All right, writers! We’re in the home stretch. If you’ve been following along with my last nine articles studying James Scott Bell’s insightful book on plot, Super Structure, you know everything I’ve discussed leading up to this crucial—yet quick—signpost scene.
If you haven’t (I encourage you do!), here’s a quick summary: we’ve just left Act II and are entering Act III.
Mounting Forces is the beat that signals a shift in a dramatic way, immediately following a major loss for the main characters—an all-is-lost kind of loss—that we get in the last scene of Act II.
Mounting Forces, or Signpost Scene #10 in James Scott Bell’s Super Structure, is a trigger moment that reinforces the main character’s (and the reader’s) awareness that the Final Battle is just around the riverbend.
Main characters can’t return home or find peace or finish their story if they don’t take action. They must prepare for the Final Battle. The good news is they’ve gained companions up to this moment. And with any luck, they are loyal allies eager to gather at the main character’s side.
James Scott Bell says “mounting forces is perhaps the most logical beat in all of Super Structure…Act III is like going over a waterfall. You can’t stop it. The antagonist knows this, and gathers his strength.” AKA: The antagonist mounts his forces, too.
The combination is what makes this moment so powerful. Stakes are raised because one character doesn’t sit silently while the other arms themselves. They’re both aware—if not consciously—that their quarrel isn’t over yet. The antagonist would be a fool to expect anything less.
This awareness motivates the antagonist to prepare for the Final Battle, which raises your main character’s external and internal stakes. The death on the line is obvious to both parties, and such a high stake isn’t taken on without preparation.
Aladdin: An Example
For today’s article, riding on the hype of Disney’s latest real-life adaption of Aladdin, I thought it would be fun to shift gears from books and look at the Mounting Forces in this Disney classic.
What do you think it is? Where does Aladdin gather forces for one last, crazy-difficult attempt to take out Jafar?
I’ll give you a hint: Aladdin’s All is Lost moment (titled Doorway of No Return #2 in Super Structure) is when Jafar, empowered by Genie, exiles Aladdin to the snowy abyss in no-man’s land thousands of miles away from Agrabah.
How does Aladdin deal with this? The rest of Act III unravels this question, and it starts with how he mounts his forces.
Aladdin had time to figure his problems out in Act II, but in Act III time has run out. If he is going to live with himself, he can’t give up. He needs to redeem his wrongs. He needs to return, imposter and all, to save Jasmine and the Sulton—Agrabah. He needs to free Genie.
With Abu and Carpet by his side, they enter the endgame. Stakes are higher than ever. And while Jafar only really has Iago as his companion, he’s stolen Genie and enslaved him to his power-hungry wishes.
Oh boy. How can anyone beat a genie?
Setting up a Mounting Forces Scene
To execute your Mounting Forces Signpost, go back to your main character’s death stakes (professional, psychological, and/or physical). Make a list of ten moments that challenge these stakes, preferably for each category.
Once you’re done, organize that list. Order them in a way that escalates danger. Skim it over. What are the deadliest stakes? Pick one that is undoubtedly deadly, but save the deadliest for the climax.
This might look something like:
- Aladdin is a “street rat” who scavenges for food (survival)
- Aladdin is sent to jail
- Aladdin is trapped in the Cave of Wonders
- Aladdin almost dies in the Cave of Wonders (high death stakes!) but is later saved by Genie
- Aladdin attracts Jasmine but as a “prince,” which is a lie. Jafar realizes this and things get really messy
- Aladdin is captured and thrown over a cliff (high death stakes!)
- Aladdin can’t wish for Genie’s freedom because he is living a lie
- Aladdin loses Genie and is revealed as a fraud
- Aladdin is exiled to a snowy wasteland without Genie
- Aladdin needs to fight Jafar without Genie (luckily he still has Carpet and Abu to help!)
Now plot out your own Mounting Forces scene and then put it into words. Have fun writing this thrilling, escalating moment!
Until next time.
Abigail K. Perry is a certified Story Grid Editor who specializes in stories that celebrate women with plots driven by the main character’s emotional journey, the Agency Relations Assistant for P.S. Literary Agency, an editor and outliner for Relay Publishing, a monthly columnist for DIY MFA, a proud member of WFWA, and most notably, a teacher for writers serious about leveling up their writing craft.
She earned her B.S. in TV, Radio, and Film from Syracuse University (S.I. Newhouse School of Publications) and a Master’s in Secondary Education from Endicott College. Abigail created and taught three creative writing and film courses at the high school level. She continues to teach writers with her email list Writer’s Weekend Workshop, vlog Scene Slayer, and podcast Slush Pile Survivor (vlog and podcast coming summer 2019).
Believing there is no greater connection between people than storytelling, it is her life’s aspiration to write, teach, represent, and sell stories that remind us of the importance to empathize with all people—and to cherish and share that unique spark that makes our manuscript special.
If you like Abigail’s work, you can support her by following her on twitter @abigailkperry and Instagram @abigailkperry. Or, check out her writing and editing services on her website www.abigailkperry.com