Blankets Story Structure

Blankets Cover ImagePeople are surprised when I tell them that Blankets is not a love story. There is a love story in Blankets, but it is not the primary focus. The main plot is a rite of passage story about a young boy losing his faith in Christianity as he matures into an adult. The love story between Craig and Raina is used like the love stories in the majority of films and novels: as a subplot and the vessel for the theme (Individuality).

Spoiler Warning! Below is the plot structure of Blankets 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 on my website; it should open up in a new tab — please tell me if it doesn’t. Thanks!

PREMISE: Blankets is a rite of passage about Craig Thompson, a Christian teenager, who struggles with fitting his individuality into the constraints of a religious doctrine as he falls in love and matures into an adult.

Opening Image – A pure white bed against a dark background. Shadows from the window form bars across the bed sheets. Craig, as a child, is “trapped”.

Theme Stated – Craig and his younger brother complain and question why they have to share a bed. Their father yells, “Don’t question your parent’s authority!” Otherwise you get put into the “cubby hole” – a child’s version of Hell. Thus, rebellion and non-conformity leads to damnation. Craig’s individuality is sinful!

Set-up – Craig’s world is full of bullies, overbearing parents, condemning teachers and shame. He is sexually abused by his babysitter and fails to protect his brother from the same abuse. His authorities even convince him that drawing, his only escape, is sinful too. He feels he is already trapped in Hell and the only way out is Heaven. And only God can let you into Heaven.

Catalyst – A teenage Craig commits his life to God by burning all his drawings. He burns every distraction to prove he is a loyal follower. He wants to be Pure. Then, he meets Raina.

Debate – Can he, a human, be Pure? Craig succumbs to peer pressure when chided about reading his Bible, he runs when Raina’s friends try to make him smoke pot and doesn’t join the masses in singing to Jesus like he is supposed to. His quest for Purity isn’t going well, except when he is with Raina. With her, he is sweet and fun.

Choosing Act Two – After being separated from Raina for a moment, Craig goes looking for her. A stereotypical Christian asks him if he is “lost”. Craig responds, “I’m not,” rejecting the Christian to be with Raina.

B Story – Craig finds her, hiding. Together, they forge their own space hidden away from the crowds and discuss the legitimacy of their Christian practices. Raina tells Craig of her individual views and what she considers truly sacred.

Fun N’ Games (or The Promise of the Premise) – Craig and Raina’s relationship takes root and blossoms. They exchange love letters and Craig convinces his parents to let him visit her for two whole weeks. There, in this new world, he finds new forms of purity: Raina’s gift to him – a quilted blanket, fresh falling snow, Raina’s kisses, even Raina herself, along with new forms of impurity: failing Christian marriages. Craig’s doubts in the Christian doctrine grow.

Midpoint – Craig sleeps next to Raina for the first time. He wonders if he should feel guilty, but he doesn’t. He feels as “pure as snow”. Things are going “great”.

Bad Guys Close In – Craig begins to rely on Raina to feel okay about himself, and Raina gives him mixed messages: keeping him at a distance, afraid of getting too attached if they’re just going to break up, while telling him that she needs him. Craig wonders if they are using each other. They sleep next to each other again, but this time Raina makes Craig promise he’ll never leave her. He promises.

All is Lost – A few days later, he leaves for home. He and Raina say goodbye. They say they’ll stay together, but when she drives away, Craig’s feelings are shown as she falls off the face of the earth into nowhere (“awful”). Then, the snow thaws.

Dark Night of the Soul – Craig tries to keep the relationship going, but Raina just wants to be friends. He tries to be friends, but his heart is not in it. Nor is his heart in his faith.

Choosing Act Three – Eventually, Craig says goodbye to Raina and burns mementos of her, save one: the blanket.

Finale – Keeping the blanket (remaining hopeful that he’ll share his shame-filled life with someone), Craig disobeys the advice of his Christian authorities by attending art school and stops going to church, preferring to seek an individual idea of spirituality, like Raina did. As time passes, he gradually learns to accept his doubts and appreciate his lot in life, however flawed.

Final Image – An adult Craig, out in the open winter, now free from confinement, looks up to the sky as pure snow begins to fall. He has escaped his hellish adolescence.

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  1. Julia
    02/10/2013 at 11:14 AM

    Thank you for the breakdown 🙂

  2. subir
    03/30/2016 at 8:35 AM

    hi Tim,
    thanks for your extremely helpful analysis.
    One thing i would like to know is, whether this is the structure that a story has to follow or there can be shuffling between some parts (like ‘All is Lost’ appearing in the beginning?) or something like that? Also, what will happen if the end remains ambiguous, as if the the fate of the protagonist is left for the reader to imagine? Can you give some examples of that? It would be highly helpful to me.

    best!
    Subir

    • 04/28/2016 at 12:23 PM

      Thanks for the comment, Subir.

      One thing i would like to know is, whether this is the structure that a story has to follow or there can be shuffling between some parts (like ‘All is Lost’ appearing in the beginning?) or something like that?

      It’s your story. You can do whatever you want. You don’t have to follow this structure to be successful. It’s a tool to help organize ideas, if you want it. Plenty of stories use a later beat as the Opening Image in order to show the audience where we are going, and to set a tone. Fight Club is a good example. Gandhi is another. Sunset Boulevard is too.

      Also, what will happen if the end remains ambiguous, as if the the fate of the protagonist is left for the reader to imagine? Can you give some examples of that? It would be highly helpful to me.

      “What will happen if the end remains ambiguous”? I’m not sure what you mean by “what will happen.” Do you mean, will it be a successful? It could be. Mainstream stories tend to avoid ambiguous endings because they’re riskier — when selling a story to a mass audience, you want to satisfy as many customers as possible, which is easier to do with a happy ending — but that’s not a rule for success, and independent media is very open to the idea of an ambiguous ending. An example of a mainstream story that comes to mind is Cast Away. In the ending shot, Tom Hanks stands at a crossroads, unsure of where to go next. One of the biggest criticisms people had about the movie was the ending, but it was still a very successful film.

      I hope that helps!

  1. 03/15/2010 at 6:00 PM
  2. 03/16/2010 at 10:38 PM

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