Enemy at the Gates

Inciting Event: Common soldier Vassili and political (aka propaganda) officer Danilov meet during the siege of Stalingrad. They are both trapped amidst a pile of their fallen comrades, with their escape prevented by German officers inhabiting the house across the street. Vassili proves his proficiency with a rifle by neatly shooting all five of them—and tremendously impressing Danilov, whose life he has just saved. This is the beginning of the main story about Vassili as a sniper—and his driving relationship with Danilov.

Danilov writes a story extolling Vassili’s heroism—and then convinces Kruschev to inspire the rest of the Army by using Vassili as a symbol. Danilov is promoted to the General Staff and Vassili is promoted to Sniper Division.

First Plot Point: The legendary German sniper Major Koenig arrives in Stalingrad, with the mission of assassinating Vassili—who has become a legend in his own right by killing hundreds of German officers. Koenig immediately sets a trap for Vassili and kills Vassili’s two partners—effectively bringing himself to the protagonist’s notice and turning the plot by forcing a reaction. Koenig’s first duel with Vassili is the introduction of the main conflict. If Vassili’s promotion to Sniper Division is the Key Event that pulls him out of the First Act, this is the First Plot Point which pulls him into the Second Act.

First Pinch Point: Vassili and his new partner set a trap for Koenig. Koenig doesn’t take the bait and proves his amazing proficiency by killing the partner with an impressive shot.

Midpoint: Koenig evades another trap set for him, shoots Vassili’s newest partner, and pins Vassili down away from his rifle. After Tania—the girl Vassili loves—arrives and distracts Koenig by flashing light in his eyes, Vassili retrieves his rifle and manages to shoot Koenig in the hand. This is the first time Vassili is able to upend the antagonistic threat and score a real hit against Koenig. It also signals a shift in his relationship with Tania—which moves from passive to active.

Second Pinch Point: After once again laying a trap for Koenig, Vassili falls asleep and misses his chance. His identification papers are collected, and Koenig is informed that he is dead. Koenig rejects the information however since, “I have not killed him.”

Third Plot Point: Koenig hangs the young Russian boy who was spying on him for Danilov. The boy was a neighbor of Tania’s and the son of a woman with whom Vassili sometimes stayed—so the tragedy is extremely personal and immediately galvanizes Vassili into action.

Climax: The structure in this story is a little tricky. Originally, I had identified Vassili’s promotion to Sniper Division as the First Plot Point and bumped all the subsequent structural moments down in position—which totally aligns with the timing. I did this also because unless you accept the boy’s hanging as the beginning of the Climax, there is no obvious climactic turning point.

Ultimately, however, I decided to identify the structure as you see above for the simple reason that, as it stands, all of these structural moments perfectly fulfill the technical needs of the story (Koenig’s arrival signals the beginning of the main conflict, his shooting of the partner and Vassili’s falling asleep emphasize the antagonist’s power, and the boy’s death is a decided low moment).

In short, the timing aside, it’s beautifully structured—until we get to the Climax, which has no clear distinction from the Third Plot Point. After the Third Plot Point, Vassili takes no time to react, but immediately plunges into his final confrontation with Koenig.

Climactic Moment: Thanks to Danilov’s sacrificing himself by fooling Koenig into thinking he’s Vassili, Vassili finally is able to draw Koenig into the open and kill him.

Resolution: After the Germans have surrendered and the siege has ended, Vassili finds the hospital where the wounded Tania ended up.

Notes: To sum up, the major problems with this story are two-fold: 1) The timing is off thanks to a very long First Act. 2) There is no clear distinction between the Third Plot Point and the Climax, which makes for a very short Third Act.

Nevertheless, this is a generally well done story that fulfills (almost) all of its structural duties to a T.

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.