Ender’s Game

Hook: The opening line to this award-winning science-fiction novel is packed with hooking questions:

I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one. Or at least as close as we’re going to get.

Just like that, Card has us wondering how the speaker is watching and listening through someone else’s mind. Who is “the one”? What is “the one” supposed to do? And why are they settling for a “one” who is less than perfect? Card then builds into a scene that introduces his unlikely hero, six-year-old Ender Wiggin, just as his life is turned upside down.

First Act: Card uses his First Act to establish his setting: the orbital Battle School, where brilliant young children train to stave off an alien invasion. We learn about this strange and brutal place through the eyes of the main character, Ender Wiggin, who is a new arrival. This also allows us to learn about Ender. We see his determination and his kindness, but also the underlying bedrock of his ruthlessness—around which the entire plot turns. Almost all the significant supporting characters are introduced. Readers are shown what is at stake, not only for the human race, but also for Ender if he does not overcome the handicap of his extreme youth in order to flourish in this place.

Inciting Event: The First Act frames the central conflict by introducing a world that has been under attack by the Formic aliens for over eighty years. The protagonist, young Ender, is not directly impacted by this larger conflict until the Inciting Event when Col. Graff and the International Fleet Selective Service recruit him. He is taken to Battle School, where he will be trained to outwit and outfight the aliens.

First Plot Point: The quarter mark finds Ender graduating to Salamander Army after a victorious confrontation with the bully Bernard. Ender’s assertion of brains, tenacity, and leadership allow him to claim his spot at Battle School. He makes it clear to himself, the other children, and the watching instructors that he will do whatever he must to survive. This First Plot Point also changes the game (no pun intended) by once again moving Ender to new surroundings. As a member of Salamander Army, he is dropped into a new place, new quarters, and a new set of challenges.

First Half of the Second Act: After joining Bonzo’s Salamander Army, Ender struggles to stay afloat in Battle School. He learns to fight—and win—in the zero-grav war games. He makes friends and enemies and sets in motion the events that will later cause the standoff between him and the bully Bonzo. Everything he does in the First Half of the Second Act is a reaction to his presence in Battle School in general and his promotion to Salamander Army in particular.

Midpoint: Ender’s apprenticeship in Salamander Army ends abruptly when he is given command of his own Battle School army. This dramatic change in the character’s circumstances would have been enough to create a solid Midpoint. But Card takes it one step further and complicates Ender’s plight by assigning him the worst students in Battle School. This brand new army—Dragon Army—is created to test Ender. If he’s going to survive, he must stop reacting to the pressures put on him by others and go on the offensive.

Second Half of the Second Act: After having the misfit Dragon Army dumped on him at the Midpoint, Ender spends the Second Half of the Second Act rising to the challenge. He knows he’s been put at an unfair disadvantage and that the instructors are deliberately testing him by pitting him against more powerful students. Instead of caving to the pressure, Ender squares his shoulders and puts in the work. His refusal to stand down transforms Dragon Army into the best army in Battle School.

Third Act: When Ender is forced to kill fellow student Bonzo, he is pushed to his breaking point. The time has come for him to leave Battle School and command Dragon Army in a larger arena. But after Bonzo’s death, the commanders realize they’re on the brink of losing the boy they’ve been grooming to save the world. Ender is permitted to return to Earth to visit his beloved sister Valentine. While there, he must make the decision that will change not only the fate of the world but also his own life. When he decides to return to space and take his promotion, events are sent into an irrevocable spiral to the Climax.

Third Plot Point: Ender is forced into a fatal confrontation with the bully Bonzo. In a display of the ruthlessness that has made him so successful at Battle School, he kills Bonzo. He is devastated by his actions and nearly gives up on Battle School, fleeing to his family on Earth to contemplate who he is becoming.

Climax: After Ender and his team graduate from Battle School, they enter a new series of what they all believe to be tactical games training them to face the aliens. Pushed to the limit of his physical and emotional endurance, Ender triggers the Climactic Moment when he breaks what he perceives as the rules. He looses his frustrated aggression on the game and annihilates the enemy. Then comes the revelation that he wasn’t playing a game at all, but rather commanding faraway troops fighting the aliens in real time.

Resolution: Card takes his time with a lengthy Resolution. In it, we’re given what essentially amounts to both an epilogue explaining some of Ender’s life after his defeat of the aliens (he leaves Earth to try to make peace with both his superstar status and his guilt over his xenocide of the aliens) and an introduction to the sequels that will follow (in which Ender takes charge of finding a new home for the sole remaining alien cocoon).

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.