Soul Surfer

Inciting Event: Bethany wins a surf competition and gets a major sponsor. This sets up the basis of the conflict. This isn’t a story about a competition; it’s a story about a girl who loses her arm and re-learns how to surf. But the surf competition is the vehicle that provides her goal, the obstacles she will face, and therefore the stakes. That had to be set up in a major way prior to the First Plot Point.

First Plot Point: Bethany is attacked by a shark while out surfing and loses her arm. This is a really excellent First Plot Point. There’s no question that Bethany’s life has just been rocked irrevocably. Even though the physical setting never changes, she has obviously forever left the Normal World of the First Act.

First Pinch Point: Bethany’s bandage comes off, revealing the stump of her missing arm, and she struggles to understand how this tragedy could be part of God’s plan for her. The entire section of the story from the First Plot Point to the Midpoint is pretty “pinchy”—everything from the reporters waiting outside Bethany’s house when she returns to the hospital to her inability to do common chores. But the bandage coming off is the clear turning point that drives all of this home.

Midpoint: Bethany decides to try surfing again and, after much struggle, is finally able to stand up on the board and catch her first wave with just one arm. This is a clear example of the conflict shifting from reaction to action. Up to this point, Bethany has been struggling to get used to her new life with just one arm. At the Midpoint, she makes the decision to return to surfing, and from this moment on, she is actively pursuing her goal of getting back into surfing shape for competition.

Second Pinch Point: At the regional competition, Bethany comes in last and breaks her board. This pinch point emphasizes her inability to compete–which is the antagonistic force standing in the way of her goal.

Third Plot Point: Bethany’s emotional low point actually arrives quite a bit before the Third Plot Point, when she is crying on the beach with her dad after losing at regionals. This isn’t the best timing for the emotional low point, which is better placed at the Third Plot Point, but the movie does a good job maintaining that emotional low right up through the Third Plot Point, which happens when Bethany goes to Phuket, Thailand, in the wake of the tsunami. She witnesses the suffering there and gets a new perspective.

Climax: The national competition begins with Bethany once again competing. This is the final showdown with the antagonistic force (Bethany’s physical limitations), which is just what the Climax should be. It’s also worth nothing that the movie did a good job of personifying this antagonistic force in a nasty competitor. The competitor is a pretty one-note character, but she does offer a physical manifestation of Bethany’s conflict.

Climactic Moment: Bethany catches a last big wave—which would have won her the competition if it hadn’t been seconds too late. In her own personal conflict, however, “it counted.”

Resolution: Bethany decides to finally give an interview to the reporters following her, so she can explain her mindset and reach out to others like her.

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