Six Act Structure in Short Stories – Part 2

Title: Second Variety

Format: Short Story

Released: 1953

Written By: Phillip K. Dick

Run Time: 45 Pages

Character: Major Joseph Hendricks

Phillip K. Dick’s early short story, Second Variety, is another excellent example of a story that follows the Six Act progressions of actions and goals. Later made into the 1995 movie, Screamers, it follows the story of Major Joseph Hendricks, a UN commander on a desolate Earth who makes peace with his Russian enemies when self-replicating robots threaten to destroy humanity (I’m paraphrasing considerably). If you haven’t had the pleasure, you can read it here.

ACT ONE: DEALING WITH AN IMPERFECT SITUATION

A character in an Imperfect Situation faces Oppressive Opposition as he pursues an Initial Goal. But when there is a Disturbance to his routine, he faces a Dilemma regarding his situation, and must assume a New Role.

Major Joseph Hendricks commands a UN bunker on an Earth decimated (the imperfect situation) in a war between the UN and Russia (oppressive opposition) that the UN is trying to win (initial goal). But when a Russian troop arrives with a request for truce (the disturbance) Hendricks decides to negotiate himself (the dilemma) and sets off as the UN ambassador (the new role).

The Imperfect Situation: Earth has been reduced to nuclear ruin after a war between Russia and the UN. Nearing defeat, the UN created autonomous, self-replicating killer robots called “claws” to kill the Russian soldiers that turns the tide of the war. Although the robots are programmed not to attack UN troops, everyone is disquieted by them.

Initial Goal: Win the war against the Russians.

Oppressive Opposition: Humanity is at war and the UN troops live a bleak existence.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Disturbance:  A Russian soldier approaches a UN outpost and is killed by the “claws”. The UN troops find he had a message on it requesting a meeting to discuss a truce.

Turning Point One – The Dilemma: Start Time: Page 2 of 45 (4.4%) – Major Joseph Hendricks decides to go handle the negotiations himself.

The New Role: Hendricks becomes a diplomatic ambassador

Act Run Time: 5 of 45 Pages (11.1%)

 

ACT TWO: LEARNING THE RULES OF AN UNFAMILIAR SITUATION

The character Learns the Rules of an Unfamiliar Situation and faces Incidental Opposition in pursuit of a Transitional Goal. But when he receives a Reality Check, he makes a Commitment to his New Role.

Act Start Time: 5 of 45 Pages (11.1%)

Hendricks traverses the scarred landscape (the unfamiliar situation) worried the meeting is a trap (incidental opposition) as he goes to discuss a truce (transitional goal). But when he encounters an orphaned boy who begs to come with him (the reality check), the Russians kill the boy and reveal he is a new variety for robotic claw (the commitment).

The Unfamiliar Situation: Hendricks goes to a treaty with the Russians, and navigates the ruined landscape of Earth, meeting a strange orphan along the way.

Transitional Goal: Meet with the Russians to discuss a truce.

Incidental Opposition: Hendricks worries the truce is a trap. He meets an orphan boy, David, who unnerves him.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Reality Check:  En route to the Russian base, Hendricks encounters an orphaned boy named David who requests to come with him. Hendricks acquiesces bringing the boy along. When he reaches the base the Russians shoot and kill the boy, and it is revealed that he was a new type of “claw” that the self-replicating robots have created themselves.

Turning Point Two – The Commitment: Start Time: Page 14 of 45 (31.1%) – The three surviving Russians, Rudi, Klaus and a prostitute name Tasso, explain the situation with the new varieties of claws. He learns that there are 3 varieties: David (three), and the wounded soldier (one), but they don’t know what the second variety is. Hendricks resolves to contact the UN bunker.

Act Run Time: 13 of 45 Pages (28.8%)

 

ACT THREE: STUMBLING INTO THE CENTRAL CONFLICT

The character stumbles into the Central Conflict and faces Intentional Opposition in pursuit of a False Goal. But when there is a grave Turn of events, he has a Moment of Truth.

Act Start Time: Page 18 of 45 (40%)

Hendricks and the Russians must figure out the mystery of the second variety (the central conflict) as they begin to distrust each other (intentional opposition) while trying to contact the UN bunker (false goal). But when one of the Russians kills another (the turn), Hendricks receives a message from the UN bunker and decides to investigate (the moment of truth).

The Central Conflict: Hendricks and the Russian’s versus the mysterious second variety of claws.

False Goal: Contact the UN bunker.

Intentional Opposition: The group begins to distrust each other, thinking the others might be the second variety.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Turn: One of the Russians, Klaus, kills the other, Rudi, because he believes he is the mysterious “second variety” of claws the Russians speculated existed. However, his remains prove he was in fact human.

Turning Point Three – The Moment of Truth: Start Time: Page 25 of 45 (55.5%) – Hendricks finally receives a response from the UN bunker, but the voice is faint and he can’t determine if it is indeed one of his men. With no way to be certain, Hendricks makes the decision to return to the UN bunker to verify.

Act Run Time: 9 of 45 Pages (20%)

 

ACT FOUR: IMPLEMENTING A DOOMED PLAN

The character implements a Doomed Plan and faces Self-Inflicted Opposition in pursuit of a Penultimate Goal. But when an unthinkable Lowpoint occurs, he pulls himself together and discovers a Newfound Resolve.

Act Start Time: Page 27 of 45 (60%)

Hendricks and the 2 remaining Russians go to the UN bunker (the doomed plan) where Hendricks gets them all attacked (self-inflicted opposition) while trying to determine if the bunker has been seized (penultimate goal). But when Klaus is revealed to be a claw and Hendricks is gravely wounded (the lowpoint) Tasso convinces him they should take the evacuation shuttle to the UN moon base (the newfound resolve).

The Doomed Plan: The trip to the UN bunker leaves Hendricks gravely wounded and Klaus dead.

Penultimate Goal: Return to the UN bunker to verify if it has been overtaken by claws.

Self-Inflicted Opposition: Instead of turning away from the bunker when his men refuse to come out, Hendricks attempts to go in and a swarm of claws attack his party.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Lowpoint: When Hendricks approaches the bunker it is revealed to be infested with the first and third variety of claws. Hendricks and Tasso fight them off and retreat, but Klaus is overrun. When Klaus is later revealed to have survived, Tasso shoots him, revealing he is actually a claw: the second variety. Hendricks is gravely injured from the confrontation at the bunker.

Turning Point Four – The Newfound Resolve: Start Time: Page 35 of 45 (77.7%) – Tasso suggests that Hendricks get them to the Moon Base. Hendricks remembers there is an evacuation shuttle at an old well.

Act Run Time: 12 of 45 Pages (26.6%)

 

ACT FIVE: TRYING A LONGSHOT

The character tries a Longshot and faces Ultimate Opposition while trying to accomplish the Ultimate Goal. But just when it seems All is Lost, he makes a Final Push against the forces of antagonism and either succeeds or fails.

Act Start Time: Page 39 of 45 (86.6%)

Hendricks attempts to take the shuttle (the longshot) and is out maneuvered by Tasso (ultimate opposition) who wants to get to the moon base (ultimate goal). But when they discover the rocket only seats one and Tasso convinces Hendricks she should go (all is lost) he explains how to access the base and is left to defend himself until she can send rescue (the final push).

The Longshot: Take the evacuation rocket to the Moon Base.

Ultimate Goal: Find the evacuation rocket to flee to the Moon Base.

Ultimate Opposition: Hendricks versus Tasso’s manipulation.

Turning Point Catalyst – All is Lost: When they find the rocket, they discover it is only built for one person. Thinking the injured Hendricks won’t survive the trip, Tasso determines to got herself. When she convinces him she will send rescue, he decides to give her the directions for reaching the base.

Turning Point Five – The Final Push: Start Time: Page 42 of 45 (%) – Hendricks explains to Tasso how to access the Moonbase. Tasso throws him her pistol to defend himself, before rocketing away.

 

ACT SIX: LIVING IN A NEW SITUATION

Having accomplished (or failed to have accomplished) the Ultimate Goal, the character is shown living in a New Situation.

Act Start Time: 43 of 45 pages (95.5%)

The New Situation: When Tasso departs, Hendricks investigates Klaus’ corpse more closely. He sees the type plate for Klaus’ model reads IV, the fourth variety, not the second. When a swarm of claws begin to descend upon him, Hendricks sees a number of Tasso’s in their ranks, and realizes she was the second variety and he has given her access to the remains of humanity on the Moon Base. It is implied that humanity will be destroyed by the Claws.

To learn more about six act structure, purchase your copy of “Actions and Goals: The Story Structure Secret” today!

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