Act One

Structure-v2It was Chekov who said:

If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.

I’m pretty sure he didn’t say it in English, but whatever. It’s the thought that counts. The message he was trying to impart was to have only the essentials in the story. But the opposite is just as true.

So it will be Tony who said:

Whatever the hell you do, don’t produce a rifle in Act Three that wasn’t at least hinted at in Act One.

Act One is your foundation. All of your main characters need to be introduced in Act One. An introduction can be a mention in passing, but that’s still an introduction. Character traits critical to the resolution need to be referenced, again, even if just in passing. If your hero has the ability to whip a 98 mph fastball and does so to bean a baddie in the head to bring him down in the last act, there better be a mention of his baseball experience in Act One. Seriously.

If you recall in the broad overview of story structure, Act One ends with the First Plot Point, the thing which pushes our hero out of their status quo. So we need, in Act One, to establish exactly what that status quo is.

Act One is also where your Inciting Incident lives.

(Some places call what *I* call the First Plot Point the Inciting Incident. For clarity, I always call the incident early in Act One that sets up the First Plot Point, the Inciting Incident. That’s probably confused you all as much as it has me. Anywho, back to it.)

Best way to explain the Inciting Incident is to give a few examples:

Witness: The Inciting Incident is when young Samuel (a still not ugly Lucas Haas) witnesses the murder in the bathroom at the train station. It sets up the discovery of the identity of the killer. The First Plot Point is Book (Harrison Ford) discovering that the killer is a cop.

Hanna: It’s a pretty cold status quo for Hanna, learning how to survive for one sole purpose. The Inciting Incident is Hanna flipping the switch on the beacon, luring Marissa Wiegler (for reasons that become clear – to some – closer to the end of the movie). Lured she is, and Hanna is held in a secure facility and bam, the first plot point, when she meets Marissa Wiegler for the first time. And kills her (and anybody who gets in her way).

A final one for now,

Knight and Day: Key to this exercise is knowing who’s story it is. In Knight and Day, it’s June Haven’s story (Cameron Diaz). She’s the one with the arc, and she’s the one who in the end saves the day. Her status quo has her getting on a flight to her sister’s wedding. The Inciting Incident is the fight on the plane (which she isn’t even aware of, since she’s in the loo at the time). She then becomes the target of the black hats and when she’s in the SUV (and is “safe”), her life is thrown off-kilter (and out of her status quo) when the shooter targets the vehicle. That’s her First Plot Point. Up to then, everything that happened was something she could adjust her world view to.

More on the first half of Act Two later. Happy writing!