act I: beginning

Act I: The Beginning; How the Story Starts

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The beginning explains who the story is about and how they got into the story-worthy problem situation. First we see our protagonist in his ordinary world (however not-ordinary this world may be for the reader, it’s normal life for him.) Then something happens that turns his world upside-down, disturbing the status quo. This event somehow poses a threat or challenge to the protagonist. This initial disturbance creates interest in the reader and it is a promise that the story will be interesting enough to keep reading. It is not the story-worthy problem yet.

Examples of initial disturbances:

  • A midnight phone-call
  • A letter with interesting news
  • The boss calls the protagonist into his office
  • The car breaks down in the middle of nowhere
  • The protagonist wins the lottery
  • The protagonist witnesses something horrific

The beginning of the story has several tasks to complete.

First it has to present the story-world (tell the reader the setting and time). Then it has to establish the tone (is it action packed? Is it funny? dramatic?) Lastly, it has to introduce the opposition. What (or who) is it that your protagonist must overcome? It should still manage to do the most important thing as well, get the reader hooked.

Act I gives the reader

The length

In total, Act I should take up about one-fifth of the book. You risk losing your reader to boredom if it takes longer than that to establish your main characters and the situation. Any longer than a fifth and the story drags on and on without really getting started.

Components of Act I

  • Setup: gives all the information needed to get the story rolling.
  • Mood/Tone: an impression given at the start that gives a strong sense of place, mood, texture and sometimes theme.
  • Inciting incident: a dynamic event that draws the reader into the story.
  • The problem & the goal: show what’s at stake, gives a reason for readers to care.
  • Turning point: a moment where the story takes a new direction.

Haven (1999) Wright Right; Creative Writing Using Storytelling Techniques