Scene 1 – Big Trouble

Whether your story starts en medias res or with a loving description of the how the universe began, it has to start somewhere.

Many Western stories follow the Hero’s Journey as described by Joseph Campbell. For the purposes of learning and practicing story structure, this is the model I’ll be using – at least in the beginning.

Elements of a beginning:

Introduces main conflict of the story. As my ever-zen writing workshop instructor Charlie used to say, “What’s the what of this story?”

External Conflict – something threatens the Main Character (MC)’s State of Perfection (SOP)

Internal Conflict – MC is emotionally stuck. They have a deep fear, limiting belief, or conflicting desires.

State of Perfection – Yes/No?

State of Perfection means the MC has a reasonably happy, comfortable life. They are not motivated to change things. They like what they like and they don’t want to have any adventures.

If the MC starts in the SOP, they will be fighting to stay there, resistant to change, reluctant to leave.

It’s a bit more tricky to start with an MC not in SOP because you have to weave in backstory and benchmarks to explain why the MC is not in SOP and what exactly MC thinks SOP is (at the beginning of the story). We know MC’s SOP may change as they grow through the story, but we need a start point to…well…start from.

Worldbuilding:

Whether you’re writing spec-fic filled with nanotech, tentacle monsters, and swords and sorcery, or writing about a knitting circle in Blandsville, Nebraska (sorry, Nebraska, I still love you), you’ll need to establish where your MC is and what they’re doing.

Do NOT dump info. This is the part where you splash your reader with the world, not drown them in it. It’s more important that the reader connect with the characters and care about them than the reader understand how the hyper-drive 7000 works or the exact ritual elements needed to summon Yog Gogiryazhiji.

Instead, focus on the details the characters would care about. Unfold the world through their experience of it and trust that you’ll be able to work in all the cool tech, alien races, ancient elven feuds, and the finer points of the Double Moss Knit Stitch Pattern later.

Spreadsheety Goodness:

I have a spreadsheet and I’m not afraid to use it. Your tools may vary: 3×5 cards, notebooks, whiteboards, various software, a trusted friend or random pelagic bird who happens to be a great listener. Whatever you need to help you organize your thoughts, use it.

Image by Mario Liebherr from Pixabay

If you’d like to use my spreadsheet layout, here’s an example of Act I, Scenes 1-9. I tend to ramble when I write, so I have broken down my word count targets based on an 80,000 word novel. That gives me 25% Act 1, 50% Act 2, and 25% Act 3. These are my rough goals to help me stay on track and should not be taken as carved in stone limits.

Additional Resources:

“The Writer’s Journey” by Christopher Vogler

Mythcreants has a beautiful post about the Heroine’s Journey that is well worth your time!

Fiction Fluency or really any class you can get from Eric Witchey, who is an absolute wizard when it comes to writing emotions.

Life Insurance

Once upon a time, things had been different in a grand old sort of way. A life lived on the upper edge as if soaring ever onward on the silver tipped wings of a peregrine falcon. Life had unfurled, striped and bedazzled, beboggled as if agoge at some fantastic celebration. All it lacked were actual fireworks to burst across the sky in torrents of red, white, gold, and green. Fiery flowers dancing in the air, born in a single, shattering explosion to a life of ethereal beauty. All they knew was heaven. From their point of view, the world below was broad and flat and all its inhabitants only so many upturned faces, gaping in awe or cowering in terror.

What divinity, she thought, to live as fireworks did. What divinity and yet, when they were gone, no one noticed. No one remarked on the death of a sparkler, on the loss of a Roman candle. No one mourned that flashy green puff of light in the night sky, ringed by silver drops like angels’ tears. They gloried only in a firework’s life and forgot it ever existed the moment it expired.

So maybe the life of a firework wasn’t perfect, but at least people noticed. At least they cared, if only for a moment.

It was in this wistful and resentful mood that she snatched her red paper cup from the counter, strode out of the shop, and was struck by the number 95 uptown bus, the side of which advertised life insurance.

***

Author’s Note: Found a writing exercise from my time in the Kidd Tutorial program. Still trying to make sense of it. Your thoughts/feels?