Plot Busters – Three Tips from TANGLED

1. A debate scene that starts in Act I and doesn’t end until The End.

In Act I, Blake suggests that the main character question a decision. This debate goes on until the Act I climax where he/she makes the decision and reaches the point of no return. The debate is over. Or maybe not.

After seeing the floating lights and then meeting Flinn, Rapunzel has to decide whether to trust him and whether or not she should leave the tower. Small moments build up to her decision. But when Mother Gothal shuts Rapunzel down and tells her she will never leave, Rapunzel reaches that point.

She lies about Flinn. She decides to trust Flinn or at least make a deal with him. And she decides to leave the tower.

But the screenwriters didn’t leave it at that. They continued the debate. From the slight pause before Rapunzel is willing to touch her feet to the grass to the hesitation before using her hair to save their lives. And then at the end, the debate returns in full force when Rapunzel believes Flinn has abandoned her.

  • Does your debate continue through out the entire story?
  • How can you show moments of doubt before your character makes a major decision?
  • And can you show why he/she overcomes those doubts and makes the decision?

2. Following through with the Promise of the Premise.

That’s what our friend Blake refers to as Fun and Games during the first part of Act II. It’s why people want to read your book. What kind of story will your title, cover, and blurb convey? If you were to have a movie poster of your story – what would be on it? That’s what you want to give your readers. Or they’ll end up disappointed.

Looking at the poster for TANGLED with Flinn holding a fry pan and Rapunzel standing in front of him wielding her hair, I expected a fun story with great action and some great hair tricks.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

  • Do you follow through with the promise of your premise?
  • Look at the first half of your Act II to find out. (Though Rapunzel wielded her hair like a lasso through out the entire movie!)

3. A smart antagonist (Bad Guys Close in – second half of Act II)

Readers don’t respect a stupid villain. Which means their respect for the protagonist drops too when he/she overcomes the stupid villain. As a reader, I crave the smart, well-rounded villain. I love when I understand the villain’s perspective and could even see the story from his/her pov. Now, I’m not going to say that I could understand Mother Gothal’s pov. She was selfish and wanted to stay young and beautiful. I’m not saying she couldn’t have been more three-dimensional.

But I loved her tactics.

She played with Rapunzel’s mind. Mother Gothal could have just captured Rapunzel and brought her back to the tower. But no. She wanted Rapunzel to come back on her own, willingly. So she challenged Rapunzel, stating Flinn would leave her once he had the stolen crown back in his thieving paws. Then Mother Gothal went one step further and made sure that happened or that Rapunzel believed it to happen. And Rapunzel went willingingly.

  • How does your villain stop your protagonist?
  • What does he/she do behind the scenes?

Check out Stina’s blog for her breakdown of TANGLED Part Two!

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47 Responses to Plot Busters – Three Tips from TANGLED

  1. Susan Sipal June 15, 2011 at 10:29 am #

    Laura, I think your third point is one of the hardest to execute. I guess because we know that the villain must fail, and thus there must be a flaw in his personality and plan, it’s hard to really keep her functioning at the high level she must. Or maybe I’ve just been influenced by too many less-than-stellar villains. It’s such a challenge to keep villains from falling into cliche.

    I love the Evil Overlord List!

  2. Sarah June 15, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    This is really interesting and has given me a lot to think about, especially with respect to point #2. Thanks!

    • Laura June 15, 2011 at 11:12 am #

      I agree. Making a well developed antagonist is hard. I think if it’s a true Disney-like villain it’s the hardest. But if it’s just another person with opposite goals it’s easier.

  3. Creepy Query Girl June 15, 2011 at 11:12 am #

    There’s so much to be learned from disney movies. The people behind them really put a lot of thought into making it the best story possible.

  4. christine danek June 15, 2011 at 11:20 am #

    This is very helpful, and like I said on Stina’s blog, I’m starting to notice this in movies, especially Disney (I have two small kids). It’s seems easy to pick out in their films.

  5. Jennifer Shirk June 15, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    This is great!
    Would you believe I haven’t seen Tangled yet? I so want to but my kiddo isn’t much of a movie watcher. Wah. I might have to rent it on my own. LOL

  6. Jen Daiker June 15, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    Plot Busters is seriously the most fun and entertianing blog posts I come across!

    I loved Tangled and I think you really put the movie into a great amount of perspective. Your posts along with the book See Jane Write allowed me to fully understand plot and I have to say that having just completed a rough draft yesterday for ONCE I actually got the plot and people are noticing!

    • Laura June 15, 2011 at 12:11 pm #

      I agree, once you notice structure in Disney movies, it’s easy to spot. And thus, easy to learn from.

      Thanks Jennifer!

      And Jennifer S. – it’s definitely worth watching even on your own.

  7. Ansha Kotyk June 15, 2011 at 12:13 pm #

    I love analyzing kids movies, esp. Disney. The best movies are the one’s where I can follow the plot easily like Tangled. They really follow the Hero’s Journey and create a fulfilling story/movie experience.
    I think that’s why I chose to do the Plot SIG at SCBWI, I wanted to show that it’s important to follow plot points to get a satisfying story out of your manuscript.

  8. Matthew MacNish June 15, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    These are excellent points. Difficult to execute sometimes, but worth it!

  9. Stina Lindenblatt June 15, 2011 at 12:35 pm #

    I love your point, Laura, about the decision lasting throughout the book. Not exactly the same one as in the beginning, because it should evolve with the story. But it’s the decisions that keep readers glued to the page.

    I can totally relate to Mother Gothal. Who doesn’t want to look young forever? 😀

  10. Donna K. Weaver June 15, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    What a great post! I loved this movie on many levels.

    “Readers don’t respect a stupid villain. Which means their respect for the protagonist drops too when he/she overcomes the stupid villain.”

    This is so true. Writers of an epic fantasy book or series especially have to be careful that the final bad guy is good enough to be in that position. If that makes sense. I’m thinking of something like Lord of the Rings where you’ve got all these in between antagonists to overcome. They need to be decent adversaries but they can’t be so good that the final guy is a wuss in comparison.

    I’m a fan of the Wheel of Time series and I’m wondering how the last book will show the Dark One, who hasn’t been shown yet.

  11. Jessica B June 15, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

    I remember thinking that Tangled was a lot more well-rounded than some of the other Disney movies. I really think you’ve broken it down well. The antagonist and the follow-through of Rapunzel’s doubt, absolutely. An excellent analysis!

  12. Lydia K June 15, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    I liked Mother Gothal’s complete immersion in her manipulation of Rapunzel. That was pretty fantastic. She was a little 2-d, but the depth with which she carried on the lie was pretty great.

  13. Jessica R. Patch June 15, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    Great breakdown! Lots to think on here. I loved that movie. However, I was not a fan of the new hair style at the end. Oh well, less to trip over I guess. 🙂

    • Laura June 15, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

      Thanks everyone! I realize Disney doesn’t really translate over to novels in all areas. But one thing they are especially good at is manipulating emotions in the animated films. There are many that have brought tears to my eyes. I think it’s in understand how they did that – that will help us with our novels. How did they make us care? The stakes? The inner doubts? The debates? It’s worth a study. I don’t think it matters what you are writing.

  14. Laurel June 15, 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    I love the idea of having the central question of the debate continue spiraling forward throughout the story. I think I did that unconsciously in my first book. Having an inner conflict that flickers back and forth really can ramp up tension.

    Not every book has a traditional antagonist. I’d love it if you’d do some future posts about plotting around something other than person vs. person conflicts–like person vs. nature or person vs. self.

  15. Jessica June 15, 2011 at 1:49 pm #

    Awesome breakdown! I loved that movie.

  16. shelley moore thomas June 15, 2011 at 2:03 pm #

    Great post!

    I love how you break everything down so we can see it from a writerly POV.

  17. Andrea June 15, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    I love your comments about not having stupid villains! It’s very frustrating when the “bad guys” aren’t as well-rounded or deep as the hero or heroine.

  18. Tana Adams June 15, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

    I agree these movies are worth the analysis! Thank you for breaking them down this way!

  19. Pam Torres June 15, 2011 at 3:11 pm #

    It’s amazing how the examples help illuminate the points that should be in the story. Timing is perfect to I’m in revision and trying to make sure I’ve looked at every angle. Thanks!

  20. Laura Marcella June 15, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

    I’m loving the questions you posed at the end of each part. I must go back and take a look at my wip! And I really really need to read Save the Cat!

  21. Maria I. Morgan June 15, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

    Laura – Love this movie! Thanks for stopping by Jessica’s blog today and reading my guest post. You’re absolutely right! I know what’s on the inside is going to come out eventually, that’s why it’s so important to stay close to the Lord! Blessings to you and yours!

    • Laura June 15, 2011 at 4:23 pm #

      Thanks everyone!

  22. Lisa Green June 15, 2011 at 4:25 pm #

    Obviously I slept in today. Ahhh summer break. 😀 Great breakdown and good questions to think on.

  23. Faith Hough June 15, 2011 at 4:30 pm #

    I was very impressed by Tangled’s plotting, too. And Save the Cat is one of the best books on writing ever!

  24. Patti Nielson June 15, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

    These posts have been really helpful as I plot out my next WIP. Thanks.

  25. Karen Strong June 15, 2011 at 5:57 pm #

    Ah, I’ve yet to see tangled but my god-daughters love that movie! Now I’ll be able to spot the structure!

    Always love these posts. And smart antagonists are so juicy to read. I like antagonist with smarts and a valid reason to be like they are.

  26. Eileen Astels Watson June 15, 2011 at 6:55 pm #

    Disney is amazing for keeping you hooked. I could watch the same movies over and over and never get bored.

    And I totally agree with no stupid villians. They need at least a reason to be so awful or I walk away.

  27. Stacy June 15, 2011 at 8:07 pm #

    Great breakdown of these points. I’m going to print this off and include it in my editing tools when I start in a couple of weeks. Sounds like I really need to read Save the Cat.

    I agree that the 3rd point is so important and one of the most difficult to pull off, especially if you antagonist is a human and not something like illness or a tragic event. The villans I’ve most loved are those with human elements that part of me rooted for, even though I knew they had to lose. I always come back to Hannibal Lector. He’s the consumate villan, and yet, we empathize with him. That’s what makes the books so compelling.

    • Laura June 15, 2011 at 8:51 pm #

      Okay, now I’m going to start keeping track of well rounded villains to post sometime later!

  28. Leslie Rose June 15, 2011 at 8:57 pm #

    I loved TANGLED and it has really stuck with me. Your analysis helps me understand why. I also think a villain with a good singing voice gains extra points. Hopping over to Stina’s blog for more.

  29. Angela Ackerman June 15, 2011 at 10:57 pm #

    You guys did such a great job on this! I hope you tag team again and do another movie or even try reading the same book and breaking it down. This is so helpful!


    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  30. Donna Hole June 16, 2011 at 2:36 am #

    Awesome insights and plot questions. They all made me think, but #3 especially resonates for me as a reader.


  31. Lynda R Young June 16, 2011 at 7:02 am #

    I love the debate element of a story and I find it easy to write. It’s the three dimensional villain I find harder.

  32. Traci Kenworth June 16, 2011 at 10:44 am #

    Great post, Laura!!

  33. Heather Kelly June 16, 2011 at 11:07 am #

    I really enjoy the breakdowns, Laura! My characters are debating what is real in one of my stories, and I have to figure out how to keep that going. Doubt is so big. 🙂

    • Laura June 16, 2011 at 11:12 am #

      Hey Heather – The way to keep it going is for it to reflect a more primal issue going on inside the character. The debate in Tangled kept coming back to finding courage and did Rapunzel truly make the right decision when leaving the tower? She doubted all the way through even though she had different decisions to make. So make it internal to last. 🙂

  34. write-brained June 16, 2011 at 11:18 am #

    This was great, and #1 really got me thinking–she really did question him until the end (huh…). And with #3 those are the best kind of antagonsits, esp. when you see their perspective! EXCELLENT!

  35. write-brained June 16, 2011 at 11:19 am #

    This was great, and #1 really got me thinking–she really did question him until the end (huh…). And with #3 those are the best kind of antagonists, esp. when you see their perspective! EXCELLENT!

    • Laura June 16, 2011 at 12:08 pm #

      Christina -At one point in the story, she thought she could trust him. But Mother Gothal started her doubting again when she mentioned he was using her just to get the crown. And when she saw him sail away, she believed he’d abandoned her. So yes, I think that debate was there, constant, through out the story. Just brought to the forefront again when problems arose. When she collapsed into Mother Gothal’s arms, she believed she never should’ve left the tower. So that debate continued too. The real primal doubt though was trusting herself. Should she have left the tower? Should she have deceived Mother Gothal? The answer is yes. But when the main character doubts her decisions it’s part of the character growth and keeps the viewer/reader hooked.

  36. Shannon O'Donnell June 16, 2011 at 3:17 pm #

    Laura, you are amazing and brilliant! All of your plot busters leave me speechless and eager to go rip apart my MS. You should charge for services–I’d pay! 🙂

  37. Kris Asselin June 16, 2011 at 5:13 pm #

    We love this movie–great action, great characters. LP is so good at analysis. I learn something from her every day. I want to be more like her. 🙂

  38. Jill Kemerer June 16, 2011 at 6:58 pm #

    Showing inner conflict throughout the book is such a challenge. Thanks for the reminder!

  39. Karen Lange June 16, 2011 at 8:07 pm #

    You’re always giving me stuff to think about. A good thing, I’m thinking…

    Have a good weekend!


  1. Plot Busters – TANGLED breakdown in 15 sentences! – Laura Pauling - August 15, 2011

    […] Read Part 2 – Three tips from TANGLED […]

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