Amelia Earhart Story Structure
Spoiler Warning! Below is the plot structure of Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean by Sarah Stewart Taylor and Ben Towle using Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet as the basis for the breakdown (see my review of Blake Snyder’s book Save the Cat, an excellent storytelling resource). For an explanation of each “beat” please refer to Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet.
Premise: Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean is about Grace, a young girl from Newfoundland with an ambition for journalism, and her short but inspiring relationship with Amelia Earhart.
Opening Image: The story begins with a storm at sea. A ship named Fair Lady is caught against the rocks and crashes. This opening foreshadows the well-known fate of Amelia Earhart, who flies above the clouds in a single-engine airplane.
Theme Stated: We are introduced to Grace, a young girl whose interest in reporting local news for the town of Trepassey, Newfoundland (including the sailors who have been lost at sea) has made her a bit of a snoop and given her the nickname “Nosy Nelly”. Trepassey is what we in modern times would call “old-fashioned”: women are not meant to be in the workforce, and as the plane touches down in a calm bay of water, Grace’s narration tells us about Icarus – the Greek myth about a young man who flew too close to the sun and fell. This story will be about the “risk of ambition”, especially as it concerns women in the 20th century.
Set-up: Cue the new pilot intending to cross the Atlantic by plane: a female pilot, Amelia Earhart. We are also introduced to Amelia’s crew, a group of reporters documenting her story and the pilot of the plane, Bill Stultz. (A surprising historical detail is that Amelia will not be piloting the plane – due to a lack of experience behind a plane large enough to make the trek – but she will still be the first woman to cross the Atlantic if she succeeds, and she has competition.)
Catalyst: The next morning Grace wants to skip her chores and report on Amelia’s attempt to take off across the Atlantic. Grace’s mother won’t let her saying that Amelia has “put ideas” into Grace’s head. Amelia’s ambitious, pro-feminine stance is already taking affect.
Debate: But can Amelia succeed in crossing the ocean? It doesn’t look good when she and her crew fail in their first attempt to takeoff due to too much fuel weighing them down. As Amelia’s crew calls it a day, Grace learns that each woman who has tried to cross the Atlantic has failed or died, and Amelia is not the only woman up to the challenge – a race is at hand.
Choosing Act Two: Later, Amelia walks past Grace’s house as she is hanging clothes on a line to dry. Leaving her chores behind, Grace chooses to be “Nosy Nelly” and follow Amelia around town, watching her and taking notes for a news story.
B Story: At the end of her walk through town, Amelia comes to an ocean cliff. In the waters below, there sits a shipwreck, still tangled in the rocks, symbolizing the risk of Amelia’s trip.
Fun n’ Games (Promise of the Premise): After days of following Amelia and keeping notes on her many failed attempts to takeoff from Trepassey, Grace has her first face-to-face interaction with Amelia. In a friendly, relaxed environment, Grace is able to ask personal questions and learn Amelia’s backstory, what inspired her to do what she is doing and her pro-feminist ideals.
Midpoint: Amelia and Grace chat about the town, about the shipwrecks and eventually about the dangers of Amelia’s trip. Amelia is aware of the risks but she has a good feeling and trusts her gut; she’s hopeful. Their next attempt to takeoff will prove whether it’s now or never.
Bad Guys Close In: Amelia and her crew try to takeoff one last time but it already doesn’t look good when the pilot arrives hung over from the night before. Grace watches in fear as the plane fails the first stab at taking off and runs alongside it in its second try. And as though encouraged by her enthusiasm, her hope, the plane lifts into the air and soars above. Grace celebrates.
All is Lost (& Whiff of Death): But now fear settles in because Grace doesn’t have an ending to her story: will Amelia make it across the Atlantic or die? The plane is carrying the lightest amount of gas it can take and still cross the Atlantic if everything goes according to plan!
Dark Night of the Soul: Grace waits… and waits… only thinking about Amelia and the challenge she faces. Then, a telegram arrives: Amelia made it!
Choosing Act Three: Grace presents her finished news story to the people of Trepassey. They crowd around her to read her reporting and she no longer feels ashamed of being a “Nosy Nelly”.
Finale: Time passes and Grace has grown into a young woman. She’s not a reporter yet and she’s feeling frustrated about it. But when she learns Amelia is in pursuit of her around-the-globe trek, Grace is reminded of her goals — her ambitions — and hopes to achieve them, eventually.
Final Image: Amelia Earhart ends much like the opening when Grace learns that Amelia’s plane disappeared somewhere in the Pacific ocean – lost at sea. Grace is heartbroken, but as rain begins to fall, she looks up to the sky, reminded of Amelia’s inspiring takeoff in Trepassey. Amelia as a symbol of hope lives on.