Story structure is story structure. What works has worked for a long, long time. Even children’s books have a hero with a problem, an Inciting Incident, Act breaks, a Midpoint, and an All is Lost moment, just like what’s playing at the OmniPlex or computer screen near you!
The Cat In The Hat is 61 pages. Double that and pretend it’s a feature script. Remember it was written in 1957 when scripts were 120 pages…
Page 1. The hero and his sister, Sally, are at home and already have a problem. It’s raining and they can’t go out to play. There’s no backstory. They WANT something. They want ONE THING and they want it badly. On page 1, they’re sitting at the window, bored out of their skulls, wishing someone would hurry up and invent video games.
Guess what?! There’s an Inciting Incident…! On page 5, something goes BUMP! and the Cat In The Hat steps in on the mat. He’s wildly different from Sally and her brother. He says, that zany goofball, “We can have lots of good fun that is funny!” The children (conflicted!) don’t know what to say, but they sure know their mother is out of the house for the day.
Fish knows what to say! On page 7, Fish ramps up the conflict and says, “No no!… “He should not be here when your mother is out!” A splash of cold water that slows Cat down… not at all!
The Cat In The Hat then has fun hopping up and down on a ball while balancing Fish and more and more and more and more household items and showing how much fun all this is… until… page 21 (a tad late, but never mind), at the Act I break… everything he’s done in Act I comes crashing down. Just like in a Hollywood movie!
For the first part of Act II, Fish continues to scold the children and warn them and generally harass them for the bonehead mistake they made letting this dude into their house. The children try to convince Cat to leave. He won’t leave. No lack of conflict here! Just before we get bored, Cat decides to take us in a new direction. When, pray tell, does he do that?
Page 29! Right in the very middly middle! A Midpoint! Just like a movie!
Cat blasts in the front door with a big red wood box. What’s this?! He yanks it open! Out race Thing 1 and Thing 2! Everything changes! This is Act II, so things get worse! Now three people are causing trouble for the home team! Thing 1 and Thing 2 do terrible things like fly kites indoors! They knock things over! They tear pictures off the wall! They have so much fun ripping up the children’s home!
Then, the Worst Possible Thing happens! Thing 1 and Thing 2 wreak their brand of havoc in… not the basement… not the laundry room, but… the mother’s bedroom! The stakes are now so high, the consequences are cataclysmic.
Terrified, the hero asks what would their mother say if she saw all this…
The very next page (46, right on schedule) is the end of Act II. We see, OMG, Mom walk up the sidewalk! She’s baaaaack!! Fish shakes with fear and worries what she’ll do!
Making a daring move, the hero catches Thing 1 and Thing 2 in his net. The Cat, who only wanted to have fun, feels terrible about what they’ve done and says, “What a shame!”
On page 54, The Cat shuts the Things in the box and leaves.
Hero and Sally and Fish stare at the wreckage of their home, shattered. No matter how hard they might try, they will never be able to clean up this mess. Depressed, they face utter destruction. This children’s book has a dark, dark All Is Lost moment!
Then, the Cat In The Hat zooms back in to show them another trick!! Driving a crazy cleaning-up machine, he completely tidies up the entire house! Everything he and his henchmen messed up is put back in place. And, with a tip of his hat, Cat scoots out the door — just before Mom comes in. Whewwwwweee!
The last page is a rhyming image of the second page, with the children looking out the window, Fish in his bowl at their side. Opening Image vs. Closing Image! As Mom steps in, all is right with the world — but the children have survived a harrowing journey, weren’t bored for a second, and their world is different.
The Hero asks if you would tell your mother what had happened… The End.
Dr. Seuss uses three act structure! So can you!