A thesis consists of a premise (defines plot), theme and synopsis (integrates premise and theme). A few examples of story design theses are provided in the following.
For information on Avatar see its Save The Cat! beat sheet.
Statement: Earthlings come to planet called Pandora to mine the planet’s Unobtanium, a mineral more valuable than anything of Earth, but the planet’s inhabitants, the Na’vi, stand in the way of their getting to it. A battle-weary warrior is given a mission to be one of the Avatar drivers that are being used to address the problem and instead finds himself joining the Na’vi against the earthlings.
Goal: Earthlings have come to a planet called Pandora to mine the planet’s Unobtanium, a mineral more valuable than anything on Earth.
Conflict: The inhabitants of Pandora, the Na’vi, are in the way of their getting to it.
Protagonist: A battle-weary warrior is given a mission to join the team of Avatar drivers that are being used to address the Na’vi issue and instead finds himself joining with the Na’vi against the earthlings.
Statement: Belonging and purpose give meaning to our lives.
Exemplar: Jake Sully, the protagonist, is the theme exemplar and expresses the theme in the story as, “All I wanted in my sorry-ass life was a single thing worth fighting for.”
Setup: Jake is an Avatar driver who is not what you would expect for a mission to another world. He is a battle-weary warrior that is confined to a wheelchair because he is paralyzed from the waist down. He is a man who has lost much. He is alone, unloved, without family and home.
Endeavor: Jake starts out to fulfill his new assignment which has gotten expanded to include spying on the Na’vi and reporting information to the military head of the operation. As he interacts with the Na’vi he begins to feel close to them and their way of life. He winds up marrying one of them. When military action begins, he acts to protect the Na’vi against the superior earthling force. The connection between Pandora inhabitants causes all to join the battle and defeat the earthling intrusion.
Resolution: Under the Mother Tree, Jake is transformed wholly into a Na’vi as his human spirit joins with his Avatar. Jake at last has a people and a purpose. He is home.
Statement: John McClane, officer of the NYPD, tries to save his wife Holly Gennaro and several others that were taken hostage by German terrorist Hans Gruber during a Christmas party at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles.
Goal: John McClane wants to win back his estranged wife, Holly.
Conflict: Having to run barefoot through broken glass; dodging machine gun fire; leaping into fifty-story elevator shafts.
Protagonist: John McClane an officer of the NYPD.
By Alice Hatcher
This story can be obtained free at The Lascaux Review.
Statement: A young woman with a troubled past and undergoing therapy, wants to leave this world and return to her home world via a Mother Ship with her cat, Mr. Chips, and fish, Lady Gaga, but the trouble is that she is not an alien and there is no Mother Ship or home world.
There does not appear to be a theme. At least not one that involves an exemplar. Marylou is pretty much the same at the end of the story as at the beginning and appears about to loop through a similar experience to the one she just left.
Setup: A young woman named Marylou with a troubled past and undergoing therapy thinks her husband cares more about watching sports games and video games than he does for her. She has had enough and decides to leave. She thinks that she is an alien from another world who has been placed on Earth to perform a mission. She packs her things into her car along with her cat, Mr. Chips, and fish, Lady Gaga and heads out to meetup with the Mother Ship to take her back home.
Endeavor: Marylou drives out to the location where she thinks that the Mother Ship will arrive. She waits and waits. Eventually she realizes that the Mother Ship is not coming and considers killing Mr. Chips, Lady Gaga and herself.
Resolution: She tunes in a radio station that is playing Bruce Springsteen and gets caught up in the song. She decides to have one last fling and sex before they go. Outside a place called Eegee she meets a young man who strikes up a conversation with her. She finds it to be a comfortable experience and feels that she has received what some call grace. She thinks that the young man is a decent human being. She hopes that he does not start to criticize her at least not right away.
By Patrick Ness
Statement: A teenage girl and her parents who are part of a spaceship convoy to a New World take a scout ship and go ahead to the New World as an advanced landing party to explore and send back information to the convoy about what they find, but they run into a problem entering the atmosphere and crash land.
Statement: A teenage girl (protagonist) and her parents who are part of a spaceship convoy to a New World take a scout ship and go ahead to the New World as an advanced landing party to explore and send back information to the convoy about what they find (goal). Things go wrong during the landing, the ship crashes, and the girl’s parents are killed leaving her to continue alone on the New World (conflict).
Statement: We need hope to move forward with life, because while living with hope is terrifying, living without hope is so much more terrifying.
Exemplar: The theme exemplar is the protagonist, Viola. Initially she doesn’t understand the need for hope. During the trip, her parents tell her about hope and demonstrate by their actions how hope keeps them going. When her parents die and the girl is left alone, she understands about hope and sets off into the New World hoping for the best.
Setup: A group of people in a convoy of spaceships are traveling to a new world in the hope of finding a new place to live. A teenage girl and her parents are selected to take on a mission to be an advanced landing party to the new world and report what they find back to the convoy (inciting incident). They leave the convoy and start for the New World (turning point 1). Viola: The girl doesn’t want to be a part of the landing party and is tired of hearing about hope from her parents.
Endeavor: The family leaves the convoy and flies ahead to the new world. As they approach the new world everything goes well, but when they enter the new world’s atmosphere things start to go very wrong (midpoint). The ship makes banging noises it should not and the landing becomes imperiled. Things get worse and the ship winds up crash landing on the new world. Only the girl survives (turning point 2). Viola: The girl observes her parents’ activities and the hope that they have for things to work out ok in various situations.
Resolution: The girl retrieve’s a gift from the wreckage that provides light and starts fires (climax). She strikes out on her own into the New World. Viola: The girl has learned about hope from her parents and their examples and she moves forward hoping for the best.