Story Structure: the Build Up

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Happy Friday! Welcome back to another installment of Truthful Storytelling’s story structure series (that sounds so dramatic and important). Last week, we looked at the Inciting Event and its role in a story. Today, we’re breaking down the Build Up, the story beat directly before the First Plot Point.

Let’s get into this!

Where Does the Build Up Belong?

The Build Up begins right after the Inciting Event. It starts around 12% into the story and ends at approximately the 25% mark — just before the First Plot Point.

What Is the Build Up?

The Build Up gives the protagonist time to react to the Inciting Event before the First Plot Point. It’s basically a beat that allows the protagonist to take a breath while still building tension. It shifts the plot forward and sets up the final pieces necessary for the First Plot Point. During the Build Up, the protagonist often tries to run from the Inciting Event, but this beat is what leads them to the moment where they decide to leave their normal world forever.

The Build Up Is Reaction

Your protagonist (and possibly some other characters) just had their world shaken up by the Inciting Event. It would feel disingenuous to immediately throw them into the First Plot Point without giving them a chance to react to what just happened.

Additionally, your protagonist has not been on a journey yet. They’re still a person who wants to stay in their normal world and keep holding onto their incorrect beliefs, so, at first, they might reject this “Call to Adventure”. Sure, this event rocked their world in some way, but they still want to try to walk away. Having your character cling to their normal world a bit before the First Plot Point will make the moment when they make the decision to enter the Second Act that much more impactful.

While this resistance on the protagonist’s part may not hold true in all stories, it is a helpful character beat to have.

(SPOILERS FOR THE AVENGERS AHEAD)

Take The Avengers. When Fury starts to collect the candidates for the Avengers Initiative, many of them resist him or his proxy in some fashion. Bruce Banner has no desire to be anywhere near a combat situation, and he doesn’t want to be under SHIELD’s control either. Tony Stark’s not a team player, and he was scrubbed from the Initiative once before. Steve Rogers is tired of war and isn’t sure that the world he woke up to is one he wants to fight for.

The main characters’ initial rejection of the Inciting Event gives them depth and lends weight to their decisions at the First Plot Point.

(END SPOILERS)

The Build Up Is The Final Piece

The Build Up leads to the First Plot Point. Any plot elements that still need to be introduced or alluded to before the beginning of the Second Act need to be taken care of during this story beat. Everything should be lining up to force the protagonist into a situation where they can no longer turn back or where they no longer want to turn back. Soon, they have to make the decision to step out of their comfort zone and leave their normal world.

(SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE AHEAD)

Consider A New Hope. Everything after the Inciting Event leads Luke to an inevitable choice. He goes in search of Obi-Wan Kenobi, hears Leia’s full message, learns about the Jedi, and decides (initially) against going with Obi-Wan to Alderaan, even though he’s interested in learning the “ways of the Force”. Then he discovers the Jawas who sold his family the droids have been killed by Stormtroopers and realizes the Empire is searching for Artoo and Threepio. He runs home to find his aunt and uncle murdered, and his home decimated. This is his First Plot Point. Nothing will ever be the same again, and he makes a choice to move forward into his new world. Everything prior to this scene built up to this moment.

That’s a huge part of your Build Up’s job. Get your protagonist to a First Plot Point they can’t come back from.

(END SPOILERS)

So… What Is the Build Up?

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