Story Structure: the Midpoint

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We made it, everyone! Last week, we talked about the Realization, and now we’ve finally reached the Midpoint, one of the most pivotal beats in three act story structure.

Let’s get into this!

Where Does the Midpoint Belong?

As its name suggests, the Midpoint belongs in the middle of the story, at roughly the 50% mark.

What is the Midpoint?

The Midpoint is a turning point. It’s usually when the protagonist shifts from reaction to action. They’re looking to take concrete steps to overcome the main conflict of the story. They’re close to fully understanding and accepting the “truth” they need to learn, but they’re not quite there yet (that’s important for later). Typically, the Midpoint is a plot twist or a big plot moment.

The Midpoint is the Turn

Everything that happened to the protagonist prior to this moment has been preparation for the choice they will make at the Midpoint. If they have been running away from the main conflict, the Midpoint is when they decide to stand their ground.

In some ways, the whole story changes gears after the Midpoint. It should be a stand-out moment. Often, the Midpoint presents itself as a battle, a dramatic party, a relational issue, a declaration of love, etc. Whatever your Midpoint is, it should be enough to push your protagonist to make another choice that takes them out of their comfort zone.

(SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE AHEAD)

This movie’s Midpoint comes when Luke, Obi-Wan, and Han are captured by the Empire. They manage to avoid escape and disguise themselves as Stormtroopers. Then they discover that Leia is a prisoner on the Death Star, and Luke convinces Han to help him rescue her. This is Luke’s first “hero moment”, and it’s also when he shifts gears from farm boy to rebel.

(END SPOILERS)

The Midpoint is a big moment for your protagonist. They’re “turning” and going in a new direction that will put them on an irrevocable path to the Third Plot Point.

The Midpoint is Action

Up to this point, the protagonist has probably been reacting to the things that happen to them. They’ve been growing as a person, but they haven’t taken a big step in their character arc since the First Plot Point. If the First Plot Point is them becoming an “adventurer” (not in a sense that only applies to adventure stories), then the Midpoint is often them becoming an “action hero” (again, not in a sense that only applies to action stories). They’re going to form a concrete goal and take steps to accomplish it. What this looks like will depend on your genre and plot.

(SPOILERS FOR TREASURE PLANET AHEAD)

This story’s Midpoint comes when Jim discovers that Silver is the leader of a band of pirates who have infiltrated Captan Amelia’s ship. After the pirates mutiny, Jim has a clear goal: Escape with the captain and Dr. Doppler and find a way to stay alive.

This is Jim’s shift from reaction to action. He was a kid, but after Silver’s betrayal, he’s forced to become an adult and figure out how to protect his friends.

(END SPOILERS)

The Midpoint is a transformation in many ways. Everything your protagonist learned earlier in the story comes into play to help them become an “action hero” at the Midpoint.

The Midpoint is Understanding

The protagonist often gains new understanding in the Midpoint.

On a plot level, they sometimes come to understand the main conflict of the story better, and they are then able to make more informed responses to it (action hero mode!).

On a character level, they usually come closer to taking hold of the “truth” they need to understand in order to complete their character arc. They won’t be ready for the climax, but they’ll be on their way to being ready.

(SPOILERS FOR TANGLED AHEAD)

In Tangled’s Midpoint, Rapunzel and Flynn are trapped in a flooding cave. As they realize they’re about to die, they take a risk and open up to each other. Rapunzel tells Flynn about her magical hair, and he tells her his real name and talks about his childhood.

On a plot level, this moment is important because it makes Flynn and Rapunzel trust each other more and moves their love story forward. It also reinforces both of their desires to live and achieve their dreams (main conflict).

On a character level, their Midpoint brings them closer to their respective “truths”. Rapunzel’s desire to experience life deepens, and she starts to think she is strong enough to handle the outside world. Flynn realizes he can be a better man, and Rapunzel’s affection for “Eugene Fitzherbert” helps him be confident enough to become that person again.

Neither of them are quite ready to face what’s to come, but they’re much closer than they were before.

(END SPOILERS)

So… What is the Midpoint?

Story Structure: Realization

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Welcome back! Last week, we talked about the First Pinch Point and its function in a story. This week, we’re discussing the Realization, one of the most important sections in any given story.

Let’s jump into this!

Where Does the Realization Belong?

The Realization begins after the First Pinch Point — near the 37% mark — and ends right around the Midpoint (i.e., 50% into the story).

What is the Realization?

The Realization is a crucial beat in storytelling. The Realization is what prepares the protagonist for the Midpoint. It also leads up the Midpoint. If the protagonist has to be somewhere or something has to happen before the Midpoint, it’s the Realization’s job to fill those plot needs.

During the Realization, the protagonist grows in awareness, figuring out the conflict and getting ready (possibly unknowingly) to respond to it in a non reactionary way.

The Realization is Preparation

As we’ve discussed previously, the protagonist isn’t ready for the Third Act — not yet. Typically, it’s the job of the plot to mold them into someone who is ready, and the Realization plays a big part in that process.

During the Realization, the protagonist usually acclimates to their world, grows as a person, and comes to understands the main conflict better.

Often, other characters will be crucial to their growth. Mentors or love interests might teach them things or inspire them to change.

It is during the Realization that the protagonist takes large steps toward understanding the theme of the story. In the beginning, they were firmly entrenched in a “lie” that was stopping them from achieving their full potential.

By the end of the Realization, they should be closer to understanding the “truth” that will replace their “lie”. They won’t be ready for the Third Act, but they’ll be much closer than they were.

(SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE AHEAD)

During the Realization, Luke and Obi-Wan head to Alderaan with Han Solo. Luke continues to learn more about the Force and the ways of the Jedi. All this prepares him for the coming Midpoint (discovering that Alderaan has been destroyed and being captured by the Death Star) and inspires him to become an “action hero” and rescue Leia later on.

Luke hasn’t fully come into his heroic self yet, but he’s closer than he was.

(END SPOILERS)

Use your story’s Realization to get your protagonist ready to make the right choices in the Midpoint.

The Realization is Lead Up

The Realization also moves the plot and characters to where they need to be for the Midpoint. Whatever still needs to be set up or foreshadowed for the second half of the Second Act or for the Third Act should be handled during this story beat.

Villainous plans may move forward, love stories might progress, character relationships could deepen, etc. Anything needing development that might bog down the action later can be taken care of now.

(SPOILERS FOR TANGLED AHEAD)

In Tangled’s Realization, Rapunzel and Flynn escape from the guards they encounter at the Snuggly Duckling. During that time, their relationship deepens and their actions lead them to their Midpoint. Everything is set up for their emotional conversation while they’re trapped in the cave.

(END SPOILERS)

Use the Realization to set everything in motion for an engaging Midpoint.

So… What is the Realization?

Story Structure: The First Pinch Point

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Welcome back! Last week, we talked about the Reaction. Today, we’re breaking down the First Pinch Point as we head deeper into the Second Act.

Let’s get into this!

Where Does the First Pinch Point Belong?

The First Pinch Point falls at approximately the 37% mark of your story, right after the Reaction ends. It’s a short, relatively simple beat.

What is the First Pinch Point?

The First Pinch Point is a reminder of the villain’s/antagonistic force’s power and presence in the story. It raises the stakes and shows how unprepared the protagonist still is. It also creates tension and stops the story from dragging during its weighty Second Act.

The First Pinch Point is a Reminder

The protagonist entered an exciting new world not long ago. They and the reader are caught up in the excitement/adventure of it, so the reality of the villain/antagonistic force might have slipped their minds slightly.

The First Pinch Point serves to rectify that. It brings the protagonist back down to earth and shows how unequipped they are to handle this conflict (don’t worry — they’ll be prepared eventually).

The First Pinch Point might manifest as the villain/antagonistic force closing in on the protagonist and forcing them to run again, or it might simply be a showcase of power.

Generally, it can be anything that helps the protagonist and reader remember what/who they’re up against.

(SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE AHEAD)

This movie has two Pinch Points near the beginning of the Second Act, one small and one big. The small one comes when Luke escapes Tatooine on the Millennium Falcon while the ship is being attacked by the Empire. This moment serves to underline that Luke is being chased by a force that’s far more powerful than he is.

The other Pinch Point comes when the Death Star destroys Alderaan. This Pinch is more impactful because it showcases the ruthlessness of the Empire as well as its total dominance over the galaxy.

(END SPOILERS)

Whatever your First Pinch Point is, use it to remind the reader what the protagonist is up against — be it a literal villain, a metaphorical one, or something else.

The First Pinch Point is Stakes

The First Pinch Point serves to raise the stakes. Like we discussed above, it reminds the protagonist of what/who they’re facing and the consequences of losing. The First Pinch Point gives the protagonist a clear goal: avoid the villain/antagonistic force.

As I said, the protagonist is in no way ready to engage in the main conflict in a meaningful way. Mostly, they’re reacting to what’s happening to them, rather than taking action against it.

The time from the First Plot Point to the Midpoint involves the protagonist trying to avoid the main conflict, even as they begin to grow into a person who can and will face it.

(SPOILERS FOR TANGLED AHEAD)

The First Pinch Point in Tangled occurs when the palace guards come to the Snuggly Duckling in search of Flynn, with the Stabbington brothers in tow. Rapunzel and Flynn manage to escape through a secret passage, but the guards give chase.

This moment showcases that neither Flynn nor Rapunzel are at their Midpoints yet. They’re both still unwilling to confront their fears and demons. Rapunzel is learning to be more confident, but she’s still not ready to stand up to Mother Gothel. Flynn is slowly becoming a better man and figuring out that it’s okay to be himself, but he’s not quite ready for his Midpoint either.

(END SPOILERS)

Use your First Pinch Point to raise the stakes and show where your characters are in their arcs. They may have changed since the beginning, but they still have growing to do.

The First Pinch Point is Tension

The First Pinch Point serves to, well, pinch. It gives the readers the feeling that the bad guy/main conflict is closing in on the protagonist. It gives a sneak peek at the inevitable confrontation at the climax and creates a sense that is time running out, which keeps the reader hooked.

(SPOILERS FOR TREASURE PLANET AHEAD)

This movie’s First Pinch Point occurs when the ship encounters a black hole. Jim is made responsible for securing the crew’s safety lines, but Mr. Scroop takes revenge on the first mate by secretly cutting his line and causing his death.

This moment ramps up the tension significantly because it reminds us that the ship has been infiltrated by pirates who care nothing for the lives of our main characters. It also brings us closer to an inevitable mutiny.

In addition, this Pinch, when coupled with the moment where Jim stops Silver from falling into the black hole, makes us dread the coming mutiny because it will put Jim and Silver at odds with each other. The movie allowed us to see their relationship grow and made us care about it, so we know how crushed Jim will be when Silver betrays him.

All this works together to make us very tense going forward.

(END SPOILERS)

Tension keeps readers turning pages. Use your First Pinch Point to put them on the edge of their seats.

So… What is the First Pinch Point?

Story Structure: the Reaction

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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?

Story Structure: The First Plot Point

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Welcome back, y’all! Last week, we talked about the Build Up in three act story structure. This week, we’re examining the First Plot Point.

Let’s get into this!

Where Does the First Plot Point Belong?

The First Plot Point usually falls at the 25% mark of the story — right at the end of the First Act.

What is the First Plot Point?

The First Plot Point is the end of First Act. All your hard work is about to pay off as you catapult your protagonist into the Second Act. This story beat also signals the end of the normal world — the life your protagonist knows is changed forever. The First Plot Point is also a decision on the protagonist’s part to begin their journey and leave behind their familiar world.

The First Plot Point is the End

All your Set Up and Build Up (or most of it) comes to fruition when your protagonist reaches the First Plot Point. Everything has been leading to the moment where they leave their normal world and embark on a life changing journey (literally or metaphorically).

(SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE)

For example, the First Plot Point in A New Hope (bet you’re sick of talking about this movie) is Luke deciding to go with Obi-Wan to Alderaan. As we discussed last week, everything built to the moment where Luke leaves his normal world — Leia’s message, the droids coming to Luke’s farm, Artoo running away, and the Empire tracking the droids. This is when all of that comes to a head, signals the end of the First Act, and pushes Luke into the Second Act.

(END SPOILERS)

The First Plot Point is the Beginning

I know, I know. I just said it was the end. Bear with me — I’m trying to be stylistic. Is it working?

Anyway, the First Plot Point basically marks the beginning of the Second Act. It’s where we leave the normal world behind and enter a new, exciting world that the protagonist will occupy for most or all of the story.

This leaving of the “normal world” should be very clear. While it might not always be a physical departure, there should be a definite shift from the ordinary to the “extraordinary”. Usually, the new world is one of the reasons the reader picked up your book, so make sure they know when they reach it.

(SPOILERS FOR TANGLED)

Tangled’s First Plot Point occurs when Rapunzel makes the decision to have Flynn take her to see the “floating lights”. Rapunzel physically leaves her normal world, escaping from her tower and embarking on her journey.

(END SPOILERS)

Your character won’t always go on a literal journey, but the departure from their static life into their dynamic one should be clear and exciting regardless.

The First Plot Point is a Decision

At the First Plot Point, your protagonist usually makes the decision to step into their new world (getting real tired of that phrase — how about you?) and begin their journey. Sometimes they’re forced into this decision by circumstances, and sometimes they make it more of their own volition.

This is an important moment in your protagonist’s arc. They don’t have it all together yet. They’re certainly still clinging to their wrong beliefs, but they’re taking a step forward and leaving their comfort zone.

Be sure to give this moment the weight it deserves and makes sure their decision fits their character.

(SPOILERS FOR TREASURE PLANET)

Jim’s First Plot Point comes when he decides to accompany Dr. Doppler on his journey to find the treasure. Jim’s normal life is irrevocably changed at this point, since his home has been destroyed, but he could still stay home with his mother (this is an example of an independent First Plot Point decision). However, it isn’t in Jim’s character to back down from an adventure, so he boards the ship and inadvertently kicks off his character arc.

(END SPOILERS)

So… What is the First Plot Point?

Stay tuned! Next week, we’ll begin our discussion of the Second Act.

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?

Story Structure: the Inciting Event

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Happy Friday! Welcome to the third installment in Truthful Storytelling’s story structure series. Last week we talked about the Set Up and its purpose. Today, we’re moving on to the Inciting Event, one of the most exciting story beats.

Let’s get into this!

Where Does the Inciting Event Belong?

The Inciting Event usually occurs about 12% into the narrative. It falls at the end of the Set Up.

What is the Inciting Event?

The Inciting Event is the culmination of the Set Up. It’s what kicks off the main plot and forces your character to start making choices. Without the Inciting Event, your character would just stay in their normal world and never go on any kind of journey. The Inciting Event is the catalyst that sets your character on the path toward the First Plot Point.

The Inciting Event is the Climax of the Set Up

The Inciting Event belongs at the end of the Set Up and should act as the culmination of much of that story beat. If you did your Set Up right, the Inciting Event won’t feel like it has come out of left field and the protagonist’s reaction to it will make sense.

(SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE AHEAD)

For instance, look at the Inciting Event in Star Wars: A New Hope. It occurs when Luke hears the message Leia left for Obi-Wan Kenobi. We already know about this message because of the Set Up, and we also know Leia is in danger. Because of what we’ve learned about Luke during the Set Up (that he’s kind and longs for more than what Tattooine can give him), we already know that this event is going to lead him places. We may not know exactly how it will play out, but it quickly becomes clear that Luke isn’t going to be able to let this go.

(END SPOILERS)

Make sure your Inciting Event doesn’t feel random. Every story beat builds on the one before it. Let the Set Up serve as the foundation for what comes after.

The Inciting Event is the Catalyst

Like I said above, without the Inciting Event, your protagonist has no reason to move forward. They may want things, but they don’t have the impetus to go and get them. And they certainly don’t yet know what they need (that’s what they’ll figure out over the course of their character arc). It’s the job of the Inciting Event to force them into a situation where they have to engage with the plot.

They will probably reject this call at first, but the Inciting Event will put them on an irrevocable path toward a choice. Step out of their normal world and into the new one or stay in their old, familiar life.

(SPOILERS FOR TREASURE PLANET AHEAD)

Consider Treasure Planet. When Billy Bones crash lands at Jim’s home, warns him about “the cyborg”, and gives him the treasure map, Jim gets a glimpse of a new world — not that he’s ready to enter it yet. After he and his mother escape the pirates’ attack, Jim is on an inevitable path toward the First Plot Point.

(END SPOILERS)

Your Inciting Event needs to be big enough and personal enough to push your protagonist out of their comfort zone. If it’s something your character can turn away from easily, it might not be strong enough. This is the story beat where things start moving. You want to make sure it excites your reader and affects your protagonist in a meaningful way.

The Inciting Event is the Beginning

The Inciting Event is the beginning of the true action in your story. It fires off the starting gun of the main plot and serves as the signal to the readers that you’re going to make good on the promise of your premise. The stakes are going to rise, and things should start happening.

(SPOILERS FOR THE AVENGERS AHEAD)

For example, in The Avengers, the Inciting Event occurs when Director Fury begins to bring the Avengers together. We are introduced to many of our main characters, the main plot begins, and the promise of the premise (a team of superheroes overcoming their relational issues and kicking butt together) is starting to be fulfilled.

(END SPOILERS)

Make sure your Inciting Event is truly the beginning. Your protagonist is about to leave their normal world and start a journey that will change them forever. The Inciting Event serves as signal — the Set Up is over. The plot is about to ramp up.

So… What is the Inciting Event?

Story Structure: The Set Up

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Happy Friday! Welcome to the second installment in Truthful Storytelling’s story structure series. Last week, we talked about the Hook and its function. Today, we’re discussing the Set Up and how it ties into the story.

Let’s jump right in!

Where Does The Set Up Belong?

The Set Up belongs in the space between the Hook and the Inciting Event. It should cover approximately the first 12% of the narrative.

What Is The Set Up?

The Set Up is your chance to introduce your characters, lay out the story’s stakes, and flesh out the story’s world. The Set Up is what makes the Inciting Event matter.

Sometimes, the Set Up can feel like a vague, scary story beat (for me, anyway), but if you keep in mind the goals laid out above, this beat will become more concrete.

The Set Up Is The Characters

Use the time before the Inciting Event to introduce as many pertinent characters as possible. One of the reasons we read is to connect with the fictional people that populate a story, so it’s important your readers become attached to the characters quickly. Otherwise, you risk losing their interest.

The Set Up gives your reader time to get to know the protagonist(s) in their normal world — before everything changes. Show the reader who your character is, what their interests are, and what/who they care about.

Most importantly, make it clear what they’re missing. What Lie does this character believe about themselves or the world, and what Truth will they come to understand by the end of the story? Why do they need to go on this journey, specifically?

Consider Tangled (again). As soon as we’re introduced to Rapunzel, we get a sense of who she is and what she’s missing. We see that she’s kind, artistic, and vivacious. We also see that she lacks confidence in herself and in her abilities from how she interacts with Mother Gothel and from her general demeanor. Very quickly, the movie sets up Rapunzel’s character, her Lie (that she won’t survive out in the world), and the Truth she needs to learn (that she can do pretty much anything she sets her mind to).

The Set Up has the weighty task of getting readers attached to the characters who are introduced — especially the protagonist. If it fails, the Inciting Event and pretty much every story beat after that are undermined. If the readers don’t have a good reason to care about the protagonist or the other characters, they likely won’t care about the characters’ journey.

Don’t be afraid to take a breath after the Hook and spend some time with the characters. You have to budget time to focus on the plot-centric elements of the story, but you definitely don’t want to take shortcuts when it comes to character introductions.

The Set Up Is The Stakes

While you’re introducing the readers to the characters, you also want to be showing them the story’s stakes. What will happen if the protagonist fails? What or who is he/she going up against?

It is important to give readers a sense of the stakes before the Inciting Event. Otherwise, this crucial beat might seem to come out of left field. While your readers don’t need to understand the full extent of what’s at stake, they should at least have an idea.

(MILD SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE AHEAD)

A story that does this well is Star Wars: A New Hope. Luke may not have a concrete idea of the stakes or main conflict, but the writers make sure we do.

In the time before the Inciting Event, we see the power and ruthlessness of the Empire. We’re also introduced to Tarkin and Darth Vader, our main villains, and get a front row seat to the conflict between the Rebellion and the Empire. Furthermore, even before the Death Star is used, we understand that there will be dire consequences for the whole galaxy if the Death Star is not destroyed.

(END SPOILERS)

The Set Up Is The World Building

Once your story’s plot really gets going, you don’t want to waste precious page time on basic world building. You should establish the general ideas of your world swiftly, so you can use the other story beats to build on the foundation you already laid down.

This aspect of the Set Up is most important in fantasy and sci fi setting, but it still applies to stories set in our world. Even if your readers already know how this world works, you can use the Set Up to familiarize them with what the protagonist’s personal world (i.e., their everyday life) looks like.

As discussed in last week’s post, Treasure Planet does world building very well. The writers used this movie’s Set Up to quickly introduce us to the main aspects of the world. They establish in the very first scene that, in this universe, futuristic ships modeled after an 1800s style take to the stars. Through visual exposition, we see that solar power is used for the ships and for smaller vehicles like Jim’s solar surfer. The early scenes at the inn continue to make it clear that this world is a mashup of 1800s styles and futuristic technologies. All this comes together to give us an overview of how this world works.

Since this is all established early on, no time is wasted doing so later in the film. Instead, we get to explore this exciting new world while watching Jim’s journey unfold.

So… What Is The Set Up?

Stay tuned! Next week, we’re going to look at the Inciting Incident!

Story Structure: The Hook

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Happy Friday, everyone! Today, I’m starting my new story structure series. I know there a dozens of resources out there on story structure, but I’m still excited to lend my perspective.

To start, we’re going to examine the Hook, which is the first beat in traditional three act story structure (FYI, you will feel so smart if you say that phrase — go ahead and try it).

Let’s jump into this!

Where Does the Hook Belong?

Right at the beginning of the story — typically 1-2% into the narrative. It’s usually best if the Hook appears on the very first page — at least part of it, anyway.

What is the Hook?

The Hook is what grabs your reader. Picture a fish clamping down on a fishhook — that’s what we’re going for when we start our stories (that sounds cruel, but you know what I mean). Readers who open your book have picked it up on the suspicion that it might entertain them, and it’s the job of the Hook to convince them that they’re right.

The Hook is a Question

Often, the Hook prompts readers to ask a question (i.e., why is this Rebel ship being attacked and who are these two droids?), and that question should be compelling enough to make them want to read on and discover the answer.

One way to beget questions in your reader is to start your story in media res — during the action. For example, if something interesting is going to happen to your character when they go down to breakfast in the morning, don’t start the story with them waking up and going through their morning routine. Instead, start the story with them entering the kitchen.

Of course, a random question isn’t enough — it will only make your reader feel tricked and cheated. The question must tie into the main plot and act as the starting gun for the story.

Example of stories with hooks that ask effective questions:

  • Star Wars: A New Hope — the opening scene drops us into the middle of a battle that catches our attention, makes us hungry to know more, and attaches us to two characters that give us reason to care about what happens next.
  • Mistborn: The Final Empire — this book’s beginning introduces us to Kelsier, sets up the world, and hints at the main conflict. It makes us ask many questions (as do pretty much all of Brandon Sanderson’s books). What is the mist? Who is Kelsier? Why does ash fall from the sky? Et cetera.
  • (Possible vague spoilers in this section) Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone — the first chapter in this book introduces us to the Dursleys, the mystery surrounding Harry, and the strange events that lately surround Privet Drive. While the Dursleys try to avoid all the questions that are raised, the mystery of it all makes us excited to find out what’s really going on, who Harry is, and why oddness seems to follow him.

The Hook is an Introduction

Besides asking questions, the Hook can serve to introduce the setting or the characters. In fact, some of the best hooks do both.

Simply asking a question isn’t always enough. Sometimes, you have to tie a question to a relatable character or intriguing setting to give it weight. Not every reader will continue reading just in search of some vague answer to “what happens next”. One of the best ways to make readers care about your story is to make them care about a character first.

Consider Tangled. The movie opens with Flynn Rider explaining that this is the story of how he died. This catches us off guard and makes us wonder what happened to him. In addition, the subversion of expectations combined with the humorous way Flynn begins to tell Rapunzel’s story immediately attach us to him. By the time Flynn is a few sentences into his tale, we already care about this wisecracking narrator and are willing to sit through the opening exposition in order to figure out what happened to him and Rapunzel. Note that the question is tied to the fates of two characters, rather than to the unfolding of the plot. It’s an emotional attachment, rather than a cognitive one, which typically makes it stronger. Bypassing the head for the heart is a great way to grab people’s attention.

Another way to use your Hook to ensnare readers is to make your setting the Hook — or part of it. Our brains are wired to learn and discover; we are exploratory beings. So if you drop us into the middle of a unique setting that interests us, we’re typically going to want to find out more.

For example, Treasure Planet’s opening scene immediately introduces us to the space-but-not-quite-space setting of the movie and also slips in the futuristic 1800s aesthetic. Combine that with the “pirates on the high seas” (except it’s space) vibe and incredible visuals, and you’ve got 98% of people hooked (yes, I made up that percentage on the spot — shh, it’s called science). While the movie also goes on to establish Jim’s character (including the stark difference between his child self and his young adult self) and get us attached to him, the initial Hook is the setting.

The beginning of a story should cause questions in the reader, but it’s your job to make sure they’re the right kind of questions and that they’re powerful enough to keep the reader hooked.

The Hook Should Hint At The Stakes and Main Conflict

Now that we’ve discussed what the Hook is, we can turn to what it should do.

Good Hooks tie into the plot and allude to the stakes going forward. Like I said, a Hook shouldn’t be random and disconnected from the story. Every beat in story structure should hang together, and the first beat is no exception.

If we look at Star Wars: A New Hope again, we see that the story’s Hook definitely points to the stakes and main conflict. Immediately, we see the clash between the Rebels and the Empire, and we recognize that the Empire is the stronger force.

(SPOILERS FOR AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR AHEAD)

Another example of a hook that introduces the stakes and conflict is the beginning of Avengers: Infinity War (gosh, it’s been a while since we talked about Marvel). Right away, the movie reintroduces us the Thanos and shows us the tail end of what was obviously a disastrous battle for Thor, Hulk, Loki, and the other Asgardians. The scene sets up the stakes by showing Thanos using the Power Stone to defeat Thor and the Hulk — two of the franchises most powerful characters. It also introduces the central conflict of the story and — bonus points — establishes the tone.

(END SPOILERS)

The Hook shouldn’t just be some cheap trick that gets your reader to read further than the first page. It should be the sales pitch — in a way — for your entire book.

So… What is the Hook?

Next week, we’re going to take a look at the Set Up!

Meet My WIP: Heroes of Nowhere

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Hi! Here’s another story tour that nobody asked for! This is partly because I wanted to squeal about my story and partly because I don’t have another blog post idea. But let’s not think about that bit. *laughs sheepishly and hides*

Here we go! Prepare to be fascinated *winks* and a little confused.

Heroes of Nowhere

Oh, look, y’all got me to write a blurb again. *laughs with a grimace* I guarantee you’ll be in more pain reading this disaster than I will be writing it, so there.

In Nowhere, the vast space between the Three Systems, a nomadic people — known as Wanderers — have made their home. All they want is to live peacefully, mining asteroid belts and helping ferry merchants from the Systems through the less navigable parts of Nowhere, but pirates have invaded their home. These pirates, who call themselves Titans, have grown like a festering sore in the dark corners of Nowhere, and they hunt the Wanderers like they’re animals, destroying their ships, taking over their mining stations, and enslaving the few Wanderers they don’t kill.

The situation has been growing worse and worse over the years, until only a small quadrant of Nowhere remains in the control of the Wanderers. A small mining station on an asteroid belt is one of the last bastion of Wanderer strength, and its inhabitants live in daily fear that the Titans will break through their defenses.

Charlie, a young Wanderer girl, lives on that station. When Titans raided her parents’ ship and killed them, she and her younger sister, Cassi, managed to survive and were rescued by other Wanderers. Now she hides away, doing her best to protect her adoptive family.

Until she comes across Jax, young Titan boy, who was cast adrift in an escape pod with his oxygen running out. She has no choice except to save his life, but rescuing him causes everything to spin out of control until every Wanderer in Nowhere has to decide just how far they are willing go to defend their home.

The Fun Stuff

All right, take a breath, y’all. We did it. Blurb — done. Now on to the links and songs and stuff that doesn’t give me a migraine.

The Inspiration

I actually came up with this story long before I had the idea for Family of Nobodies. I had been watching Firefly (it’s a great show — although, personally, I wish it wasn’t so adult at times, but the skip button exists for reason), and I decided I wanted to write a story about a motley band of misfits flitting around space and helping people as best they could.

Add to that a chaotic mining station with a bunch of disparate personalities trying to live in familial harmony, and you have a story I want to write!

Story Board

Prepare yourself for a lot of Star Wars concept art… It inspires me, okay?

Music of the Story

For whatever reason, Disney songs are just working for this story, which — no offense to Disney songs — is unusual. This song, for me, embodies the Wanderer spirit of exploration. Just don’t question the bits of the song that don’t fit… *sidles away*

This song also reminds me of the Wanderer mindset. Like the Polynesians, they dare to explore the unknown and find their way.

This song. THIS SONG. If the Wanderers had a national anthem, it would probably be this. I’m not even kidding. They would aggressively sing this song at anyone who questions them. It fits their independent, determined attitude perfectly.

This is both Charlie’s song and another song for the Wanderers.

Last one — another one that kind of speaks to the Wanderer mindset.

Thank You for Listening

Thank you for reading! I’m so excited to dive into this book while I’m waiting to edit Family of Nobodies.

I also want to thank those who supported me while I wrote FoN. Everyone — from Twitter, here, and real life — has been amazing. I couldn’t have done it without you.

See you next week!

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