The first quarter of your story, or first 20-25%, constitutes the introduction to your story.
Everything that appears in the first act needs to have a role somewhere in the story.
For example, the gun presented in the first act will have to be fired somewhere in the story.
The train that vibrates along the rails down the house will have to derail or crush someone or take away someone very important. The neighbor who dies in the first act will have to come back to haunt the protagonist.
Everything in the first act has to play a role and foreshadows the rest of the story.
Here is a checklist of things not to omit:
- Introduce the places where most of the action takes place. In the Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson, the major places where the action happens is introduced early on: the school for the regular students, the rithmatists’ school, the dormitories, the teachers’ offices, the principal’s office, Joel’s apartment, and the cafeteria. Draw a map of the places where the action happens.
- The MC’s beliefs because they are going to be challenged throughout the novel and strengthened.
- Show the MC in a typical moment from the first page, to reveal who he really is. Joel in Rithmatist is introduced tracing chalklings on the ground. His dilemma is that he wants to be one of the rithmatists, but cannot be one of them. He obsesses over this. His obsession drives all the story and the major theme of the novel. In Time Snatchers by Richard Ungar, Caleb is portrayed as preparing to steal a flag. His occupation is being a thief.
- Make sure character development comes before the action. A story is about the characters before it is about the plot. In Time Snatchers, Caleb is not introduced snatching a flag on the get go, but preparing for it, then doing it. In Harry Potter, nothing happens before the world is well established and the characters appear vivid in our minds. In Paranormalcy by Kiersten White, Evie is introduced arresting a vampire, which is her job, but before we see her in action, the author takes the time to introduce her likes and dislikes. So introduce your MC as a person before you introduce her as a hero. Do the same with all your characters.
- Portray a character worthy of the reader's love, interest, admiration. Make sure the reader thinks your character is worthy of the time their are going to spend with him or her. That’s why it is a good idea to describe the normal, ordinary world before getting into the fantasy world. The character is the person who makes us want to read, not the world, not the action.
- Show that what’s at stake is the protagonist’s life, future or destiny. It will be a death, either the death of one's career, a physical death or a psychological death, but the stakes have to be that high.
- Take time to build an interesting character that will fascinate, excite or passionate your audience. Give him quirks and unexpected ticks or habits. Small details make real. Give the hero a pet or a fetish object. Make sure you include cultural traits and how they influence the hero as well as behaviors infuenced by gender and age. Give each character a special way of talking.
- Take time to develop your characters because people are interesting, not events on their own. Make them three-dimensional. Make sure they oppose or comlete each other. Give them positive and negative traits or give them the negative side of their qualities. Someone effective and brilliant might be impatient with ignorant or lazy people. In Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes, the protagonist is a very good craftsman and can be arrogant because of his exceptional gift. He will have to fight his weakness throughout the novel. He also meet other characters who are the opposite of him, who contrast him.
- Introduce your protagonist before any other character, and give him a distinctive name on your first page.
- Introduce your antagonist early. In Time Snatchers, Frank steals from Caleb in the first chapter and proves he is a worthy opponent from the start.
- Introduce all the people in the MC’s life: love interest, friend, mentor, etc. And keep them to a strict minimum. Make sure the reader has time to put a name on a person. And stay consistent with the one single name you give each character: do not add code names, nicknames, ranks, etc. Bloody Susan cannot be at the same time the Duchess of Easton and agent 61. Prepare your cast carefully and think about how many times they will appear in your story. Make sure their names are not similar, do not rhyme or start with the same letter to avoid confusions. Do not give them the name of seasons because it's hard to tell what you are talking about.
- Introduce the stakes clearly: what matters to your MC more than anything, and what threatens it. And also, what he wants more than anything in the world and what he is ready to sacrifice big for. And raise the stakes. Joel wants to be a rithmatist, but he lost his chance to be one many years ago, he cannot get the chalklings to come to life, the teachers refuse to teach him, he is failing his classes and might be expulsed from school, the librarian does not let him check out books on rithmacy, and so on and so forth throughout the book. If the MC loves something or someone, make sure it is taken away from him.
KM Weiland. Structuring your Story.
James Scott Bell. Super Structure.