Thursday, October 13, 2011

Guest Post: Laura Pauling's SOUL SURFER Plot Buster!

Our guest post for today comes from the one and only Laura Pauling!! Before I even launched this blog, I knew I had to reach out to Laura. Her Plot Busters blog feature has helped me so much with my writing, and I'm sure a ton of other writers can say the same. Fortunately, Laura's here to share a Plot Busters post! 

Take it away, Laura!

Surfin’ movie structure to make your story stronger.

I wanted to watch Soul Surfer, the story of Bethany Hamilton, but at the same time dreaded it.  

Maybe because I couldn’t imagine the horror of a shark biting off my arm while doing something I loved. Maybe because I’m a mom and her story would strike chords in my own life. Maybe because I knew the movie ran deep with themes of survival and answering the tough question: Why God?

Then my daughter wanted to see it, so we watched it together.

Bethany’s story of survival is so powerful that I doubted a movie could do her justice. And I don’t think the movie did.

Let’s break it down with Blake Snyder’s beat sheet and see.

Opening Image: The story opens with home videos and showing Bethany’s desire to surf.

Theme Stated: Bethany’s spiritual leader at church tells her, “Things aren’t always what they seem.” And “God has plans for you…”

Set-up: We meet Bethany and see her involved with a happy family, a church; and, of course, her surfing and winning contests. We see her turn down a mission trip she’d committed to because of her surfing.

Catalyst: It would be really easy to say “duh” when the shark bites off her arm. But that doesn’t happen until the end of Act I. I believe the catalyst is when Rip Curl offers to sponsor Bethany and she must choose between surfing and her commitment to church. Great internal conflict.

Debate: The debate continues through out Act I about her decision to surf.

Break into Two: The shark bites off Bethany’s arm and she must face her new life.

B Story: Bethany starts on the road to recovery both physically and emotionally.

Fun and Games: We see Bethany try and do things on her own like make breakfast for her family and grocery shop. (Though I can’t really call it fun and games with this movie.)

Midpoint: Finally, Bethany serves her family breakfast and announces she’s ready to surf again.

Bad guys close in: Bethany attempts to get back on the board and compete and struggles. (There’s no “bad guy” but we see her fight with reaching her dream.)

All is Lost: At Regionals, Bethany gets caught in a big wave and refuses help; and after, she gives away her boards and gives up.

Dark Night of the Soul: Bethany talks to her dad and questions God.

Break into Three: Bethany goes on a mission trip and provides inspiration to a hurting community by helping an orphan boy surf. She arrives home to tons of fan mail from Regionals.

Finale: With a renewed attitude, Bethany trains more seriously and enters Nationals. She doesn’t win first place but she turns out a winner.

Final Image: Bethany has survived and found a way to live with her new life.

What I learned from the structure of the movie and emotion:

For me, the movie failed in showing how low Bethany must have felt after losing her arm. I mean, the first day she was home they showed her attempting to make breakfast. Really? The first day? And she was only a little frustrated. And then she went grocery shopping. They never showed her really hit the low depths of the grieving process.

So, flip it around to the end of the movie, she has conquered and stands victorious.

I didn’t feel the emotion at this victory that I should have because I never saw her experience the lows of her grief.

Do you show that mirror image of your character to show how far they’ve come?

For the record, Bethany Hamilton is incredible. She’s a modern hero who persevered with an incredible spirit and her faith in God. I loved the pictures they showed at the end of the movie of the real Bethany, all smiles, and totally bawled.

I still haven't seen Soul Surfer, but yeah. I have a pretty good feeling I'll bawl, too. 

HUGE thanks to Laura for stopping by! Make sure you follow her blog and on Twitter


  1. Thanks so much for having me here! :)

  2. Whoa, that was thorough. VERY helpful, though. I think I'll wait for this one to come on cable. :)

  3. Wonderful analysis, as always, Paula! I think that's one thing we have to challenge ourselves so much on in writing -- is to hit the lows deeply. Because, like you said, the highs can't be as fulfilling without the depths of the lows to triumph over.

  4. I love Blake Snyder's beat sheet! Thanks Laura for the break down. We learn so much by taking a closer look.

  5. I love these Laura! Keep it up!!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  6. Great post. I love the breakdown.