The Good Dinosaur

Inciting Event: Arlo the dinosaur’s chronic fear has been keeping him as the only family member to not have made his “mark” on the family farm’s storage silo. The Mark is a muddy footprint on its wall, given when a family member does something bigger than himself. In an effort to break Arlo of his crippling fear, his father makes him “take care” of the “critter” that has been stealing the food the family needs to survive the winter. This means heading straight into an intense storm. When the critter gets away, Arlo and his father try to get back home. Arlo’s fear of the storm is anchored in his psyche when it triggers a flash flood that kills his father.

This Inciting Event came a bit later than most, but the time spent on setting up Arlo’s trouble with letting fear keep him from doing even simple everyday chores.

First Plot Point: The “critter” returns, and Arlo chases him down, trying to get vengeance and prove he is not afraid. The tables are turned, and Arlo falls into the river. The rapids knock him unconscious against a boulder and he drifts downriver, waking up miles from home.

First Pinch Point: The “critter” finds Arlo again and tries to share food with him. Eventually, Arlo and the “critter,” who is a feral human child, become friends after the child protects Arlo from a venomous reptile (earning him the name “Spot”).

Midpoint: Arlo shows Spot what a family is by setting up sticks and drawing a circle around them. He learns the child lost his whole family when Spot does the same and knocks down all but one stick.

The next day, Arlo flees from another storm and loses sight of the river he was following home.

Second Pinch Point: Predatory pterosaurs fly down in response to Arlo’s calling to them for help and direction. They then turn nasty and try to snatch Spot and eat him. Fleeing from the pterosaurs, Arlo and the child run into a family of Tyrannosaurs who, beat off the pterosaurs.

The Tyrannosaurs are cattle ranchers who had their herd stolen by rustlers. They make Arlo bait the rustlers so they can ambush them. He’s terrified, but he does it anyway. During the confrontation, the Tyrannosaur dad gets overpowered by the rustler raptors, and Arlo overcomes his fear for the first time to help fight off the raptors and save the Tyrannosaur dad.

Later that night, the Tyrannosaur dad, probably the toughest, bravest guy Arlo’s ever met besides his own dad, teaches Arlo that it’s smart to be afraid, but not if you let it stop you from doing what you need to do.

Third Plot Point: The pterosaurs circle like sharks during a gathering storm, then swoop in and snatch Spot away. Arlo tries to keep the pterosaurs from taking Spot, but falls off a cliff and is tangled up in vines, and takes another blow to the head.

He comes to, and sees his father returning to free him from the vines and take him home. Arlo realizes his father isn’t really there or alive when he sees him make no footprints in the mud. But the visage of his father repeats to him what he said in the First Act (before the Inciting Event): Arlo is just as much as he is, and more.

Climax: Arlo wakes from the vision and frees himself from the vines, then races to rescue Spot. He finds Spot hiding inside a dead tree jutting from the middle of the river. The storm is getting stronger. Arlo singlehandedly fights off the pterosaurs. The storm triggers a mudslide and a flash flood. Arlo is more scared than ever, all his trauma alarm bells ringing, but he throws himself at the wall of rushing water and debris to save Spot. He gets to Spot in time to keep him in one piece when they go over a huge waterfall.

Climactic Moment: After Arlo and Spot part ways when another human family adopts Spot, Arlo returns to his own family.

Resolution: Arlo finally makes his Mark on the storage silo.

(Submitted by Aaron McCausland; edited by K.M. Weiland.)

Notes From K.M. Weiland: This is a bit of a tricky one to structure, since the structure isn’t particularly solid. Mostly, this is due to about four different lines of conflict running through this very short storyline. The main conflict is Arlo’s inner journey to embracing his fear, while his outer conflict revolves around getting home. His relationship with Spot is actually entirely ancillary to the main conflict.

Another (non-structural) thing to note here is that the story introduces the high-concept premise: “What if the dinosaurs never went extinct?” But the story itself has no relation to that question. There’s no reason this story had to be about a dinosaur. It could just as easily have been a modern story of a boy and his dog. Lesson: if the high concept doesn’t actually affect the plot, it doesn’t belong in the story.

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