Smarter Story Structure (online course)

Write Addictively Entertaining Stories—Faster

With my online course, Smarter Story Structure, you’ll learn practical tips for overcoming plot problems like these in your screenplay or novel:

  • the story starts too slowly (according to a Goodreads survey, 46.4% of readers abandon novels for this reason)
  • the story doesn’t get going until halfway through (this happened in almost a quarter of scripts read by a studio reader in a year)
  • the middle “runs out of gas” (even John Grisham admits this is a tricky issue)
  • the climax doesn’t deliver fireworks, merely sparklers
  • the story is the right length…but isn’t a good read (uh-oh)

Enroll today and learn how to use story structure to get on audiences’ good side. Click on the button below to learn more:

Script Structure: Lessons from Star Trek (2009 reboot)

The plot of Stark Trek

Today’s list of plot points comes from the science fiction blockbuster, Star Trek–the 2009 reboot directed by JJ Abrams. Star Trek is about as big as it gets in terms of a franchise. Even if it had starred a bunch of talentless hacks (which it didn’t), a massive built-in audience would have gone to see it anyway. The incredible thing about the reboot though is that it would’ve stood on its own, without the Trekkie mythology because it’s a well-told, captivating movie. Mighty props to the writers for that.

In this respect, Abrams’s Star Trek fulfilled the major rule of adaptations: make sure your script can capture and maintain the interest of someone who has never read the book (or in this case, watched any of the Star Trek TV series).

In screenwriting tip #8 from Star Trek, I mentioned that it’s especially difficult to balance the “peaks” of action with the “valleys” of reaction in an action-adventure movie. Star Trek’s plot is good example of a film that has achieved this balance, as is Taken. If pacing is problematic for you, carefully examine the plot points of these two movies.

Also, if you’re writing a movie with two main characters–maybe the tale of two brothers for example–and you’re struggling to balance each character’s story, pay attention to Kirk and Spock’s screentime in Star Trek. This will give you a guideline on how to balance the storylines of your characters.

Now, onto the plot points!

Plot points from Star Trek

  1. We see the lights, portals and exterior of a massive starship, the USS Kelvin. There’s some kind of disturbance in space.
  2. A malevolent looking craft with spiked tentacles, the Narada, fires without warning on the Kelvin. It is clear the Kelvin is outmatched.
  3. Ayel, second in command of the attacking spacecraft, requests the captain of the USS Kelvin to board the Narada to negotiate a cease fire. Captain Robau obliges, promoting his second in command, George Kirk, to captain.
  4. When Captain Robau boards the Narada, he is asked to reveal the location of Ambassador Spock. In rage, the leader of the Narada, Nero, spears Robau. He dies. Nero immediately resumes his attack on the Kelvin.
  5. George Kirk’s wife goes into labor. He autopilots the Kelvin, sacrificing his life so she can escape in a medical shuttle. Before he dies, he hears his baby son’s first cry and names him Jim, after his wife’s father.
  6. We flashforward to an Iowa field. Jim, now a young boy, puts the pedal to the metal of an antique car as a policeman chases him. Jim almost drives off of a cliff. He survives–just barely–but the car does not.
  7. We are then introduced to a young, highly intelligent, Vulcan boy, Spock. A crew of three Vulcan bullies insults Spock’s mother, who is human. Their taunts finally elicit a physical response from Spock, which is not Vulcan-like at all.
  8. Spock converses with his dad, who tells Spock he must choose his destiny–to be human or to be Vulcan.
  9. Years later, Spock has grown into a young man. From his conversation with his mother, it’s clear he’s chosen the Vulcan way. Yet, his human mother is proud.
  10. Spock is accepted into the Vulcan Science Academy (very prestigious), but when the Academy labels his human mother, “a disadvantage,” Spock declines their invitation and chooses to enroll in the Starfleet Academy instead.
  11. Back in Iowa, Jim Kirk has grown into a young man too. He tries to pick up a beautiful Starfleet cadet, Uhura, at a local bar. She rejects his advances. He gets into a fight with four Starfleet cadets. The brawl is only broken up when Captain Pike instructs his men to stop.
  12. Captain Pike studied the USS Kelvin and knows how Jim Kirk’s dad sacrificed his life for his son’s. Pike tries to recruit Kirk to join Starfleet.
  13. Kirk shows up at the launch of the Starfleet recruitment shuttle. As it takes off, he befriends Dr McCoy, nicknamed “Bones.”
  14. Three years later, we meet Nero again. He’s waiting for Spock’s spacecraft to appear.
  15. Kirk plans to take the Kobayashi Maru test–for the third time–although McCoy warns him away.
  16. Kirk gets hot and heavy with a green-skinned alien, until her roommate–Uhura–interrupts their hook up.
  17. At the Kobayashi Maru, which is a simulation test, Kirk behaves very nonchalantly about a supposed Klingon attack. He becomes the first person to beat the test, which Spock programmed.
  18. At a Council Meeting of the entire Academy, Spock accuses Kirk of cheating to beat the test. Furthermore, Spock alleges that Kirk doesn’t appreciate the test’s purpose–to experience fear and face certain death, and yet maintain control.
  19. Kirk’s trial is cut short–planet Vulcan is emitting a distress signal. Everyone, except for Kirk, prepares to leave on an aid mission. McCoy employs a medical trick to get Kirk on board the Enterprise even though Kirk is on academic suspension. Uhura also uses vehement logic against Spock in order to switch to the Enterprise crew.
  20. Under Captain Pike’s stewardship, the Enterprise approaches planet Vulcan at warp speed.
  21. Kirk tries to convince Pike that they’re flying into a trap. The odd occurrences which are occurring today also happened on the day of his birth. Like his father, the Enterprise will face a ship with advanced weaponry which they cannot defeat.
  22. When they arrive at Vulcan, Kirk is proven correct. Vulcan is being attacked by Nero and the Narada. When Nero learns of their presence, he gloats in their vulnerability, singling out Spock with his taunts.
  23. Nero demands that Pike board the Narada. He also orders his crew to prepare the “red matter.”
  24. Before he leaves the Enterprise, Pike promotes Kirk to first officer and Spock to captain–and gives them instructions to execute a dangerous plan. He navigates a small shuttle towards the Narada.
  25. Kirk, Sulu, and Olson follow Pike’s instructions and space jump, attempting to land on the Romulan drill currently digging a massive hole into Vulcan and blocking all transmissions between Vulcan and the Enterprise.
  26. After much drama, Kirk and Sulu land on the drill. Olson doesn’t make it. Kirk and Sulu engage in hand-to-hand combat with Romulan sentries. Sulu saves Kirk’s life. They manage to stop the drill, even though they don’t have Olson’s chargers. But the drill has already reached Vulcan’s core. They see something being dropped into the hole from the Narada. It’s the red matter.
  27. All of Vulcan must evacuate. They only have minutes. Spock rushes to rescue his parents.
  28. Kirk and Sulu almost die before the Enterprise, thanks to Chekov’s skill, is able to beam them back up.
  29. Spock warns the Vulcan elders about the fate of their planet. They rush to evacuate. He manages to save them all…all except for his mother.
  30. Spock records the events of the day in the Stardate journal. Uhura tries to comfort him–revealing that they are lovers. Spock claims that he doesn’t need anything “but for everyone to continue to perform admirably.”
  31. Nero tortures Pike in order to get information which can disable Earth’s defenses. He explains that Spock betrayed Romulus and allowed the planet to be destroyed–in the future. Nero’s goal is to protect Romulus by making her free of the Federation.
  32. Spock logically deduces that Nero must be from the future, and that his attack on the Kelvin “precipitated a new chain of incidents that can’t be anticipated by either party.” Kirk and Spock argue about how to proceed. Spock banishes Kirk from the Enterprise.
  33. Kirk’s pod lands on an icy, unsafe planet, Delta Vega. He’s chased by a hyena-like creature…who’s killed by a larger, even more ferocious beast. This new beast chases Kirk, and is about to suck Kirk into his mouth, when he’s scared off by an old man brandishing a flaming torch–
  34. –it’s Future Spock! Future Spock assures Kirk that he and Spock are friends…and always will be. He tells Kirk what really happened to Romulus in the future. A star exploded, taking over everything, including Romulus. Spock tried to prevent disaster by using the red matter to create a black hole…but he was too late to save Romulus. Nero’s Narada went through the black hole first, followed by Spock. Spock’s journey took him seconds…but Nero had been waiting for him at the other side of the black hole for 25 years. Nero spared Spock’s life, so Spock would be alive to witness today’s destruction of Vulcan.
  35. Back on the Enterprise, McCoy criticizes Spock for the callous way Spock marooned Kirk.
  36. Future Spock and Kirk arrive at Starfleet’s Delta Vega outpost. It’s rundown, manned by one Montgomery Scott, who discovered the theory of transwarp beaming…in the future. Future Spock reveals to Scott the equation Scott would discover so that Scott and Kirk can beam aboard the Enterprise even when it’s traveling at warp speed. Spock claims he can’t accompany them. If young Spock sees Future Spock, it would cause epic problems. He tells Kirk that Kirk has to become captain of the Enterprise, and get Spock to yield his command by proving that Spock has been emotionally compromised.
  37. Kirk and Scott beam aboard the Enterprise–Kirk lands safely, but Scott ends up beaming inside a network of water tubes which leads to a giant centrifuge. Kirk saves Scott just in time.
  38. Kirk taunts Spock to elicit an emotional reaction. He succeeds, almost too well, because Spock almost chokes Kirk to death. Finally, Spock resigns his captaincy because he is emotionally compromised. Kirk is the new captain of the Enterprise.
  39. Spock confesses to his father that he is filled with anger he cannot control. His dad reveals to Spock that he married Spock’s mother out of love, not out of logic.
  40. Chekov devises a strategy to beam aboard the Narada. Spock volunteers for the mission. Kirk says he will join him.
  41. Uhura kisses Spock good-bye. Their affection is a surprise to Kirk.
  42. Kirk and Spock beam aboard the Narada–in front of several startled Romulans. Fighting ensues.
  43. Nero’s drill begins digging into the Earth. Since the drill is activated, the Enterprise can’t communciate with Kirk and Spock.
  44. To disable the drill, Spock pilots a small Vulcan pod, containing the red matter, which Nero commandeered from Future Spock. Young Spock realizes that he must’ve used this pod in the future.
  45. Kirk gets beaten up by Nero.
  46. Spock knocks out the drill. Nero learns the news, and abandons Kirk, who’s almost killed by Nero’s second in command, Ayel. At the last second, Kirk steals Ayel’s gun and kills him with it.
  47. Spock collides his pod into the Narada, which will ignite the red matter. The Enterprise reveals itself.
  48. Kirk rescues Pike. They, along with Spock, beam aboard the Enterprise.
  49. The red matter ignites. Kirk offers Nero assistance, but Nero says he’d rather die than accept. That’s fine with Kirk–and Spock. The red matter creates a black hole with an extremely large gravitational pull. It starts to suck the Enterprise into it.
  50. They eject the Enterprise’s core and detonate, creating a blast which enables them to escape the pull.
  51. Back on Earth, Spock runs into Future Spock, who orchestrated events so that young Spock and Kirk would become friends. Future Spock will help Vulcan rebuild its culture while Spock can continue his Starfleet career.
  52. The Federation honors Kirk with a commendation.
  53. Kirk boards the Enterprise as its captain. Spock arrives, hoping to be its first officer. We end with Future Spock performing the voiceover which began each original Star Trek episode.

Typewriter (with modifications) by Xlibber

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