its way to Alderaan, only to find out the planet has been blown to bits. The crew are captured by Vader, Obi Wan is killed, and all hope seems to be lost. Except of course that they couldn’t actually win the day in the end if they weren’t captured at this point in the film. If Obi Wan was still alive later on, there would be no disembodied voice urging Luke to use the Force to make the impossible shot and win the day. Everyone loves to root for an underdog, and providing an event in the plot where the protagonist is at a disadvantage can make a big emotional impact on the audience when they see it reversed later.
But we’ll save the rest of our tips for utilizing the power of reversals for our final installment of the series: crafting a satisfying and exciting ending.