Men at Arms

Book: By Terry Pratchett.

Inciting Event: When the Assassins’ Guild blows up, the Watch—including Captain Vimes and Corporal Carrot—arrive to investigate. They realize something important has been stolen from a display case, but they don’t yet know what it is.

Everything up until this moment is set-up, both for the characters (new members of the Watch, Vimes is reluctantly set to retire upon his upcoming marriage) and for the conflict itself (the young assassin d’Eath is plotting something shady).

First Plot Point: When a dwarf blacksmith dies thanks to a wound like none anyone has ever seen before, Vimes discovers a note about a “gonne” and vows to take the case, despite the Patrician’s orders to the contrary.

Often in mysteries like this, the Inciting Event and First Plot Point will be a one-two punch: one weird or disturbing event is just that, but two weird and disturbing events (as every good detective knows) gives a story.

First Pinch Point: Someone shoots at Vimes with the “gonne” and nearly kills him. But he gains valuable clues about the nature of the weapon and the fact that it can only fire six bullets at a time.

Midpoint: Vimes works out what the “gonne” (aka, gun) is: now he understands the nature of the conflict he is really engaging in. Because Vimes disobeyed, the Patrician symbolically takes his sword, reminding Vimes he is all but retired.

Second Pinch Point: By the Patrician’s orders, the Day Watch takes over the Night Watch, ousting Vimes from command. The clueless Day Watch arrests a troll for the murder of the dwarf, which incites the dwarf community, who march on the jail.

Third Plot Point: Corporal Carrot saves the troll, recruits both dwarves and trolls by the dozens—which suitably turns the plot. The low moment comes when he realizes that his lady love, fellow Watch member Angua, is a werewolf—and he reflexively throws her out the window.

This is the only misstep in the entire structure of the book. Why? Because it is the only structural beat that focuses on Carrot instead of Vimes. Yes, Carrot seems to be the predominant actor in this story; he’s onscreen perhaps twice as much as Vimes. But as evidenced by all the other structural beats, this is actually Vimes’s story, which means the Third Plot Point (arguably the most important character beat of all) should also have belonged to him.

Climax: The gonne is used to try to assassinate the Patrician on the day of Vimes’s wedding. Vimes and Carrot pursue the attacker and unmask him as the head of the Assassins’ Guild—who has been seduced by the seemingly sentient gonne.

Climactic Moment: Carrot kills the bad guy. (Again, from a structural perspective, this should more properly have been Vimes’s definitive action.)

Resolution: Carrot becomes captain of the expanded Watch, and Vimes is given the new rank of Commander, so that he does not have to retire after all.

Notes: This is the first of Pratchett’s books that I’ve analyzed structurally, and going in, I was a little doubtful about what I’d find, due to the notorious whimsicalness and general “all-over-the-placeness” of Pratchett’s style.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, though, to find that so skilled and beloved a storyteller offers a predominately solid structure that presents all the necessary beats and turning points with almost exactly the perfect timing.

As noted above, the one hiccup is that Vimes as protagonist and Carrot as main character occasionally get confused in the latter part of the book.

Otherwise: perfection.

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.