Hook: The opening line to Card’s acclaimed 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’s got us wondering how the speaker is watching and listening through someone’s 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? He then successfully builds his killer opening into a scene that introduces his unlikely hero, six-year-old Ender Wiggin, just as his life is about to change forever.
First Act: Card uses his first act to establish his setting, the orbital Battle School, where brilliant young children are sent to 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, and, in so doing, we learn about Ender as well. We see his determination, his kindness, but also his underlying bedrock of ruthlessness—which will eventually become the element around which the entire plot must turn. Almost all of the important supporting characters are introduced, and readers are immediately shown what is a 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.
First Plot Point: The quarter mark of Ender’s Game finds Ender graduating from his launch group to Salamander Army after a victorious confrontation with the bully Bernard. Aside from Ender’s personal assertion of brains, tenacity, and leadership qualities, with which he claims his spot at Battle School and makes it clear to himself, the other children, and the watching instructors that he will do whatever he has to do to survive, this first major plot point also changes the game (no pun intended!) by once again moving Ender to new surroundings. As a member of Salamander Army, he’s dropped into a new place, a new social stratum, and a new set of challenges.
Inciting Event: The inciting event that starts the plot rolling in this science fiction classic is the invasion of the Formic aliens eighty years earlier. Without this invasion, Ender (as a third child) would never even have been allowed to have been born. This event takes place long before the beginning of the book and is discussed only in retrospect.
Key Event: The key event that draws Ender irrevocably into the battle is his brutally efficient response to the bully Stilson, which prompts Col. Graff and the International Fleet Selective Service to requisition Ender as a Battle School student.
First Half of the Second Act: After joining Bonzo’s Salamander Army, Ender has to struggle 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 eventually cause the standoff between him and Bonzo. Everything he does in the first half of the second act is a reaction to his presence in Battle School, in general, and in 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, by itself, to create a solid midpoint. But Card takes it one step further and complicates the character’s plight by giving him, not the standard army, but a group of the worst students in Battle School. This brand new army—Dragon Army—is created especially to test Ender. If he’s going to survive, he has to 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 advantage, and he knows Graff and the other instructors are deliberately testing him by pitting him against other, more powerful students. But instead of caving to the pressure, Ender squares his shoulders and rises to the challenge. Thanks to his refusal to stand down, Dragon Army becomes the best army in Battle School.
Third Plot Point: When Ender is forced into the lethal confrontation with Bonzo, he is also forced to the breaking point.
Third Act: The time has come for Ender to leave Battle School and step up to 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 spent so much time and effort grooming to save the world from the Formic aliens. Ender is given permission 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. From the moment he decides to move forward, return to space, and take his promotion, events are sent into the irrevocable spiral that will lead up to the climax.
Climax: After Ender and his team graduated from Battle School, they entered a new series of what they all believed to be further tactical games, intended to train them forthe day when they would finally face the Formics. Pushed to the limit of his physical and emotional endurance, Ender triggers the climax when he reaches the personal decision to break what he perceives as the rules. He looses his frustrated aggression on the “game” and completely destroys the enemy. Then comes the revelation that he wasn’t playing a game at all, but rather commanding the faraway troops who were fighting the Formics in real time.
Resolution: Ender’s Game takes its time with its resolution (primarily because Card added it after the original novella’s publication). In it, we’re given what essentially amounts to both an epilogue, explaining some of Ender’s life after his defeat of the Formics (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 books that will follow in the series (in which Ender takes charge of finding a new home for the sole remaining Formic cocoon).