DIVIDED_WORLDOnce upon a time there was ___. Everyday, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

This is Rule #4 from Emma Coats at Pixar.

If you’ve been following this series, you’ve probably figured out I’m analyzing Emma’s rules for good writing and applying them to rules for good living. The once-upon-a-time rule was a head-scratcher. How could I write a post about writing structure that was anything more than writing structure?

And then, like those hidden 3-D graphics that appear to you once you cross your eyes, the picture of what this article is about popped in my mind. It’s a description of a divided world. And to the chagrin of my darling wife, she again will be a character in her husband’s blog.

But first, a dissection of Writing Rule #4.


 Once upon a time there was ___. This is the setup for your characters, place and time. This is your universe, the game board upon which you build your rules and moves.

Everyday, ___. At this point you set up the pattern of life and behavior that allows your hero, and his universe, to remain stable. Details continue to define your story, telling us what it’s about.

One day ___. In the traditional three-act structure, this is your first major plot point, the moment when something unexpected happens that disrupts the stability of your environment and your characters within it. The disturbance may be person, an army or Mother Nature. It doesn’t matter. Something happens that puts your protagonist(s) in jeopardy.

Because of that, ___. Ah! Repercussions – the domino effect from that first disturbance. Now come the twists and turns of the second act with our hero trying to keep balanced and return his life to stability and safety.

Because of that, ___. More of the cause and effect twisty stuff.

Until finally ___. This is the final plot point of the second act. Our hero, or tribe, or army, or nation, or planet either resolves the conflict or fails. Life returns to a desire outcome or it ends with something unwanted. If our heroes fail or die, a new NORMAL is established with another set of rules and moves. In either case life goes on, but changed, establishing…

The Third Act, which returns us to a redefined Once upon a time there was ___, setting a new beginning commonly called a sequel.

Okay, simple enough, but of course it isn’t. Within this structure are an infinite number of choices. It’s a complicated game, as is LIFE. Every tick-tock changes the recipe of Once upon a time. Every second gives us a new batch of What-If’s, dividing the world into two groups: Those who don’t like change and those who do.


There’s a second big divider on the planet: Those who’ve read Lord of the Rings and those who haven’t.

Ahh… Not that one. This one: Those who worry about the future and those who don’t.

I have not read The Lord of the Rings but I do worry about the future. I’ve always worried about the future. I think that’s why I’m good at plotting stories. I imagine all kinds of sh*t waiting for me. My wife however, doesn’t dwell on anything more than five seconds away. She lives in the present and is happy there. I live five moves ahead preparing for trouble. I like to think it doesn’t come become I have multiple Plan B’s. My wife thinks pondering bad stuff makes me unhappy. She’s right, but couple-wise, it works for us.

My wife forges ahead taking on stuff as she meets it. I build roads around bad stuff before it attacks. My wife trusts the future. I don’t. I wish I were more like my wife. I also wish she were more like me.

But she’s not, and if she wrote a novel she would start with: Once upon a time, continuing with: Everyday, and skipping the second act, she’d head straight for Until finally. Actually, she wouldn’t even think about Until finally. She’d figure at some point Once upon a time would return. And she would be right…and still happy.

I’m not sure which living plan is best: dancing into the future or worrying about it before it happens. I suppose the best situation would be planning ahead and not fretting about it. Actually, I KNOW this is the best course. But as I’ve said in previous posts, it takes FAITH to believe it’s all gonna work out.


tanksI lied. There are more opposite divisions than three. Here’s another one.

Those who expect the sky to fall (i.e. somebody’s gonna screw up my life) and the ten people who feel safe.

Now there are lots of people who SAY they feel safe, but only because they’re sure God is on their side with His army of angels and a door for their enemies that reads: THIS WAY TO HELL.

I’ve blogged about faking faith. It can’t be done. And maybe that’s okay, because I’m realizing now, if we all believed everything will work out, there would be nothing to write about.

Dramatic tension is all about things NOT working out, at least in act two. But we all want triumphant heroes in act three. And when they are, as in legends from eons past, what those narratives tell us is this:

KEEP THE FAITH. Eventually Good overcomes Evil (except in world banking). By never giving up, by struggling to hold our balance through those second act ups and downs (life’s challenges), we grow as people and nations…supposedly.

By “growing”, I mean our weapons get meaner. We learn nothing from past conflicts, which is why the story of winning, losing and rebuilding continually gets rewritten.

If I do this, you’ll do that never sinks in. No matter how many times our stories reflect the futility of war on the field or in our homes, we continue to play out the dramas of  Because of that.

When you make a decision, when you take action, how many Because of that effects are you taking into account?

Whether it’s two or twenty, your world and the rest of us hobble along. The story never ends. Writers keep writing, readers keep reading and we all pretend it’s a fantasy about someone else…unless we’re scanning scary stuff on the internet and then we want another gun…or bomb…or prayer…or a higher wall.

For the record, with all my distrust of the future, I don’t own a gun, make bombs, pray for my enemy’s defeat or live behind high gates.

Still, I do pretend. I pretend that if I write enough about finding faith, I just might reach the Until finally part of my life and trust my own advice.

Wow! A new beginning, even for ME! Humm… Once upon a time there was ___.


Originally published on Curiosityquills.com.


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