Kick your story into gear
In every story there comes a moment when the audience has gotten to know your hero and the world they live in. They understand the norms that hero lives with and have an idea of how the hero fits into that world. They know this because you crafted a strong story beginning that hooked your audience and introduce them to a hero through action.
At this point, your audience is ready for something to happen. It’s time to shift gears and move from introducing people and places to the action of your story. This moment is the turning point, when the hero starts to actively pursue their goal, the thing that matters so much that they will take risks to accomplish it.
In terms of pacing, this is usually the moment when things start to move along from action to action with much less description or looking back in between. Unless you have to pause to take a deep dive into important material, most of the story from this point out will consist of one moment of action leading to the next one.
Action isn’t an easy choice
I’ve mentioned before that not all heroes are active. In fact, one of the characteristics of a hero is that they are usually reluctant to accept the challenge presented to them. This is a feature of the hero’s journey and saves our hero from ego, from being unsympathetic characters. The story of the individual who always wanted to succeed and worked hard and never doubted themselves and made it is a boring story.
A hero hesitates, unsure of themselves or their calling or their abilities. They have to be nudged into pursuing their goals, usually through some outside influence. That means a situation that forces them into action like an impending danger or a personal realization that the only way forward in life is to work towards the goal of the story.
Harry Potter doesn’t go looking for an escape from his life with his mean relatives. Hogwarts comes looking for him, first in the form of letters and then in the form of Hagrid beating down the door.
Your hero will eventually have to accomplish great things, but that doesn’t mean that accomplishment is their intention from the beginning of the story. Whether it’s standing up against injustice, responding to an invitation, or accidentally finding themselves in peril (emotional, physical, psychic), your hero will need something to push them towards action, to justify taking action.
Put your hero to work
Now that your hero is trying to get things done, they are going to have to start making things happen. They will have to make choices, take chances, meet people, learn things, and move the story forward.
That makes your hero one busy character. Think of Harry Potter. Whereas the beginning of the movie rambles through an introduction to his life on Privet Drive, from the moment he meets Hagrid and leaves the house on the rock, life seems to happen at breakneck speed. The audience is left feeling trying to take it all in and Harry is, too.
Harry and Hagrid enter the Leaky Cauldron pub and Harry is greeted as a long-lost hero. They can’t stay long enough for a conversation because they have to move on to Diagon Alley, where Harry enters Gringots and discovers he’s got lots of funds before moving on to take care of the craziest list of school supplies ever.
The audience and Harry are pretty much breathless with surprise by the time Harry is dropped off at King’s Cross Station with his mysterious ticket for platform 9 ¾. To emphasize how fast things are moving, when Harry turns to Hagrid for advice, the enormous groundskeeper has managed to disappear.
This isn’t just a lot for the audience to digest. Our hero Harry is encountering everything for the first time as well. He has to learn as fast as he can and also faces some frightening challenges, like running full speed at a brick wall.
These challenges are heavier than making tea and eggs for the family, but through his willingness to give it all a go, Harry shows the audience something about his character. He’s open-minded, curious, and humble.
You hero will also reveal their character through their response to the turning point, to that push to action.
Enter the story world
The turning point marks the point when your hero moves from the ordinary world to the story world. The rules of the story world are different from those of the ordinary world. In a fantasy film these rules might be radically different, such as the use of magic or the fantastic places we see in Harry Potter.
In a reality-based world, it can mean being in a different setting or working with a different set of social or professional rules. Think of the ways the rules for going out to eat become more complicated if it’s a first date or how mixing up a recipe is a different experience if you’re working with volatile chemicals.
In the story world, the regular rules of engagement are different, and your hero’s will have to learn and adapt to them. This period of adaption will make up the beginning of the middle of your story.
More on that next week when I’ll be writing about the middle of your story.
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