Structure Series #4: Part One

OK… Nitty-gritty here we come…

Story Engineering Model (four-part story model): Part One, the first ~25% of our story.

Part One, or box number one, is our setup box. Our story has yet to be launched in earnest, and before it can do so, our readers must enter into our world. Part One is where our readers are bewitched and captivated – where everything that draws them into our characters and our worlds resides.

Our hero – without someone to herald his wonderfulness – is just some guy, milling around our pages, eager – desperate even – to be noticed and loved by readers somewhere. He is an orphan, lost and loveless, and it is our responsibility to shout him at the sky and get this little guy adopted into millions of families that can love him, support him, and stick with him until the end, maybe even miss him when he’s gone.

It is the same for the worlds we have built. We are realtors wooing prospective buyers into believing that this is the place they might be able to spend the rest of their lives. Bake the cookies, mow the lawn, reel ’em in!

Even though our story itself is not really underway yet, we have a lot of important work to do. The following is our checklist:

  • Introduce our hero – Fairly straightforward in theory. Our readers need to get to know our hero pre-quest, before he embarks upon the story proper. Open the window into his life: Who is he? Where is he going? What are his dreams, his inner struggles, his world view? Our reader should feel like they know him within a few pages. Don’t waste time!
  • Set the hook – We’ve got a few scenes here, but if our reader isn’t hooked by the first 20-30 pages, we’re losing him fast. Our hook is something for our readers to sink their teeth into, an itch that they just have to scratch. Make it visceral, sensual, emotionally resonant. The hook is a tease, a glimpse into the story ahead. It is what grabs their attention and just won’t let it go.
  • Introduce the story question – Ugh, the dreaded story question… What is it that is going to need some resolution by the end of our story? What question will readers be asking themselves as they stay up all night to get to the end? While we’re not really getting things rolling in our story yet, we do need to give our reader a sense of what is in store for the hero here. A little taste of the problems to come.
  • Establish stakes – What is the big deal? Why are the problems real enough to matter? What is at stake if our hero does not overcome whatever he has to overcome? The stakes themselves have to be huge, although their foreshadowing at this point may be so subtle that they’re invisible. Our reader may not quite ‘get it’ now, but we have to plant the seed so that when the plot turns, they sit back and nod their heads with a high-pitched Ooohhhh! at the blossoming mess ahead.
  • Gain reader empathy – This is our primary objective for our characters. we need our reader to identify, to care, to love, to hate, to feel intensely about our hero. Apathy kills. Give them a hero they would kill to stand beside in real life. Someone so vivid and compelling that they spend some time trying to wish him into existence outside the page.
  • Foreshadow the antagonistic force – Somethin’s a-comin’ and it ain’t good. The antagonistic force defines the nature of the hero’s need, quest, journey.  It needs to be front and center contextually at all times after Part One.  For now, we can just foreshadow it, give an eerie sense of impending change.
  • Preparing for Launch! – Accelerate up to the the turning point at end of part one – the First Plot Point. At all times, according to Mr. Brooks, we are either building up to our turning points or falling away from them, setting them up or responding to them. As the pages unfurl on their way to that first roar of the story engines, our reader should feel the tension growing. We can use the focus of our scenes to move us in the right direction, or we can use pacing to drive things more aggressively, but however we do it, everything should be heading down the tracks towards the most important part of our story – structurally speaking – the First Plot Point.

Up to this point, we’ve been focusing on setup, and I mentioned once or twice that the story has not really gotten going yet. That does not mean that nothing has happened. It doesn’t mean that lots of things haven’t occurred. It doesn’t even mean that something huge can’t have already transpired. Good stories are chock full of twists, bends, and surprises, not to mention forward progress – action. Things have to be happening. But what is about to happen, at the First Plot Point is a critical juncture in our manuscript; it is different from all the other events in our story. Something – deep and thunderous, or possibly as tiny as a whisper on a breeze – is about to change everything for our hero, rocketing them into the story proper. Are we ready?

Here’s a slightly more abbreviated outline of Part One and its missions, all in a neat little pdf package, complete with space for you to make some notes on your own story: Four-Part Story Structure – Part One (#1)

To view a chronological listing of the posts in this series, continue below:

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