Inciting Event: What is this story about? If it’s about a guy in the Marines, then the Inciting Event has to be Swofford joining the Marines, which more or less happens in the first scene. But if we look a little deeper, we see this is a story about a guy in the Marines trying to stay sane during Desert Shield. That conflict doesn’t begin until halfway through the First Act when Swofford graduates to sniper scout and then hears on the news that Iraq has invaded Kuwait.

First Plot Point: He leaves his Normal World of sniper school back home in the States and enters the “adventure world” of the Second Act when he arrives in the desert in Kuwait. In this story, this event happens very quickly on the heels of the Inciting Event.

First Pinch Point: Swofford gets a letter from his girlfriend that makes him fear she’s going to dump him. He begins to grow more and more bored and more and more paranoid. He begins having nightmares about her—and about vomiting sand.

Where’s the antagonist in this scene? This isn’t a war movie in the traditional sense. There are no enemy soldiers breathing down Swofford’s neck, and therefore no enemy soldiers’ presence to emphasize in this pinch point. Instead, we see this is actually a psychological drama, in which Swofford’s own self and his trying physical surroundings are the true antagonist.

Midpoint: After a munitions truck catches on fire on Christmas Eve, while Swofford is supposed to be on watch, he is demoted to private. He finally flips, nearly shoots one of his buddies, then ends by demanding his friend shoot him instead. This is Swofford’s personal Moment of Truth—which he has to face in apologizing to his friend later on.

The plot’s Midpoint happens a little late, but right after the apology, when Swofford and his squad finally get their first glimpse of potential enemies out in the desert. From here on, the restless “waiting” period of Desert Shield in the first half swings around into the “war” of Desert Shield in the second.

Second Pinch Point: Swofford and his friends come under fire for the first time. As they are bombarded, Swofford runs around looking for a battery for the radio. Although the ultimate point of this scene is satirical, this is the first time Swofford’s life has been actually threatened by the enemy—thus emphasizing the antagonistic force and turning the plot.

Third Plot Point: Swofford’s squad comes upon the “highway of death,” where thousands of fleeing people were immolated in their cars. This is a relatively quiet and impersonal Third Plot Point, but it is visually striking and clearly emphasizes the impact this sight has on Swofford and the others. Swofford’s viewpoint has been rapidly changing ever since the Midpoint, but this is where he really starts to grow up.

Climax: Swofford and his spotter are finally given the opportunity to go out on a sniping mission. Just as they are about to take the shot, an Army major arrives and calls them off, so he can bring in an air raid. Swofford’s spotter flips out, wanting nothing more than to finally get a kill.

Climactic Moment: Swofford and his spotter return to camp to find everyone celebrating: the war has already ended. They won’t get a chance to make a kill.

Resolution: The Marines return home, and an epilogue shows what happens to all the men in Swofford’s squad.

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