By B.H. James
Dale is in a cult. He is a cult member. Dale is seventeen. He is the fourth-youngest member of the cult.
Dale was born into the cult. It is all he’s ever known.
The cult is a religious cult. They worship their own god. The god that the cult worships is the 1984 film The Karate Kid, directed by John G. Avildsen.
The cult was started in 1986 by Dale’s uncle, Steve. Steve started the cult shortly after the film The Karate Kid became available on videocassette.
At first, Dale’s parents joined Steve’s cult because a few months earlier they had given Steve a large amount of money to get him back on his feet. They were worried Steve would do something stupid with the money.
But, eventually, Dale’s parents started to worship the film The Karate Kid, too, just like Steve.
Over the years, the cult grew and grew. Steve was a good cult leader, and the members of the cult were happy with the cult.
The cult met two nights a week. They watched The Karate Kid. They had pot-lucks and talked about The Karate Kid and prayed about The Karate Kid. They had Karate Kid costume parties. At the costume parties, everyone dressed up as a character from the Karate Kid, and the characters danced to music from the movie.
This part of the story has been the ground situation. The inciting incident follows.
In 2010, when Dale was seventeen years old, Steve got sick, and Steve later died. The cult got a new leader. The new leader was Steve’s oldest son, Harry.
Harry was a fanatic. He wore his facial hair in a way that made him look scary. Harry hadn’t liked the way that his father had run the cult. Harry thought that the cult should do more than just have parties.
Harry started to question whether or not the members of the cult really did worship the film The Karate Kid. Harry suspected that at least some of the members just liked the movie a lot, and liked going to the parties.
Harry declared that there would be trials. All cult members would take part in the trials. The first trial was answering trivia questions about The Karate Kid. Harry had found the trivia questions on the internet.
Most of the cult members did fine on the trivia questions. They had seen the movie a lot. Two members did poorly, and Harry asked them to leave the cult. The remaining cult members were fine with this. They hadn’t liked those two, anyway. Those two never brought anything good to the potlucks.
Later that year, the remake of The Karate Kid came out in theaters, and then on DVD.
Harry declared that the remake of The Karate Kid was a false god that should be destroyed. Harry bought a bunch of copies of the DVD and gave the cult members hammers and lighter fluid and matches with which to destroy the DVD’s.
Several of the cult members thought that this was a bit much. They thought the remake was alright. They had gotten together, without Harry knowing, to go see it.
Those several cult members thought that the cult wasn’t fun anymore like when Steve was around. So they decided to leave the cult.
Harry declared good riddance to the non-believers.
Next Harry declared that all cult members should get tattoos. Must get tattoos. Big ones. But several of the remaining cult members didn’t want big tattoos, so several more left the cult.
Good riddance, Harry declared again.
There were only about a half-dozen cult members left. Harry insisted that these half-dozen were the true believers. Harry was right: the half-dozen cult members that were still around really did worship the film The Karate Kid.
Except for Dale. Dale had a secret.
Dale no longer worshipped the film The Karate Kid. Over the years, while in the cult, Dale had come to worship the actress Elisabeth Shue, instead.
The actress Elisabeth Shue played the character Ali-with-an-i in the film The Karate Kid. Dale was in love with Elisabeth Shue. Madly. Head over heels.
So when the fanatic Harry declared, in his biggest, boldest declaration yet, that the cult would be kidnapping all of the directors and producers and crewmembers and actors (other than Pat Morita, who had played Mister Miyagi and who had since passed away) and actresses and extras and everyone—EVERYONE!—who had been involved in creating the cult’s one true god for a grand, ceremonial reenactment, and then, when, through a series of events, Dale discovered that Harry’s true intentions, Harry being a fanatic, were not to kidnap everyone for a grand, ceremonial reenactment but instead to kidnap everyone for a grand, ceremonial sacrifice—a human sacrifice to the one true god—Dale decided that he must flee the cult and must himself kidnap Elisabeth Shue before Harry could get to her.
But when Harry discovers that Dale has fled the cult and, through another series of events, also discovers that Dale has discovered Harry’s true intentions, Harry sends his cult members in pursuit of Dale. To stop Dale, at any cost.
The inciting incident having concluded, the story now has a protagonist (Dale) and a conflict (Dale wants to save Elisabeth Shue, whom he loves and worships, from Harry) and an antagonist (Harry the fanatic).
Dale found Elisabeth Shue before the cult members found him. It wasn’t hard; he knew where she lived. He worshipped her and all.
Dale didn’t break into Elisabeth Shue’s house, at first. He waited for her to come out of her house to go somewhere.
Because Dale loved her so much, he couldn’t help but be honest with Elisabeth Shue. He told her her life was in danger. She walked faster. He told her to come with him. That he could save her. She told him to eff off.
So Dale broke into Elisabeth Shue’s house.
When Elisabeth Shue found Dale in her house, she told him to go away. Then she said she’d call the police. The she said she’d shoot him.
Dale tried to explain the situation. The danger she was in. But Elisabeth Shue wouldn’t listen.
But then some of the cult members arrived. They knew where Elisabeth Shue lived, too. Harry had made a big list.
The cult members made a lot of noise and broke a lot of glass when they broke into Elisabeth Shue’s house. They scared Elisabeth Shue, so she went with Dale. She brought the gun she had threatened to shoot Dale with.
If a gun, etc.
Dale and Elisabeth Shue escaped in Elisabeth Shue’s car. Elisabeth Shue drove. Despite being seventeen, Dale did not have a driver’s license. He had grown up in a cult. Dale had gotten to Elisabeth Shue’s house by bus. Elisabeth Shue really didn’t live that far from where Dale lived.
Elisabeth Shue drove into the desert. Elisabeth Shue didn’t live that far from the desert, either.
She stopped the car. She and Dale got out. They were in the middle of nowhere. It had been nighttime when they had escaped from Elisabeth Shue’s house, but now it was daytime.
Elisabeth Shue pulled out the gun and pointed it at Dale. Dale hadn’t known that Elisabeth Shue had brought the gun. She demanded to know who the eff Dale was and what the eff was going on.
Dale told her everything.
He told her about the cult: his uncle, the potlucks, Harry, the tattoos. And he told her about Harry’s plan. The real plan. And he told her how much he loved her. And worshipped her. So much so that he just couldn’t let that happen to her.
In a long, dramatic scene, Elisabeth Shue points her pistol at Dale and demands that Dale tell her what he loves so much about her. Dale then launches into a dramatic monologue about three tiny moments in the film Karate Kid—little moments that no one ever probably noticed ever but that Dale had watched and rewatched over and over and over again that had made Dale fall in love with her. By the time Dale finished his monologue, Elisabeth Shue had lowered the pistol.
Elisabeth Shue had been twenty-one years old when she played the female lead in the 1984 film, The Karate Kid. In the desert, with Dale, she was fifty-four.
Despite the age difference between Dale and Elisabeth Shue, at the end of Dale’s monologue there was a moment where it was possible that they might have kissed.
But then they saw a line of cars coming quickly down the road. Dust flying.
This has been the Act One climax, which has ended on a positive charge in relation to Dale’s object of desire (to rescue Elisabeth Shue).
This has also been the Inciting Incident of Subplot A, a star-crossed love story starring Dale, 17, and Elisabeth Shue, 54.
Elisabeth Shue has a husband. She is married. When Elisabeth Shue’s husband got home from work and his wife was missing and there was broken glass on the floor, he called the police. This is the Inciting Incident of Subplot B.
The police came and did what they do, but it was all moving too slowly for Elisabeth Shue’s husband, who was frantic. He decided to take matters into his own hands. He got into his car and went looking for his wife.
Before leaving, though, Elisabeth Shue’s husband went around back to put food out for the dog. Outside one of the broken windows, he found a wallet. A cult member had dropped it.
Elisabeth Shue’s husband’s discovery of the cult member’s wallet, which contained the cult member’s driver’s license indicating the cult member’s home address, is Subplot B’s Act One climax (a positive charge).
Subplot A’s Act One climax occurs in the very next scene when, with the cult members in hot pursuit, Elisabeth Shue has the opportunity to escape on her own, without Dale. But she hesitates. And, in an action indicating feelings for Dale (the indication of those feelings further indicated by appropriate facial expression), she goes back for him (positive charge).
In Act Two of this story the Central Plot is complicated by seven scenes, Subplot A by five, and Subplot B by three, all culminating in the Act Two climax.
Act Two, therefore, consists of fifteen scenes, the three scenes complicating Subplot B nestled within the five scenes complicating Subplot A, those five scenes likewise nestled within the seven scenes complicating the central plot, the series of fifteen scenes ending on a one two three causal sequence of scenes from, in particular order, Subplot B, Subplot A, and Central Plot, those three scenes amounting to the Subplot B Act Two climax (Elisabeth Shue’s husband’s sleuthing leads him directly to Harry himself who then kidnaps Elisabeth Shue’s husband and ties him up [negative charge], the reader learning at that point that Harry has also kidnapped and tied up Dale’s parents) causing simultaneously the Subplot A and Central Plot climaxes (Elisabeth Shue learns that Harry has abducted her husband whom despite this new love for Dale she cares for very much so Elisabeth Shue abandons Dale to go save her husband [negative charge, Subplot A] sending Elisabeth Shue straight into the clutches of fanatic Harry [negative charge, likewise, Central Plot]), all setting up the subsequent Act III climax and resolution.
In the Act Three climax, in which all characters and all Subplots are brought together in a single scene in a single location, said scene in said location orchestrated in Bond-villain-fashion by the fanatic Harry, Harry forces Dale to choose between his Object of Desire, Elisabeth Shue, whom, as a result of her attempt to free her husband, Harry has also captured and tied up, or Dale’s own parents. Dale ultimately decides to release Elisabeth Shue back to her husband (positive charge: Central Plot and Subplot B; negative charge: Subplot A). Elisabeth Shue and husband depart, setting off a showdown between Dale and Harry resulting in Dale’s parents being saved and Harry being defeated.
Somewhere in all that, the gun introduced in Act One is fired.
BH James, 39, writing this story three-and-a-half weeks after he was told by his wife Liz that, despite his not remembering them as such, the first four months of the year preceding by four years this year had been the worst, most perilous months of his and her marriage, BH James, over the course of those three-and-a-half months, questions wife Liz about those earlier four months, Liz generously obliging and thereby, despite the bitterness for both parties of the revisitation, helps BH reconstruct/reorchestrate the story.
The Inciting Incident of the worst, most perilous months of BH’s marriage occurs in January, on moving day. His wife, Liz, tells him to be careful when mounting the TV. But he doesn’t listen. And he breaks it. And she cries, not about the TV, and she leaves and doesn’t come back for a long time. Negative charge.
BH writes this scene into a story titled Wiff and then swears to Liz that it’s not them.
The Act One Climax occurs in February. Liz, having put baby to bed, stations herself, as she does every night, alone in bedroom, where she will spend the next several hours, alone, while BH writes, Liz careful not to disturb BH, who frequently complains that he never has time to write anymore.
This night, though, BH comes and stands in the doorway. He has just learned that his first novel, Parnucklian for Chocolate, published one year earlier and having failed to meet any and all expectations, is a finalist for an award. A PEN award, he tells her, which is misleadingly vague but true.
Liz exclaims! emotes! attempts a hug that BH shies from. It’s not a big deal, he tells her. Don’t tell anyone.
He leaves, goes back to his desk, and she is again alone. Negative charge.
The Act Two Climax occurs in March, when BH insists to Liz—BH and Liz having just purchased a house after recently having a child and therefore having little expendable income—that he has to has to has to go to AWP in Seattle—that he’s a writer and he has to, BH however, in contrast to the previous year, in Boston, when he signed books at his publisher’s booth each of the three days he was there [his wife at home with their fever-sick six-month-old son], BH was participating in no signings, no readings, no offsite events, nothing at all in particular.
But he had to go, because he was a writer.
And when BH went (for four days) he hardly called home, barely spoke to his wife, to his son not at all.
Upon returning, BH, 36, finished the first draft of a long short story titled The Anti-Story and set at a fictional version of AWP Seattle. The protagonist of the story is a writer. Unmarried, with no kids.
BH James, 39, writing this story four years later with the help of his wife Liz, has read in a book about stories that scenes in a series should alternate in charge (positive, negative, positive, etc.). But that is not how this story goes.
The Act Three Climax occurs in April, when BH’s wife Liz makes an appointment for marriage counseling because her husband for months now has been a cold distant self-absorbed prick, clearly wishing at all times to be anywhere but in his own home, lamenting frequently that he’s not even a writer, anymore, not even a writer.
Liz tells BH about the appointment. BH, teacher, responds that he’s chaperoning a field trip in Sacramento that day. He’s doing it to help out another teacher. Liz stresses the importance of not going on the field trip. BH goes anyway, misses the appointment.
Liz makes plans to leave. Negative charge.
The Resolution occurs in June. BH, 36, teacher, is at a three-day training in Florida. On the first day, his cell phone breaks. It turns off and won’t turn back on, and it won’t charge. He tries calling from the hotel, several times. Leaves messages. Sends emails from a computer in the lobby. He walks to several stores to buy several devices that might make his phone turn on, but none of them work.
BH spends most of the three days alone in his room, reading. By the time BH arrives at the airport to fly home, he has not spoken to his wife or son for three days. He searches for the payphones, but can’t find any. People don’t really use them anymore, so they’d been removed. BH asks someone. He never asks. There is one payphone left.
When Liz answers, BH tells her the story of his three days without a phone. Then he tells her he loves her, and misses her. He asks to talk to his son. When Liz is back on, BH tells her he is coming home. BH intends BH’s statement that he is coming home to have both literal and figurative meaning.
BH tells Liz they should have another baby. By August she is pregnant, and the following April their second-born is born. Positive charge.
Four years later, Liz will tell BH, who is writing this story, that, as bad as it was, from that point on, it’s all been pretty good.
By the end of the Act III climax, Dale has achieved his external Object of Desire: Elisabeth Shue is safe. Harry is in jail. But Dale is not happy. Dale did not achieve his internal Object of Desire: the love of Elisabeth Shue.
But, in the end, Elisabeth Shue comes back to Dale (positive charge). She hugs her husband, pets her dogs, and leaves them. And in the story’s final scene, Dale comes home to find her standing, waiting, at the stairs.
At BH, 39’s, and Liz, 34’s son’s preschool graduation, as they wait for the ceremony to begin, BH and Liz have a lively debate about the location of the climax of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. BH contends that what they had written about the 5-act structure in the book they had co-authored (Method to the Madness: A Common Core Guide to Creating Critical Thinkers through the Study of English) was all wrong. That the whole play progresses toward the duel, after which there is only the unraveling. Liz, who knows the play better, retorts that the uncertainty is resolved in the closet scene, and the certainty is what matters.
BH cites Aristotle. Liz cites another author, who said that Aristotle got most of it wrong. BH tries to respond, but the ceremony begins.
BH tells the same anecdote in a blog post titled Rethinking Shakespeare’s 5-Act Structure, later published as an article in a magazine for teachers.
The next morning, BH James will finish this story. And the day after that, BH will be 40.
He picks up his pen, then puts it back down.
When he picks it up again, he writes…