Story Structure: the Reaction

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Welcome back to Truthful Storytelling’s story structure series! Last week, we talked about the First Plot Point. This week, we’re entering the Second Act and discussing its first story beat: the Reaction.

Let’s get into this!

Where Does the Reaction Belong?

The Reaction begins right after the First Plot Point. It begins around the 25% mark and ends around the 37% mark.

What is the Reaction?

The Reaction is breathing room after the First Plot Point that allows both your protagonist and your reader to get acquainted with their new situation. During this beat, the protagonist responds to what happened in the First Plot Point and figures out their next steps as they continue to stumble forward. The Reaction is also the introduction of the new world (well, the beginning of the introduction).

Don’t be afraid to give this story beat sufficient time. You don’t want to bog down the narrative, but you also don’t want to rush forward to the First Pinch Point (coming next week!) without giving your protagonist time to react to what has happened to them.

The Reaction is a Response

After the First Plot Point, your protagonist needs a moment get used to the sudden shift in their life’s path. Sometimes this involves an emotional response (such as grieving over a loss), a physical response (such as running away from the danger of the First Plot Point), or a combination of both. Either way, be sure to address what has happened to your protagonist in a realistic way.

During this beat, your protagonist is going to begin their character arc in earnest. They are likely going to be thrown into situations that act as catalysts to their change. At first they will resist, but, over the course of later beats, they’ll begin to transform.

(SPOILERS FOR TREASURE PLANET AHEAD)

After Jim boards the ship, he’s excited for this adventure and hopeful that the treasure will rescue him and his mother from poverty (emotional response). He and Dr. Doppler proceed find their place among the crew (physical response), and Jim ends up a cabin boy.

Jim immediately rebels against his new position. He was hoping for adventure and independence. He wants to be treated like he matters, but instead he just feels shoved aside. All of this plants seeds for his future character development and for the relationship that grows between him and Silver.

(END SPOILERS)

The Reaction is Moving Forward

The Reaction also involves the protagonist following through on the decision they made in the First Plot Point. Though they are in no way ready to take concrete action against the antagonistic force/villain, they are at least moving forward.

The Reaction, as well as the entire first half of the Second Act, gets the protagonist ready for a major mindset shift at the Midpoint (which we’ll talk about in a few weeks). At that point, they will stop reacting to the antagonistic force/villain and start taking action against the antagonistic force/villain. They will only reach the Midpoint because of the decision they made in the First Plot Point and the steps they took during their Reaction.

(SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE AHEAD)

After the First Plot Point, Luke and Obi-Wan head to Mos Eisley to hire passage to Alderaan (taking steps toward their goal). We see Luke out of his element in the cantina, which alludes to his future progression from an inexperienced farm boy to a heroic leader in the Rebellion.

As the pair seek out Han Solo in order to barter a ride to Alderaan, Luke learns more about the Force from Obi-Wan and becomes excited to learn about it (more baby steps in his character development).

This is a relatively short section of the movie, but it showcases Luke’s new resolve, reveals how he has stepped out of his comfort zone, outlines the steps he’s taking toward his new goal, and hints at his character arc.

(END SPOILERS)

Your protagonist isn’t ready for the Midpoint yet, but the Reaction shows that they are heading toward it and will be ready when they get there.

The Reaction is the New World

Have I used this heading before? Don’t tell me if I have — I’d rather not know.

*coughs* Anyway.

The Reaction is your protagonist’s (and your reader’s) first real look at their exciting new world. Use this beat to give your reader’s a sense of what it’s like. Is it vibrant? Is the character happier because of entering it? Is it intimidating or exciting?

Try to nail down its essence and figure out how best to convey that to your reader in a short amount of time.

Often, you will want to show this world through your protagonist’s eyes. Make it clear how they feel about it and let them react to it organically. The protagonist’s reaction can also serve as further insight into their character.

(SPOILERS FOR TANGLED AHEAD)

Once Rapunzel leaves her tower, we’re treated to a montage of Rapunzel experiencing her new world. We see that she’s ecstatic over being able explore beyond her home, but we also see that she’s conflicted over leaving. Her excitement is contagious, making us see the world through her eyes, and her indecision is understandable, showing us the effect Mother Gothel had on her and revealing more of Rapunzel’s personality.

So… What is the Reaction?

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