Story Jam 1 – Twelve Act Structure

It’s the final week of Abb and Bee’s story! This week, I’ll take the three-act structure and build it into a more detailed and comprehensive twelve-step treatment.

As I explained last week, the treatment I’ll write this week will not be a ‘finished’ story. Rather, it’s a firm foundation from which to write a fuller screenplay, novel or novella from. I also feel it’s important to note that, whilst I usually use the ‘Hero’s Journey’ structure (specifically as discussed by Christopher Vogler in his book, The Writer’s Journey though that in turn is based on Joseph Campbell’s Hero of Thousand Faces) for a story treatment, I do realise that many people take issue with this framework and I honestly don’t disagree with them. If followed too strictly it can lead to formulaic and predictable stories, but I personally find that it helps me to order ideas and structure dramatic pacing into a usable structure. I suppose I use it as a useful framework, but I definitely think it’s important to remember that it’s only that – a framework. So, without further ado, let’s finally tell this story!

1. Ordinary World
Early evening at a research-lab in a business park. In the visitor’s lobby, a receptionist is going round switching off the video-screens. The screens are still playing the energy-provider’s infomercials about how Cee and Dee technology functions, the Cee and Dee’s origins as microscopic bio-electrical creatures and about the differences between the Cee and Dee. Outside there are the chants of protesters, which the receptionist tries to ignore.

The receptionist notices a light still on and goes to investigate – it’s Abb. Abb is shown to be thoroughly exhausted, pregnant and entirely dedicated to her work studying the Cee and Dee. The receptionist expresses concerns about Abb’s working so hard and Abb relents and agrees to go home. The receptionist reminds Abb to lock her documents away in the safe and Abb agrees. In her tired state though, she forgets and leaves them on the desk.

In the business part outside the protest group are all starting to disperse but on seeing Abb, begin once again to chant slogans about the energy-provider being anti-progress. There are a few jibes about how it’s morally wrong to be using the Cee and Dee for energy, and how it’s sacrilegious, but Abb tries to ignore them. She drives home, listening to a radio chat show about an emerging war – one panelist argues that it’s purely about resources following the recent government interest in fossil-fuel power-generation.

At home, Abb finds her partner Bee asleep in their spare room, which is doubling as an art studio. Scattered around him are easels, jars of chemicals and makeshift conduits from the electrical sockets. Abb finds small patches of Cee and Dee swarming over the table and floor, mixing with Bee’s chemicals. She angrily wakes him up, chastising him for how he’s using both the Cee and the far more expensive Dee (which they use to fuel their car and central heating), accusing him of wasting and hurting them. Still half-asleep, Bee tries to defend his artwork, but Abb goes to bed.

2. Call to Adventure
At night, a group of protesters break into the lab and begin to sabotage the equipment and spray slogans over the walls. They find a safe, but cannot break into it. They find various tubes and containers of Cee and Dee and spill them onto the floor, discussing how they’re ‘freeing’ them. One protester makes it into Abb’s office and discovers the notes she’s left out of the safe – he calls the others to him, astounded by what he’s reading.

3. Refusal of the Call
The next morning Abb wakes up alone. She begins her morning routine, which is a good opportunity to show the normal household use of Cee and Dee electricity – Cee batteries for smaller appliances and Dee from the electrical sockets for larger appliances. She goes to take some breakfast to Bee, who is still asleep in his studio and she finds that in the night he has spilled even more Cee and Dee over his artwork. She is once again angry and wakes him up, shouting again about how he’s wasting them and costing them both money. She highlights how he still doesn’t have a job and asks what he’s intending they provide for their baby if her research project is shut down. She highlights how they took the same Cee and Dee scientific research degrees and how he should be using his. As their conversation becomes more heated, they’re interrupted by a phonecall from Abb’s project manager, who urgently requests that she comes into work – the supervisor asks if Abb left any documents out on her desk the previous night.

4. Mentor
As Abb is driving into the business park she’s listening to the local news. There’s a report about the controversial experiment that has been uncovered which aims to synthesize the Cee and Dee – the research project Abb’s working on. Instantly worried, she’s suddenly confronted by throngs of protesters and press, who swarm her car. There are chants and slogans about how wrong it is to try and synthesize the Cee and Dee, how it highlights the energy-provider’s unethical approach to power-generation, and how fossil-fuel generation would be better. As Abb parks up, some security guards help her get to the door and once inside the building her project manager explains that they’ve been hired by the energy-provider who’s funding the research project.

Inside, the lab’s staff are tidying up after the night before. They discuss Abb’s forgetting to lock away the documents and the manager says that, in light of the project’s public exposure, the energy-provider has requested a meeting about the ‘future’ of the research project the next day; they both know how serious it is. The manager begins to ask about Abb’s state of mind: how distracted she’s been recently. She asks if everything’s alright at home and Abb tries to deflect the question onto the topic of their research, saying how close they are to a break-through. They briefly discuss the research of other members of staff, and how they knew how controversial a programme synthesizing the Cee and Dee would be before starting out. The manager then wearily tells Abb to just go home and get some rest, as the lab won’t be doing any work that day.

When Abb arrives back home, she finds that Bee has invited some of their friends around without telling her. He is excitedly showing them all of the artwork he’s managed to create with the Cee and Dee and how their interactions and relationships have provided for some really interesting pieces when they were suspended in paint. Over-whelmed by her morning, Abb is unable to deal with the surprise visitors and retreats to the studio alone.

One of her friends comes to find her and ask if she’s alright. They discuss the issues at the lab; now it’s in the press, Abb feels she can talk about the synthesis project. They discuss how distant her and Bee have become in the years since they all left university, and how Abb is afraid for the future with the baby on the way. The friend offers to see if there’s a place for Abb at her own research programme and whilst not declining, Abb reiterates how important the synthesis project would be to the world. When the conversation reaches an impasse, they begin to play with the Cee and Dee still left out from the art project, watching how the red Cee and the blue Dee swirl around each other.

5. First Threshold
The next morning, Bee wakes Abb up – she herself has fallen asleep in the studio, having worked all night on reviewing her research notes for the meeting. As he wakes her up, they begin to talk much more calmly about their relationship, discussing the baby and how their going to support it if the project is shut down. Just as their conversation becomes a lot more open with how their feeling about the relationship, Abb gets another call from her project manager – she’s running late for the meeting at the energy provider’s headquarters. Realising she also meant to get some papers in the office, she rushes out and her and Bee exchange something closer to a friend-like warmth. Bee notices she’s left the documents she was working on behind, but she’s already driven off before he can get them to her.

Abb makes it to the office, again having to force her way through the crowds of protesters. Once inside the office, she has to rush around to pick up the documents she needs while her manager is chastising her for her lack of focus and urgency.

6. Special World
They arrive at the energy-provider’s plant and are met by the chief board-member’s personal assistant, who takes them on a short tour of the Cee and Dee cultivation facility. It’s shown how the Cee and Dee are bred and sustained in the long system of vessels that have been developed to mimic their natural habitat. They take a walk through the factory where the youngest Cee are packed into batteries, and then pass on through to the conveyance department where the Dee leave the plant down the main-vessels. The PA explains some of the most recent additions to the facility, outlining the concessions that have been made for if their project is a success: several experimental vessels to carry a higher charge and faster creature; new types of batteries and other power storage units; modified appliances. The contrast between the amount of investment the energy provider is making and their project’s actual progress makes both Abb and her manager uncomfortable.

7. Approach the inmost cave
The tour continues to the research and development part of the plant. There, they see the types of experiments being done with fossil-fuel generators and the type of much more advanced technology that’s being powered by it. Along the way, they are met the department-head of the development projects who, ominously, joins them for the meeting.

8. Ordeal
They settle in the board-room of the meeting and the board members file in. As the conversation begins it seems that most of the board members are already resigned to the dissolution of the synthesis project, though the chief board-member is very even-handed about his opinion. The meeting discusses the benefits and drawbacks of both the synthesis project and the fossil-fuel project. They discuss how the status quo of the Cee and Dee power generation is being tangibly threatened now that there is a growing demand for the more powerful fossil fuel electricity, and an increase in support for protest. The risks with switching the company over to fossil fuel generation are identified and both the synthesis project-manager and the fossil-fuel technology research department-head argue passionately for their side. Throughout the meeting, Abb’s mind wanders to a television screen which is on in a room across the way: a news broadcast is switching between showing footage from the growing war and the mining operations in the afflicted country. When Abb is asked a question about the results of the most recent synthesis experiments, she realises to her horror that she left the data at home. Panicked and frantic, the project manager excuses her from the meeting.

9. Reward/Campfire
Abb is sat looking mournfully at the Cee and Dee cultivation vessels. Her project-manager sits down next to her and they are silent for a moment. Eventually the project-manager reveals the outcome of the board-meeting: the synthesis project is to be kept running, but they are to reduce their staff and move to a smaller facility. The fossil-fuel project is to be granted funds for prospecting expeditions, with a view to expanding their research in the coming years.

Though not explicitly stated, it’s heavily implied that Abb has lost her job. The conversation moves onto Abb’s home-life, and why she has been so distracted lately. Abb describes Bee’s art project, and how it feels like they are like the Cee and Dee in one of his paintings – swirling around each other, in a thick suspension, but never merging. When the topic moves onto the baby, Abb is unable to continue talking and the manager has to comfort her.

10. The Road Back/Onwards
Abb arrives home to find Bee has taken over the living room with his art project. There is paint and chemicals everywhere and Cee and Dee are pouring all over the floor. She is incensed and they have a blazing row, shouting at each other and spilling over even more chemicals which mix together on the floor. In their argument they completely end their relationship.

11. Resurrection
In the calm that follows, they sit together on the sofa and observe the glowing Cee and Dee on the floor. They begin to discuss what they’ll do in the future before noticing something strange – in small pockets of Cee and Dee a purple glow is being emitted: the two separate creatures, in small concentrations of chemical mixtures, seem to be synthesising.

12. Return Home
Abb returns to the project’s office, her jubilant mood distracting all the people clearing their workstations to the point where she has an increasing following of curious onlookers. In the project manager’s office, she places a jar with the new glowing purple creatures in it. She says she doesn’t know how or why, but the Cee and Dee have begun to synthesise. The project manager picks up the phone and asks for the chief board member.

The story closes with Abb arriving at Bee’s apartment in the early evening. She has a much nicer car and a much sharper suit. Abb and Bee have a brief and friendly conversation about how the project she is now in charge of has taken on new staff and is expanding their research. Bee invites her in for a cup of tea, shushing her as the baby is asleep in another room – he turns off the news. As they continue to talk, Bee’s kitchen is shown to have new appliances that run on a new type of battery. In the baby’s room, there’s the gentle blue red and purple glow of a mobile that Bee has made from Cee, Dee and the new type of creature.

Ok!

Phew. Well. First Story, largely, done! I think it’s always good to evaluate these things though, so what do you think? Is there anything you think you’d change or write differently? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter or Facebook. Next week I’ll start with a new random trope and begin crafting a whole new story!

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