The 6 Scenes Every Performance Novel Needs

In today's post, I'm covering the obligatory scenes of the performance genre.

I’m also going to show you how these key scenes manifest in three popular movies—The Mighty Ducks, Cool Runnings, and The Karate Kid.

Why movies? Why not books?

Well, the simple answer is that movies require less time investment than books. I’m hoping that if you haven’t seen these movies, you’ll watch them after reading this post to help cement these conventions in your mind.

But, before we get into what those key scenes are, let’s go over some basics.

 

What is a Performance Story? 

Performance stories center around a character who wants to achieve something specific in order to prove their worth to the world. For example, they might want to win a certain award, climb Mount Everest, be the best in their field, or be famous.

However, achieving this specific thing is not what the story is really about. The characters in performance stories usually lack self-esteem or self-respect. They are searching for external validation, but what they really need is to embrace who they already are. And these stories show just that.

Beyond that, performance stories can have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have various levels of romance, adventure, mystery, or magic. They can include different subplots as long as the protagonist’s pursuit of that specific thing remains the main focus of the story.

 

Why do People Read Performance Stories? 

People read performance stories because they are extremely relatable. Every day we deal with the pressure to perform on the world’s stage, and we are constantly faced with decisions that could result in success or failure.

Performance stories inspire readers by showing us what life could be if only we learned to embrace our unique gifts and talents. These stories teach us to believe in ourselves and to determine our own worth instead of looking to others for the answers.

Not only that, but it’s also incredibly satisfying to see an underdog character work hard at something and succeed against all the odds. In these stories, hard work does pay off -- usually in more ways than one.

So, how do you deliver these specific emotional experiences readers are looking for? Well, you can start by including the obligatory scenes and conventions of the performance genre in your story. In this post, we’re covering the obligatory scenes. Let’s dive in.

 

What are Obligatory Scenes and Conventions?

Conventions are a reasonably well-defined set of roles, settings, events, and values that are specific to a genre. They're the things that readers intuitively expect to be present in a work of genre fiction, whether they consciously realize it or not.

Obligatory scenes are the key events, decisions, and discoveries that move the protagonist along on his or her journey. These key scenes are what help to evoke emotional reactions in the reader. And, when coupled with your genre’s conventions, they will give the reader the experience they’re looking for.

If you don’t deliver the obligatory scenes and conventions of your genre, your story just won’t work. So, what are the obligatory scenes of the performance genre?

Let’s take a look at our three case studies (warning–spoilers ahead).

 

The Key Scenes of the Performance Genre are:

#1. An Opportunity to Perform

In every performance story, the protagonist faces some kind of opportunity or challenge to perform in front of others. Usually, this does not go as well as planned because the protagonist lacks the skills and/or confidence needed to succeed. Whatever happens, this moment usually introduces the protagonist to the type of event that he or she will later train to compete in. This scene acts as the global Inciting Incident that gives rise to the protagonist’s story goal.

Case Studies:

  • In Cool Runnings, Derice Bannock dreams of winning a gold medal in the Olympics but fails to qualify at the Olympic trials. Because of this, he comes up with a new strategy for winning a gold medal — form a Jamaican bobsled team, and try his luck that way.
  • In The Mighty Ducks, Gordon Bombay gets court-ordered community service and has to coach the District 5 Peewee hockey team. When Goron meets the team, he’s appalled at their lackluster equipment and general lack of hockey skills. The kids are equally unimpressed with Gordon, especially when he says that he hates hockey.
  • In The Karate Kid, Daniel LaRusso gets beat up by Johnny and the Cobra Kai crew while at a bonfire on the beach. He can’t defend himself against their karate skills, so he winds up humiliated in front of his new crush, Ali. Because of that, he decides to do his best to avoid Johnny and the Cobra Kai kids.

 

#2. The Protagonist's Initial Strategy Fails

After the Inciting Incident gives rise to the protagonist’s story goal, he or she will go about trying to make it happen. Unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned, and the protagonist’s initial strategy will fail in some way. Because of this, the protagonist has to come up with a better way forward or a new plan for success. This is usually when the protagonist starts to gather his or her support team and finds a mentor if they haven’t done so already. 

Case Studies:

  • In Cool Runnings, Derice holds an “information day” to find two more members for his bobsled team. He’s optimistic about finding the best of the best -- especially since so many people showed up. But then, Irv shows a film reel full of crashing bobsleds, and all his prospective teammates leave. He’s left with a hodgepodge crew, two of which do not like each other. His new plan is to make the best of a not ideal situation.
  • In The Mighty Ducks, Coach Bombay treats the kids poorly when they lose the game against the Hawks. He even tells them that they “looked like idiots” out there on the ice. Gordon’s old friend, Hans, sees this interaction and challenges Gordon to reconnect with his passion for hockey so that he can be a better coach. Gordon starts to realize that he’s acting just like his old coach, Coach Riley. 
  • In The Karate Kid, the Cobra Kai kids chase Daniel on their motorcycles, and he takes a bad fall down a hill. He makes his way home, throws away his bike, and tells his mother that he needs to learn karate so that he can put a stop to the bullying. 

 

#3. The Protagonist Commits to the Big Event

Around the midpoint of the story, the protagonist commits to a specific “big event” that raises the stakes of the story. This is something specific that the protagonist is working towards, like winning a prize, a title, or an award. Whatever it is, there needs to be a clear definition of what it means to win or lose. 

Case Studies:

  • In Cool Runnings, Team Jamaica makes its first public appearance on the practice run in Calgary. They stick out like a sore thumb and are picked on by the East Germans team. This is a great example of a re-commitment since Derice and crew already committed to chasing the gold medal as bobsledders. They choose to move forward despite how they are received by the other teams. 
  • In The Mighty Ducks, the team rebrands itself as The Mighty Ducks. They tie their first game against the Cardinals and realize that they have a shot at making the playoffs (every team but the last two teams make it). If they beat the Huskies, they’ll be set up to face the Hawks (and Coach Riley) in the playoffs. 
  • In The Karate Kid, Daniel asks Mr. Miyagi to teach him karate so that he can defend himself against Johnny and the Cobra Kai crew. Mr. Miyagi takes Daniel to the Cobra Kai dojo to ask the kids to stop picking on Daniel. Instead of agreeing, Kreese suggests that Daniel and the Cobra Kai kids fight it out. Miyagi suggests that Daniel will enter the All Valley Under 18 Karate Tournament so that they can compete on equal terms. 

 

#4. The Protagonist Must Change

Before the “big event,” the protagonist usually suffers some kind of defeat. This defeat challenges him or her to change their approach to life or the upcoming event. This could mean changing their perspective, digging deep to find a different source of motivation, or coming up with a new plan.

Case Studies:

  • In Cool Runnings, Jamaican’s first day on the track in the finals ends in even more embarrassment for the team. Sanka says the problem is that Derice trying to copy the Swiss team instead of being themselves and developing their own way of bobsledding. Because of that, Derice and the team incorporate little bits of themselves into their bobsledding.
  • In The Mighty Ducks, Gordon learns that Coach Reilly has made a deal with Ducksworth in order to keep Banks playing for the Hawks. Gordon refuses to go along with this plan based on the principles of fair play. As a result, Gordon loses his job (on top of having already lost the team’s trust).
  • In The Karate Kid, Daniel sees Johnny kiss Ali at the country club and feels heartbroken. He goes to see Mr. Miyagi, who is very drunk and reminiscing about his deceased wife and child. Daniel develops a different kind of respect for Mr. Miyagi and comes to a new and better understanding of his mentor.

 

#5. The Big Event

This is the key moment in a performance story that the reader has been waiting for. It’s the “big event” -- the fight, play, tournament, recital, final round, or solo performance that the protagonist has been training for.

Case Studies:

  • In Cool Runnings, the bobsled gives out a few feet short of the finish line during the final race. Determined to finish the race, Derice and team carry the broken bobsled over the finish line and are met with rousing applause from spectators. 
  • In The Mighty Ducks, the team faces off against the Hawks in the championship. When Charlie gets awarded a penalty shot, Gordon tells Charlie to take his best shot and that he will believe in him no matter what. This is the exact opposite of how Coach Reilly treated Gordon Bombay in the same situation. Charlie fakes out the goalie with a "triple-deke" that Bombay taught him and scores, winning the state championship.
  • In The Karate Kid, Daniel is further injured when Johnny delivers a vicious blow to his leg. Daniel assumes the “crane” stance, a technique he learned from Mr. Miyagi and delivers a front kick to Johnny’s face, winning the tournament. 

 

#6. The Protagonist is Rewarded

Regardless of whether the protagonist wins or loses, he or she is usually rewarded for having learned the lesson of the story. These rewards could be internal, external, or both. For example, the protagonist might gain self-respect, win an actual award, get a promotion, make a new friend, or gain a new sense of meaning in life. 

Case Studies:

  • In Cool Runnings, Team Jamaica doesn’t win the gold medal, but they did gain respect for themselves and from the other competitors. A brief epilogue states that the team returned to Jamaica as heroes and returned to the Olympics four years later, where they were treated as equals.
  • In The Mighty Ducks, the Ducks win the championship. Gordon has gained self-respect, respect from the team, and respect from Hans. Not only that, but he’s regained his love for hockey, too. At the very end, we see him board a bus to try out for the minor leagues. 
  • In The Karate Kid, Daniel beats Johnny and wins the tournament. He’s gained respect for himself and respect from others (including Johnny) as well. 

 

The Obligatory Scenes of the Performance Genre: The 6 Key Scenes Every Performance Novel Needs | Savannah Gilbo - Are you writing a performance story? Learn how to write a performance novel (and which key scenes you need to include in your story) in this post! #amwriting #writingtips #writingcommunity

Final Thoughts

You're probably thinking, "Some of this stuff is so obvious! Tell me something I don't know!" But seriously, you'd be surprised how many first drafts I see that are missing these key scenes.

And these key scenes are why readers choose performance stories in the first place. They love them!

Everyone wants to see the protagonist train for the big game or event, right? Will they be ready in time? Is the mentor really qualified to teach them? Will they win or will they lose?

Can you imagine a performance story without some of these scenes?

(I bet you can't. And if you have read a book that was missing any of these key scenes, you probably stopped reading it somewhere in the first 50 pages.)

So, don't leave these conventions out!

Instead, find a way to give the reader these key scenes in new and unexpected ways. Give them the pleasure of the form they love, but in a way that they’ve never experienced before. After all, many great stories stick with us precisely because they innovate on these key scenes. And you can do it, too!

👉 Let's discuss in the comments: Are you writing a performance novel? How do you come up with innovative ways to deliver the conventions of the performance genre?

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