How to write a great first act for your novel
Hey guys! A while ago I made a post on writing a great first chapter for your novel. I broke down some elements your first chapter should have. If you haven’t checked out the post, you should it's filled with tons of information, after which you should be ready to write a great first chapter.
But there’s only so much you can put in a first chapter. You want to hook your reader with a great first chapter, but you want to keep them interested. For that you need a great rest of the book, but I think we should start with the first act. I plan on making follow up posts like a series to finish your novel by writing the three acts.
So before we get started you should definitely subscribe so you don’t miss out on posts about how to write the other two acts.
1. What does the first act contain?
I think a lot of you have heard of the three act story structure and maybe even used it. It’s one of the most popular story structures for novels out there, and the story beats of the 3 act story structure comes in different names and are a little varied.
Story structure is important, but you don’t have to follow it precisely. The basics of the structure is that your story will have a beginning, a middle and an end.
The basic beats of the first act are as follows:
· The exposition
· Inciting incident
· First plot point
You’ll find different people giving out the three act story structure and they might have more story beats between these. But these are the most important plot points in the first act. You can find percentages for these plot points and get more detailed if you want to, but now I will get into the basics here. Read on to see me breaking down these three story beats:-
2. The exposition
The first act of your novel is where you introduce your reader to your character. If you are writing a series, you’ll have a lot more time for your reader to get to know your characters, but if you drag it on for far too long, you’ll end up boring your reader.
So the exposition is where you’ll introduce your reader to your character and their life. You’ll also want to who your reader the basis of their fears and their desires.
3. The hook
Your hook usually takes place in the exposition, but I’m going to include it here, anyway. A hook is precisely what it sounds like. It is what you use to “hook” your reader to your story.
What should your hook be?
Think about the central part of your story. Is it your characters or your plot? Now if it’s character driven, I’d say your hook should have to do with your characters' fears and conflict and if it’s a plot driven story, your hook should be the central theme of your plot.
4. Inciting incident
You may have heard the inciting incident being referred to as the catalyst. Your inciting incident sets the story in motion. No matter what the genre, this is the beat that sets the story in motion or pushes your characters outside their comfort zone.
Some questions you can ask yourself here are:
· How are my characters' current life? How are they dissatisfied by it?
· What are their goals (the big ones they sometimes won't dare to think of)
· What will it take for them to leave their comfort zone? (Your character won't just walk out of your comfort zone), so what is it that makes them do so? At this point your character is probably too scared to rock the boat and go get what they want.
· Consider their internal conflict and how that affects their current life and fear based decisions.
Before your inciting incident, your character is living a life they are dissatisfied with. But they are too scared to rock the boat and a lot of times they end up convincing themselves they are okay with their “good enough” life. So the inciting incident has to be big (at least to them, based on their conflict). It doesn’t have to be a big fight, it just has to make sense based on your protagonist and their fears and desires. It could be by using someone they care about. The list goes on.
5. First plot point
Now that you’re done with the inciting incident, there’s the first plot point. Your inciting incident is pushing your protagonist out of their comfort zone, and it’s what leads to the first plot point. Now what happens after your protagonist is pushed outside their comfort zone? They either resist or they go with it.
But sometimes the first plot point IS the inciting incident. Sometimes your protagonist will make the choice to do something big for them and this puts them outside their comfort zone and it is also the first major thing that happens.
And other times it’s what happens after the inciting incident. More specifically, it’s the first major thing that happens to your character after the inciting incident. And a very major thing in the first act of your novel.
And that is it for the story beats in the first act of a novel, but I have one more thing for you to consider.
6. Before and after
Before you move onto the next act, look at the beginning of your act and where you are now. Act 1 is the smallest act of your novel, but there are a lot of important things going on. Your inciting incident—by this you push your character outside their comfort zone. And there’s the first plot point. These create a radical difference in your character’s life. Before you move onto the next act, consider how your character’s life has changed. How they cope with everything happening relies on this.
That’s all I have for you today. Be sure to stay tuned for a post on act 2 and 3 too. Don’t forget to like this post if you agree and found it helpful, and subscribe to my website for updates on my blogs, newsletters and freebies.