A Man Called Outlaw

Inciting Event:

1858 Timeline: After arriving in Hangtree Valley, Andrew meets the corrupt Judge Wilcock for the first time, as Andrew is purchasing the Sundally Ranch–which Wilcock wants and is willing to do just about anything to get. Even though Andrew and his riding partners have already witnessed the conflict when they observed the effects of Wilcock’s cruelty on the previous owners of the Sundally, this is the first time in which he actually confronts that conflict himself–both in meeting the antagonist and in engaging him by buying the land Wilcock wants. This pits the two of them against each other; until this moment there is no personal conflict between them.

1888 Timeline: Wilcock’s adopted son Shane witnesses the Morrelay brothers (who are Wilcock’s stooges) threatening Russell, the only man willing to work for Anna Cassidy, the current owner of the Sundally. In all honesty, this is not a very strong Inciting Event or a strong turning point for the First Act. The true Inciting Event is really Russell’s arrival in the first chapter, but that, of course, provides no First Act Turning point. The result is a very long first act for this timeline, but the fact that the earlier timeline does have a prominent and well-placed Inciting Event helps compensate.

First Plot Point:

1858 Timeline: On Andrew’s wedding day, Wilcock hangs the former owner of the Sundally on an obviously false murder charge. Andrew’s marriage is a pretty important turning point in itself, since his commitment to keeping his family safe is the only thing preventing him from engaging in all-out warfare with Wilcock. So in one sense, you could say that the Normal World he leaves behind is that of a loner gunman and the “adventure world” he enters is that of a married man conflicted between his conscience and his responsibilities. The hanging is also the first shot fired in the actual battle between Andrew and Wilcock.

1888 Timeline: Again, this timeline scrapes by with little in the way of an obvious First Plot Point, mostly on the strength of the proper structure in the earlier timeline. Optimally, dual timelines should always maintain a strong structure of their own, since they’re essentially separate stories (until they merge later on).

First Pinch Point:

1858 Timeline: Andrew discovers Wilcock has obtained false ownership papers for the Sundally cattle. He then meets Harrison, the brother of a man Andrew is wanted for killing in New Orleans. This is a nice double-sided Pinch Point, since it emphasizes both the main conflict and the stakes (losing the cattle, losing the ranch), as well as the backstory “ghost” conflict coming home to haunt Andrew, since he’s on the run from the law.

1888 Timeline: The Morrelay brothers attack Russell and incapacitate him, both as a warning to his employer Anna and simply to remove his ability to help her run the ranch. This is where the later timeline finally kicks into gear. This is a nice Pinch Point that fulfills its major duties (it brings the new clue that Russell himself may be wanted) and also directly and immediately creates ripples and ramifications in the plot.


1858 Timeline: After reluctantly agreeing to lead a coalition of the local ranchers against Wilcock, Andrew discovers his wife is pregnant. The coalition, even though it ends up not working out, is a clear move away from reaction and into action. The pregnancy changes the playing field for Andrew all over again, emphasizing what’s at stake for him if he battles Wilcock too openly.

1888 Timeline: By threatening to kill Shane, the Morrelays force Anna to sign the Sundally over to them. I’m fond of this scene, since it completely switches the nature of the conflict. Up to this point, Anna’s mindset has pretty much been that “nothing nohow” could ever convince her sell her ranch. But here, she does sell it–and everything changes. It puts her in a more reactive phase, but it finally galvanizes Shane into action, as he fights to get it back for her, even though he knows Wilcock will disapprove.

Second Pinch Point:

1858 Timeline: The brother of the man Andrew is wanted for killing finally figures out who Andrew is and takes the information to Wilcock. (This is also where Andrew’s son is born, which adds heft to the turning point.) The important aspect here is that this new and powerful information in Wilcock’s hands allows him to set into motion the events that will play out at the tragic Third Plot Point.

1888 Timeline: After a shootout with Paul Morrelay, Shane gives Anna back the Sundally–only to have her finally ask him never to see her again. This is another clear turning point for the plot as it puts the ranch back in Anna’s hands, as well as marking a definitive choice by Shane in choosing between her and Wilcock. That’s all pretty positive, so the “pinch” comes from the turning point in Shane and Anna’s relationship. Even though he did the right thing, it’s too little too late and it looks like he’ll lose the girl.

Third Plot Point:

1858 Timeline: Wilcock verifies that Andrew is a wanted man, and when Andrew’s father-in-law tries to warn him, Wilcock has him shot. More often than not, we find death at the Third Plot Point. This is both because it forces the protagonist to go deep inside himself and figure out what really matters, and because, as a result, it galvanizes him for the final conflict. Here, it removes the final obstacle between Andrew and his ability to wage all-out war: up to this point, he hesitated in killing Wilcock since it might endanger his family. Now that his family has already been endangered, he has nothing more to lose.

1888 Timeline: Wilcock is furious with Shane for giving Anna back the Sundally. He takes matters into his own hands, rides to ranch, kills her beloved guardian, and torches her buildings. This is more obviously a low point for Anna, since it literally strips away from her everything she has. But it also functions as the low point for Shane, since he cares about Anna and about the man who was killed. It forces him to face his own inner conflict and finally make the choice to leave Wilcock.


1858 Timeline: Andrew and his partners and family face Wilcock and his posse for a final showdown in the canyons.

1888 Timeline: Released from her promise by Shane’s mother, Anna finally tells Shane that Andrew was his real father–and that he was killed by Wilcock.

Climactic Moment: When Wilcock refuses Shane’s pleas to turn himself in for his crimes, Shane is forced to kill him.

Resolution: Shane comes to peace with his outlaw father, says goodbye to Russell, and waits to be tried for killing Wilcock.

Notes: It’s always a little scary to go back and read a novel you wrote long ago–and especially since, when I wrote this one, I’d no concept of story structure. Still, it’s interesting how well it actually adheres to proper structure. The 1888 timeline in the First Act is definitely the weakest section, since it’s missing any kind of obvious Inciting Event or First Plot Point. But dual timelines are always complex beasts, so, all in all, I’m pleased to see it’s lined up as well as it has!

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