Tuck Everlasting

Inciting Event: When Winnie’s parents threaten to send her to a “horrible” boarding school, she runs away to the woods. This movie gives us a great example of why the Inciting Event needs to happen halfway through the First Act (at the 12% mark). If you examine the scenes prior to this one, you’ll see that really not much actually happens. It’s all set-up—just as it should be. The early scenes introduce the main characters, the setting, and hint at the stakes (some stories would need to hint a little more strongly). That way, when the conflict actually arrives halfway through the First Act, all the pieces are already in place.

First Plot Point: After meeting Jesse Tuck at the spring, where he acts strangely in refusing to let her drink from it, Winnie is kidnapped by Jesse’s older brother Miles and taken to the Tucks’ hidden home in the woods.

Why is this the First Plot Point and not the earlier moment when Winnie runs away from home? Wouldn’t her running away—her physically leaving her Normal World—be the First Plot Point? To begin with, keep in mind that the most important qualifier of the First Plot Point is its being the moment when the conflict officially begins. The moment when Winnie is kidnapped is the moment when she becomes engaged irretrievably in the Tucks’ lives—and thus the conflict.

Second, it’s also important to realize that the First Plot Point doesn’t so much mark the protagonist’s leaving his Normal World as it does his entering the “adventure world” of the Second Act. More often than not, the leaving and the entering will be so closely linked as to be inextricable, which is why we usually associate the end of the Normal World with the First Plot Point. But this won’t be the case in every story.

First Pinch Point: The Man in the Yellow Suit seeks the Tucks in the church graveyard and tells the minister his plans of finding and bottling immortality. Directly after this scene, Winnie’s father sends a posse looking for her. This movie’s chief flaw is its fragmented antagonistic force. The true conflict is that of Winnie choosing between living forever with the Tucks and returning home to her parents to grow up. As such, the true antagonistic force is anything that threatens to pull her away from the Tucks: in this instance, her father. The Man in the Yellow Suit seems like the main antagonist, but he’s really just a distraction. He can’t be the main antagonist because, with a few minor exceptions, he never stands between Winnie and her goals.

Midpoint: After kissing Jesse for the first time, Winnie learns the truth about the Tucks’ immortality. Like any good Midpoint, this one moves the physical plot forward in an obvious way (Winnie’s romance with Jesse) and also presents a dramatic new understanding of the conflict (the revelation of the Tucks’ backstory). What isn’t so great about it is the fact that the telling of the backstory takes up nearly the next eighth of the movie, which pulls the emphasis away from main conflict in the present-day of the story.

Second Pinch Point: Knowing Winnie and Jesse are falling in love, Jesse’s father warns Winnie of the perils of immortality. Meanwhile, the Man in the Yellow Suit locates Winnie and tells her parents the Tucks have kidnapped her. He then blackmails her father into selling him the woods (and the spring). Again, we see the fragmented antagonistic force here. Although the Man in the Yellow Suit actually does move the conflict here, the true threat to Winnie’s goal (of being with Jesse and escaping her life) is the advice from Jesse’s father, warning her not to embrace her escape too quickly.

Third Plot Point: The Man in the Yellow Suit kidnaps Winnie, shoots Jesse, and is killed by Jesse’s mother. The posse arrives, finds Winnie, and arrests Jesse’s parents for the murder of the Man in the Yellow Suit. Jesse and Miles escape. This is a good Third Plot Point: death is present, the stakes are high, and it neatly turns the conflict. However, it also demonstrates how extraneous a character the Man in the Yellow Suit is. When your antagonist dies before the Climax, you know he wasn’t very integral.

Climax: Winnie helps Jesse and Miles free their parents. This scene feels like the end of the Climax, but it’s the beginning. The moment when the Tucks drive away, leaving Winnie standing in the wind-blown street feels like the Climactic Moment. But it’s not; it’s really just the turning point that begins the actual Climax—which is where Winnie must decide whether or not she will drink from the spring, gain immortality, and wait for Jesse to return to her. There’s nothing inherently wrong in this structuring, but the pacing feels off. It makes it feel as if the most important part of the story is nothing more than an extended Resolution.

Climactic Moment: Jesse finds Winnie’s headstone—indicating she decided not to drink from the spring and instead lived a long and fulfilled life. This is the moment that ends the main conflict. But because it’s told in epilogue fashion (almost ninety years after the main story and without the main character), it ultimately lacks the punch it might otherwise have offered. Viewers don’t get to experience Winnie’s decision with Winnie; we only see it in hindsight.

Resolution: The true Resolution of this story is Winnie and her parents leaving together on a trip. But because of the weak structure here, this scene actually takes place before the Climactic Moment.

Notes: This is a nice movie in a lot of ways. Wherever it’s not shooting itself in the foot, it has a good sense of pacing and theme. But it gets distracted by genre conventions (romance and villains), which pull its focus away from its heart.

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