The Set Up

Even as I write this, I can totally hear the miniature version of Pot sitting on my shoulder saying “This is all good and well, Kettle, but when are you going to write the trials?”

Go make a cake, Pot, and let me muse.

I am one scene away from the dreaded trials, still unsure exactly what’s going to happen in the next 3-4 scenes.  So what do I do?  No, for once, I’m not off plotting some new adventure (bully to me, right?).  I started looking over my listing of scenes, particularly Act 1.  Or, more specifically, the stuff that comes before the First Plot Point (to use Larry Brooks‘ terminology).  I know, I’ve been mentioning him a lot lately, and at the risk of sounding all fan-girl, his approach to story architecture is genius and will change your writing life.  Anyway, I’ll take a moment to direct you to the relevant article on The Set Up.  Read it?  Ok good.

Now, later on in his fabulous series, Larry gives us this great little worksheet of stuff we need to know.   I’ve been going through today and trying to answer these questions for both my hero and heroine:

How does your story open?  Is there an immediate hook?  And then…

  • what is the hero doing in their life before the first plot point?
  • what stakes are established prior to the first plot point?
  • what is your character’s backstory?
  • what inner demons show up here that will come to bear on the hero later in the story?
  • what is foreshadowed prior to the first plot point?

The thing that I realized is that as it stands now, the setup is all about Marley.  Which wouldn’t be a bad thing if this wasn’t a romance novel and the hero is supposed to get equal face-time.  I only have ONE scene in Conall’s POV before the First Plot Point (hereafter the FPP).  I don’t do anything to REALLY show what his life is like before the FPP.  I don’t really show much in the way of inner demons or backstory.  I have no idea what the stakes are for him.  All I really manage to do for him in the set up is introduce him, give a hook, and have him meet Marley.

Apart from that glaring hole at the end of Act 3, this may be the gnawing sense I’ve had of something missing.  So over lunch today I did some thinking about what I could do with the front end of this story, where I could start it, what sort of scenes I could insert that would give us those things for Conall, show us better what his life is like before the FPP.  What I’ve thought up I kind of like, though it would mean we don’t even get a hint of Marley until Chapter 3.  As a reader, would that annoy you not to meet both the hero and heroine in the first couple of chapters? I’m sure there are other options that haven’t occurred to me yet, and I’m not sure that this first thought is the best one.

Whatever I decide to do, I’m not rushing off to do it right this second instead of pushing forward (i.e. jumping off the cliff that is the great unknown of the next few scenes).  But it’s definitely something I want to address in revisions.

3 thoughts on “The Set Up

  1. I did that same thing in my first blog serial – my hero didn’t get enough “face time” (good term), and at least one of my regular readers ended up not understanding his motivations (because I didn’t show them soon enough), and ended up hating him, even though he was “redeemed” in the end. I’m currently editing that to add more scenes from his POV, so that hopefully his motivations are far more understandable right from the beginning.

    So yeah, I think it’s really, really important that heroes are given enough time right from the start. It’s difficult to impossible to gain back the reader’s sympathies otherwise.

  2. Here’s a thought – not to feed procrastination or anything, but . . . maybe you should write at least some of that front bit before launching into the trials. It was reading over the bit about demons that might come back to haunt that set bells ringing for me. Maybe finding out what those demons are will help you to craft that journey – that could just be where the demons spring up, and it might lead to the missing pieces in the trial. So you don’t spend two weeks on it, but a few hours might give you the direction you need. It would serve to connect your front end and back in a solid structure, as well as giving you something to work with.

    I wouldn’t find it annoying not to meet the heroine for several chapters, AS LONG AS the hero’s story was compelling enough for me to care about him without the romance to help it along.

    1. That’s totally what I told the not-miniature version of Pot when she predictably said “I’m really impressed with how far you’ll go to avoid writing the trials.” It did occur to me that the front should connect to the back and right now it doesn’t. After a little brainstorming, I came up with a few other scenes I can write that don’t go back to far and will keep the hero and heroine fairly back and forth equal through the set up, so I’m pretty sure I’m happy with that. At the moment, I’m going through my draft making notes on where and what to add, as well as places to be sure and weave in some of the threads that have come out as things that should go through the entire piece.

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