8 Tips for Writing Your Story's Stand Up
Chapter 6 “Plot Points” – Section 10 “Stand Up”
“At the center of your being
you have the answer;
you know who you are
and you know what you want.”
At the Midpoint of the story, that point at which the hero faces the primary antagonistic force and fails, there is a shift in the pace. Your hero tries his or her hardest and yet everything they do results in failure, a constant downhill spiral that finally slows to a stop in the Second Turning Point, as your protagonist finally determines that they must do something to resolve their dire situation. Now, in Act III, we arrive at another great shift in pace, the point where it is time for your hero to figure out who they are, to discover the hidden strength inside of themselves, to stand back up, and to face the primary antagonist once again. This plot point is called the Stand Up.
Tip 1: Understand the purpose of the Stand Up.
In Star Wars – Return of the Jedi the First Turning Point ends as Luke defeats Vader in combat and is encouraged to give in to his anger and destroy his father. This catalyst event, Luke standing over his defeated father as the Emperor demands Vader's destruction, reminds Luke of who he is—a Jedi who embraces hope, self-control, and a love for his father. This is the Stand Up, where Luke faces the true primary antagonistic force (the Emperor) and refuses to kill his father. This event gives the protagonist the strength to fight, even though the odds are against him, and it gives the audience a feeling of hope in that the protagonist can win. This hope prevents the audience from giving in to despair for the protagonist, while also not allowing them to feel secure in the knowledge that the hero will win. Either of these two extremes would give a sense of knowing that would decrease tension for the Climax, while a thin sliver of hope keeps the tensions alive.
Tip 2: Know the possibility for variation within the Stand Up.
While the Stand Up usually occurs before the Climax, particularly in a novel, it can also happen during the Climax. In Act III of Star Wars – A New Hope, Luke replaces the bomber squadron that was decimated in its attempts to destroy the Death Star, because he sees no other choice if he wants to save his friends. As Luke lowers his ship close to the surface of the Death Star, his chances look already dim when Darth Vader arrives with a squadron of his own to kill Luke. This signals the Climax of the story—which is the final battle between the primary protagonist and antagonist. Things look grim for Luke, as he flies alone, seemingly to his death. Then his friends, Han Solo and Chewbacca, return in their ship and attack Vader, while the ghostly voice of Ben Kenobi returns to give Luke guidance and to remind him of his own inner strength as a Jedi. Encouraged and reminded of his own inner strength, Luke decides to rely on the Force and his inner strength to destroy the Death Star, instead of his targeting equipment. Note the simultaneous effects of employing this type of Stand Up: while it certainly builds more tension and creates a quicker pace, it also loses some of the power and drive it could have given the story given enough time and emphasis.
Tip 3: Create a catalyst event that allows for the Stand Up.
Following the sense of resolution that your protagonist attained in the Second Turning Point, there should be an event that your protagonist has an active part in. Though movies—such as the Star Wars movies listed before—generally make the Stand Up as quick an event as possible in order to preserve a shorter running time, this can be an entire adventure in and of itself. In Stephen King's It, for example, the Stand Up of the meta-narrative about the childhood protagonists involves the children preparing their hearts and minds to fight the darkness ahead as they collect weapons and prepare one another to fight the monster. Movies occasionally mimic this more substantial Stand Up catalyst with late training/music montages, like in An Extremely Goofy Movie, where Goofy prepares for the X-Games while studying for finals and working on his relationship with his love interest, Sylvia. This physical manifestation of the Stand Up, through a catalyst event, heightens hope and increases believability in the idea that the hero can stand after everything that has been done to them. It can also serve as a physically manifested symbol of that which is happening inside of the hero—like Goofy's studying and hard work serve as visual reminders of his renewed sense of self-worth and confidence in being able to survive adversity. Regardless of how long and emphasized your Stand Up is, be sure to create some sort of physical or situational catalyst for the spiritual/psychological reawakening of your hero so that it is not only something that takes place only inside of them, but also something manifested through an event that will both add to the pacing and to the believability of your story.
Tip 4: Allow your protagonist to fully realize their true goal, at long last.
In the First Turning Point, your hero created a goal and set out on a journey; this goal and the antagonistic force opposing it are the most basic foundation for the energy and momentum of the story. However, we also discussed that the primary protagonist's goals should not be exact or even very good that early in the story, as to give the protagonist room to make mistakes, change, grow, and improve their goals. We saw this in A New Hope as Luke's intent to get revenge against Vader for the death of his family and friends—a goal that changes drastically by the end of the trilogy where he reaches the Stand Up in Return of the Jedi. By that Stand Up, Luke has changed and grown immeasurably and now seeks to save his father from the darkness inside of him. Within your own Stand Up, allow your character to reach a point of self-discovery and growth so that they discover what it is that they truly want and are able to modify their goals accordingly.
Tip 5: Make sure the the catalyst event is appropriate to your story type.
When writing the catalyst event that will comprise your Stand Up, you should take into account the level of intensity of your story, its genre, and whether it is a Comedy or a Tragedy. If you are writing a tragedy—similar to Hamlet or Black Butler—where the hero dies in the end, your Stand Up might be a very dark and somber event which erases all doubt as to whether your protagonist should continue with their mission. Their self-discovery and realization may not be something good or shining with hope, but instead a grim realization of the difficult task ahead of them and that they have no real choice but to press forward to their own destruction. If your story is a more lighthearted comedy, like An Extremely Goofy Movie where everything is resolved in favor of the hero, the Stand Up should be more uplifting and appropriate to the hope emphasized in the narrative.
Tip 6: Resolve the problems that you need to, but do not erase them.
Remember that in the Disaster plot-point, we did not only cause a personal event of destruction and pain for the hero, but also an event which had consequences on the hero's friends, relationships, and their entire world (relevant to the event). The Stand Up is the scene in which most amends will be made, friendships salvaged, and remaining problems resolved (except for the central conflict of the plot). In stories of lesser quality and realism, this often means that the hero makes an apology for their faults and is able to immediately restore everything that had been damaged up to that point. But if you wish to honor the pain that your characters' faced in the Disaster, as well as to honor realism (your reader's sense of reality so that they are able to immerse themselves in the story and believe it), you need to make sure that the problems are not erased, merely resolved. If your protagonist was cruel to his friends, they may very well forgive him, but that does not mean that there will not be unintentional consequences that your hero must continue to face, and wounds that he/she must work towards healing after the upcoming conflict is over.
Tip 7: Allow your protagonist to overcome their flaws, but not to vanquish them.
Almost any addict who goes into rehab and recovers will tell you that the cravings for the substance that they were addicted to never really go away; it is the person who becomes strong enough to resist and struggle against the addiction each and every day. The same applies for true character flaws. A person who deals with anger does not just decide not to be angry anymore, and then completely overcome their flaw forever. If you wish to reflect this intimate reality of human nature, then your protagonist should not eliminate the personal flaws and weaknesses that stand between them and their goal. Remember that overcoming a flaw, and acting courageously in the face of ongoing struggle, is both more realistic and much more heroic within the context of a story. Don't destroy the fear the hero has of failing against the primary antagonistic force once again; have them face the antagonist despite their ongoing terror and they will become truly courageous.
Tip 8: Orchestrate everything you need to begin the story's Climax.
You have nearly reached the end of the story. All that are left are the Climax—the final confrontation of the story—and the Epilogue. Any loose ends, mysteries, unresolved plot devices, and confrontations should either be ending or preparing to be resolved within the upcoming two plot-points. When you're preparing for the Climax, keep in mind that if you want to raise the dramatic tension, you will want to orchestrate an event that has a chance of success, as well as failure. Play with how much hope you want to be present in the Climax, in order to get the amount of suspense you want from your audience.
Weekly Recommended Watching: An Extremely Goofy Movie (The Stand Up for this movie is exemplary as an example of how to increase hope for the coming struggle while maintaining a level of doubt that increases tension—resulting in a very balanced level of suspense that is appropriate to the story type. It is also exemplifies the idea of cost and payoff, as the payoff is not just a simple realization but something struggled for and earned.)
Write-a-Novel Exercise 6.10
Write your story's Stand Up chapter, following the steps above. Click here to submit it to the gallery.
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Any advice on handling multiple heroes in stories?
I hope that helps!