Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Story Structure: Turning Point 1 - The Opportunity

This is the part of the story where things start to get juicy! Your main character is wandering around in their ordinary world, doing their thing, and – BAM! – something happens that is going to change the course of their life!
Depending on which book on writing you read, this crucial story moment might be called any of the following:

  • Call to adventure (Christopher Vogler)
  • Inciting Incident (Robert McKee)
  • Catalyst
  • Trigger
  • Opportunity

I say ‘crucial’, because without this element, your characters would just keep wandering around doing ordinary things. Even if your character has a so-called exciting life, if nothing actually happens, your reader is going be nodding off very shortly.

They may not know it yet, but how they respond to whatever happens may determine their future happiness. Your character may receive some news, or meet someone. They may lose something and need to find it again or an event may happen in their community. It even can be a stirring deep within your character that makes them make a change in their own life. What exactly happens will depend on each individual story.

In a romantic story, the event that often sets the story in motion is the first meeting between the hero and heroine, although not always…

  • In Notting Hill, it’s the moment when Anna walks into William’s bookshop. Her celebrity life has just intersected with his ‘ordinary’ one. Funnily enough, this event almost isn’t enough to get the story started. Their paths cross, they go their separate ways and, but for William spilling OJ down Anna’s front a few minutes later, they probably never would have met again. But, I doubt that Anna would have agreed to go to William’s flat to change if she hadn’t met him in the bookshop earlier, so I think that first meeting was the story trigger. Thinking of it as a "call to adventure", it's as if they both chicken out a bit the first time and fate needs to give them a helping hand - a second chance.
  • In Pretty Woman, the story trigger is the moment Edward gets lost on Sunset Strip and stops to ask Vivian directions.
  • Interestingly enough, in You’ve Got Mail, Kathleen and Joe have already met – online, so this can’t be the story trigger. I actually think it’s the moment when Fox Books reveal they are going to open a store in Kathleen’s neighbourhood. This event is ultimately going to cause the main characters’ internet lives to clash with their ‘real’ lives. It also raises an interesting question. The audience knows the identity of Kathleen and Joe, even if they don’t, and at this point, they wonder: “Will she ever be able to love him if he puts her out of business?”

Asking a big question is the main job of this turning point. It asks the central story question to which the climax (turning point 5) will be the answer. “Can a ruthless businessman find warmth and love with a cheap prostitute?” “Can a movie star and an ordinary guy have a long-lasting relationship?”

According to Michael Hauge, it’s hard to start a movie with this kind of turning point, but not so in a novel. Some novels work best when the inciting incident occurs right there on page one! Sometimes it needs a bit more setting up than that, but the idea is to not dawdle about at this point. Get the story started and hook that reader in!

1 comment:

Mel said...

My rule of thumb is to have "inciting incident" in the first chapter, preferrably on the first or second page. When I first start the book I always think it's where I started and when I'm done I usually have to cut the first 10 pages.

But I do have to agree, no dragging your feet to get to it.