Write a better plot, step 10: The beginning

When you look at the title of today’s video from Martha Alderson (aka, the Plot Whisperer), it may seem that this should be Step 1. After all, this is about how to plot the beginning. Actually, the videos that came before this have simply laid the foundation for a well-plotted beginning. Now that we know about major and secondary plot lines, the setting for the beginning, the exotic world, and the climax, we can craft a better beginning for our stories.

One of the most important ideas I gleaned from this video is that:

A story is really a character arc.

That’s what it’s all about. The beginning of the story is the beginning of the character’s journey through that arc.

When we’re writing a novel, we always have to start somewhere. I’ve found that the beginning scene is often just that: a place to start. I try not to get too attached to it. Once I’ve written the rest of the novel, it will most likely require a different beginning. What’s key is that the final beginning scene shows a character in need of growth.

In the movie ‘How to Train Your Dragon,’ Hiccup’s need is almost too obvious. He wants to be just like everyone else, to be a fighting Viking, to be one of the tribe that fights off dragons. The problem with Hiccup, and we see this in the beginning scene, is that his methods don’t fit in with the tribe’s traditions. We also see, very early, that he doesn’t have the will to kill a dragon. There’s the internal conflict right there, the urge to be part of his tribe vs. his natural disposition.

The beginning scene lets us see where Hiccup needs to grow and what he needs to reconcile.

In ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ Frodo begins as an ordinary hobbit, with no great talent or attribute. None of the hobbits have any sort of greatness in them. (Okay, Bilbo does, but the story isn’t really about him.) Frodo’s beginning scenes shows him content, happy and without a care in the world. Except for Bilbo’s tales, the outside world doesn’t seem to exist for Frodo. But from the prelude, we know the serenity of life in Hobbiton will be disrupted. And so, we see the beginning of Frodo’s arc from an ordinary, unheroic little being to the ring-bearer who saves Middle-Earth.

So now, as you’re pre-plotting your novel, list several scenes that you can use to show the beginning of your character’s arc. What does he need? Where does she need to grow? Think of scenes from which you can launch these areas of growth in your main character.


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