Sunshine

Inciting Event: The crew of the Icarus II, on a dangerous mission to reignite the dying sun, receives a distress call from their lost predecessor the Icarus I. This is a great example of a story that begins in medias res. It doesn’t begin back on Earth when the mission is being conceived, the astronaut team is being chosen, or the characters are in training. It begins sixteen months into the mission, just as the ship is nearing its destination.

However, that doesn’t mean the Inciting Event has occurred prior to the actual beginning of the story. A story’s Inciting Event will always take place within the story’s First Act (right around the 12% mark). The Inciting Event is whatever kicks off the immediate conflict. Here, that conflict is kicked off by the complication of the Icarus I’s survival—with the incumbent implications that the ship’s nuclear payload is still intact and some of its crew may still be alive.

The characters’ lives brush into the main conflict here, but they don’t wholeheartedly embrace it. The crew is immediately divided over whether or not deviating course to make contact with Icarus I is the right choice.

First Plot Point: After the ship’s physicist Capo makes the call to go after Icarus I, the navigator readjusts the ship’s course but fails to accordingly adjust the shields that are protecting the ship from the sun’s heat. As a result, the ship is damaged. This is the doorway to the Second Act. Up to this point, the crew’s reaction to the Icarus I’s distress call was something they might have been able to turn back from. Now they can’t. Their entire mission is jeopardized, and they have no choice by to fly into reaction mode.

First Pinch Point: While Capo and the captain are outside fixing the ship’s damaged sensors, a fire breaks out in the ship’s oxygen garden. Emergency measures kick in, and the ship alters course, exposing Capo and the captain to the sun. The captain remains outside to finish the repairs and is killed. The stakes shoot through the roof here. Not only does the crew lose their level-headed captain, they also lose the oxygen garden that is providing them with air. They no longer have enough oxygen to make it to their destination, much less return home.

Midpoint: The crew lands on Mercury and enters the silent and dust-covered Icarus I. They discover it was sabotaged and that the crew was immolated by the sun’s rays. When the airlock connecting them to their own ship is mysteriously destroyed, they must figure out a risky way to get back to the Icarus II.

This is a good Midpoint in the sense that it offers the characters new revelations about the nature of the conflict and puts them on a clear course of action afterwards (they’re all entirely committed to finishing the mission, whatever the cost). However, it does highlight the weakest aspect of the plot, which is that the entirety of the main conflict (of deviating course to Icarus I) is ultimately non-essential to the characters’ overarching goals. Their goals are fatally complicated as a result of visiting Icarus II, but nothing else changes.

Second Pinch Point: Capo realizes there’s another person now aboard the Icarus II (using up their valuable and limited oxygen). He finds the man and discovers it is the badly burned and insane Captain Pinbacker of the Icarus I, who stowed away onboard the Icarus II after destroying the airlock at the Midpoint. This is a highly effective Pinch Point. The captain is a scary figure who poses a threat to the crew members personally and to the mission as a whole. At this point, Capo comes to the full realization of exactly what he and the rest of the crew are up against.

Third Plot Point: The co-pilot and engineer Mace realizes Pinbacker has sabotaged the computers, and he sacrifices his life in order to fix them. Inspired, Capo blows the airlock where Pinbacker trapped him. This is a nice one-two of a Third Plot Point. We’ve got the obligatory low moment represented by Mace’s death, followed by Capo’s “resurrection” as he digs deep and totally recommits to gaining the goal, even at the potential cost of his own life.

Climax: Capo launches the bomb into the sun—with himself on it so he can manually ignite it. Inside the bomb room, he faces down Pinbacker for the last time.

Good Climaxes will usually deliver the character into a setting smaller than whatever is used previously in the Third Act (Alien is a fabulous example of this). Here Capo has to leave the relative roominess of the main ship and confine himself to the bomb room, where he is trapped with the antagonist.

Climactic Moment: The bomb explodes, killing Capo.

Resolution: A short epilogue shows Capo’s sister and nephews back in the solar winter on Earth, just as the sun reignites. Although I’m rarely a fan of epilogues, an ending like this is necessary in a story where the main character(s) die, in order to leave readers/viewers with the feeling the author/director wants to strike. Ending with Capo’s death would have been a downer, but ending with the proof that his mission succeeded is nicely bittersweet.

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