Ok, welcome back. Congratulations! This week, you’ve reached the top of the mountain. It’s all downhill from here. Take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back. You’ve already come a lot farther than most “aspiring” authors. You’ve shown up every day, you’ve interrogated your characters, you’ve sketched your outline, you’ve diligently put black on white and muscled through most of the First Act. Now you, and your hero, have to get to the First Turning Point. You have to make “The Decision.” Do you go on with this adventure, or do you give up?
Your goal this week is to get thee to the end of Act One, that moment where your hero finally takes concrete action toward achieving his goal. It’s the moment when Bilbo runs out of his comfortable hobbit-hole without so much as a pocket handkerchief, and when Harry Potter decides to accept the invitation into the Wizarding World of Hogwarts. It is vitally important at this stage that you be curious about the reluctance that surrounds that decision. It’s this reluctance that connects the reader to the hero’s plight.
Here are some questions you should be asking yourself by now:
- Have you introduced the major players in your story?
- Do you understand their relationships to each other as functions of the story?
- What is your hero’s plight?
- Does your hero have worthy opponents?
- Is the story moving through action? Are you showing rather than telling?
- Do you have a sense of The Decision your hero has to make at the end of Act One?
- Are you being specific?
- Do you feel engaged with the tension or are you just logging words on the page?
- What is your story about? Do you feel on track with this? Do you have a sense that you are exploring the story in a compelling way?
You’re not doing this alone. It may sound strange, but when you commit to a creative endeavor, you tune into a channel and all sorts of coincidences may happen that support you in completing your work. Trust them. The universe is helping you.
In order to complete your work, you may experience some shifts in your priorities. Sometimes your friends and family don’t take kindly to this. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad and selfish person. It just means that the garbage will get taken out in the morning, and the laundry might wait until Saturday. It means you may not be able to make the weekly poker game for a while, or get out to see that latest new movie release. I still haven’t seen Deadpool, and let me tell you, I’m chomping at the bit about it! But I’ve got to put those words on the page, brother. Sorry.
You may notice that you’ve become a filter between your story and your daily life. The people you do hear and see, your environment, everything, it all works together to inform your work, giving you new insights and ideas.
“I’m not writing; I’m thinking.” Some days you don’t put as many words down on the page. It happens to me too. Sometimes, you need to sit back and imagine what approach you’ll use to enter the next scene, or how the main character is going to reply to this latest disaster. That’s okay. Sometimes writing is pondering.
Be curious about the metaphors in your story. Metaphors illuminate the story’s deeper meaning. Your story is bigger than the plot. If all that happens in your story is all that happens in your story, your reader will be disappointed. You have to be curious about the nature of what you’re expressing. This is what takes your story from the specific to the universal.
If a scene or an idea comes to you, write it down. If you characters seem to be taking on a life of their own, be curious and support their choices.
Most important this week, be curious about the moment of reluctance that precedes your hero’s decision at the end of Act One. People do not like change.
That bears repeating, in capital letters, bold, and italicized: PEOPLE DO NOT LIKE CHANGE.
Change is scary. Change is dangerous. Remember that movie, The Croods?
Yeah, most people are afraid to leave the cave. People only change when they’ve run out of choices: The peanut butter jar is empty, I’m hungry, and there isn’t a store within 50 miles that has Skippy SuperChunk in stock. I guess I’ll have to settle for JIF, no matter how it tastes, and no matter what they said about my mother.
Why is your character reluctant to change? And why is your character different from all those who face the same plight, and yet don’t change?
So this week, your goal is to write to the end of Act One. For those of you who need a refresher on the beats in Act One:
- Opening: How does your story begin? What is the first experience? What ideas and images emerge?
- Setup/Theme: What is the dramatic question, or plight, of your story? What problem does that character have that can’t be solved?
- Catalyst: What event happens that sets your story into motion and compels your character to answer the dramatic question?
- Dealing with the Catalyst: How does your antagonist respond to your hero and your hero’s plight?
- First Turning Point: What decision does your hero make that he can’t take back?
The first turning point is the moment of The Decision. Your character was humming along in his ordinary world, going about his daily business. He has a want, a desire, an interest in seeing things change, a plight, but he could just keep going on about his business, and never mind all that. Change is scary and difficult, after all. The cave is warm and dry and safe.
Then something happens (the Catalyst) that calls your character’s plight into stark relief, and a worthy antagonist comes along to say, “Forget about it, kid. In what world could you ever stand a chance of beating me?” Does your character give up and go back to his old life, and never mind his plight? If he does, then your story is over, then, isn’t it? And not a very fulfilling one. No, not your character. Your character decides to put a fist in the air and say, “No more!” and never mind the Nazis, Dragons, Orcs, Vampires, Foreign Spies, Shrewish Wives, or what-have-you that are now his worthy opponents.
But there’s a moment when, damn, that cave looks reeeeally appealing…. Explore that moment. Make your decision. Do you go on this adventure? Or will you go back to your cave?
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