Act I / Plotting / Writing

Your Act I Checklist – What to Cover in Your First Act

Everything I’ve ever wanted to know about starting a novel already exists. Unfortunately, it’s probably spread across the world in various formats, covered in opinion, and would require me to spend the next four years of my life committed to compiling all of them. I’d then spend the next year organizing it.

Let’s avoid that entire idea and just say that there are a few solid places to look for information on how to start your novel.

The First Fifty Pages is definitely a good resource, but it wasn’t nearly as pinpointed as I needed. What Gerke does say is that there are a few things that you need to consider when putting together the first fifty pages.

Upfront, let me mention that you’ll be covering at least two sets of beginnings in the first act of your novel. Why?

Because the first thing you’ll need to consider is the difference between your MC’s (Main Character’s) Inner Journey and the External Plot.

Inner Journey is just the emotional change that the MC goes through during the course of the book. External Plot is … everything else. I’ll write an article on exactly what the Inner Journey entails later. Keep an eye out for it.

Since we’re technically working in Act 1, you’re going to need to consider both of these categories. For now, let’s focus on our Act I external checklist.

Act I Don’t Miss List

There are a couple of things that need to happen in Act I:

  1. Introduce Your Main Characters
  2. Introduce the Primary Challenge or Danger of the Novel
  3. Get the Hero to Fully Engage the Main Challenge of the Story

Let’s break that down.

Introduce Your Main Characters.

Any way you go about writing a novel, you’ll have to introduce your main character at some point. (preferably quickly. You know, as in page 1). But How you introduce your main character is important.

Delve into their backstory and figure out what would suit them the most. Create their lives up until this point and then walk in, and start writing down everything that happens from there.

Now once you have an idea of what your MC is doing, we need to introduce the rest of the main characters.

Other main characters, M?

Other main characters, lovelies. You know, the villain, the love interest, close friends, the boss, team members, family members, etc. Introduce the people who will direct the flow of the novel in a major way and are reoccurring characters.

Now don’t get confused and think you can’t introduce important people in Act 2, but just keep in mind you don’t want the new guy in the group to save everyone at the most intense moment of the novel. Your readers are going to be wondering why they weren’t following that guy’s story the entire time. Did they just waste their time with everything else?

Introduce the Primary Challenge or Danger

Ah, danger. A tool near and dear to every writer’s heart. Our job is to create tension. Know how? Make readers feel things for characters and then hurt them. Hurt them real bad. It’s up to you whether you decide to fix things from there, but that’s not why we’re still here.

If I haven’t been told what the big problem for a novel is by the time I’m in Act 2, then I’m out. No foreshadowing it. Don’t fuck with my head. If you put it in your blurb, you damn well better start it in Act I. Don’t make me come after you.

Readers are lazy. We don’t want to sit through a bunch of stuff and wait to be pulled in to the main action.

We want to sit in our little boats and be yanked down the river of words and into dangerous places. I’m not about to climb a mountain just to find the dangerous place. The CLIMB WAS DANGEROUS (for my health). Seriously, don’t make your reader have to wait and wait for you to get to the point. You’ll lose them.

Hero Takes The Challenge

As the reader, we’ve been waiting for this moment. ‘Yes, Gandalf. I will journey with your group of strange men and go see a dragon and some shiny stuff.’ Because once we start the journey, we want to know what we’ll see along the way.

The MC has to accept the problem as their own and walk right into it. It gets the obvious hurdle out of the way, and now the readers want to know what’s going to happen next. The world is wide and the problem is dangerous, so what’s going to happen along the way?

Look at that! We’ve got a list!

  1. Introduce your main characters
  2. Introduce your primary challenge
  3. MC must accept the challenge.

There you go! Keep an eye out for the article on writing your first page and the Inner Journey.

Keep writing, Lovelies



Donna Blauvelt
January 21, 2019 at 8:43 PM

Very good points. If I ever wanted to write a novel, then I know where to start. Now I just need a main character.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What Type of Writer are You?

January 27, 2019