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What Is A Fictional Flashback?

Flashbacks can be extremely effective tools when it comes to telling your story.  You may have read advice to avoid them if possible - yet good flashbacks can reveal backstory, and they can surprise and delight readers, while giving authors the freedom to tell story events out of chronological order. So why are some people lukewarm about them?   It’s all about technique. As with so many elements of writing, flashbacks can work brilliantly if used well, but can ruin your story when used incorrectly.   If you’re considering whether your book will benefit from one or many flashbacks, this guide will help you understand their uses and teach you how to use flashbacks effectively in your writing.  Purpose Of A Flashback Authors don’t always want to show the reader the scenes in the order they happened. There can be many reasons we want to play with time:  We don’t want to bombard a reader with detailed information too early – we want the reader to get hooked by the characters or situation first. We are holding back a key plot point for a twist, or the ‘shock factor’. We want to draw comparison between the past and the present – to show irony, or character growth.  There may be character backstory that only becomes relevant partway through the story – if shared too early, the reader won’t understand the relevance.  We generally use flashbacks in literature, not to dwell on what happened in the past, but to provide insight into a character and their decision-making in the present.   For instance, a flashback helps a reader learn it’s because a character was bullied in high school that they are oversensitive to a throwaway comment now. Or that a character is reluctant to believe what her father is saying in the present, because we see from the past he has a history of lying to her.   Flashbacks are a way of illustrating this link between past and present, but the best flashbacks do more than this. They work on multiple levels, enhancing knowledge of plot and character.  Flashback Examples In Fiction Many novels flip between past and present timelines, such as The House at Riverton by Kate Morton or The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell in contemporary literature, or The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad in classic fiction.  See how Conrad uses this line of dialogue to trigger a reminiscence in Heart of Darkness:   “We looked on, waiting patiently—there was nothing else to do till the end of the flood; but it was only after a long silence, when he said, in a hesitating voice, “I suppose you fellows remember I did once turn fresh-water sailor for a bit,” that we knew we were fated, before the ebb began to run, to hear about one of Marlow’s inconclusive experiences.”   In My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite we see flashback being used in a seamless way:   “According to family lore, the first time I laid eyes on Ayoola I thought she was a doll.”   The description that follows, of Ayoola as an innocent baby, adds a layer of irony to Ayoola’s willingness to murder in the present.  How To Write A Flashback In Fiction The key to managing a flashback technically well is to ensure the reader always knows ‘where’ and ‘when’ they are in a story, by giving the reader timing prompts, to clearly differentiate past and present.  There are several ways you can do this, and they can be used alone, or in conjunction with each other:  1. Using Headers There are many novels which tell stories over two timelines, often in alternating chapters headed something like ‘Then’ and ‘Now’, to orientate the reader. These ‘Then’ chapters operate as a series of flashbacks. Novels which flashback to more than one timeline can use different headers like ‘2008’ or ‘Earlier That Day’.  This is the most straightforward way of writing flashbacks – it’s neat and tidy, and the headings make it clear for the reader where they are.  This can be used in conjunction with: 2. Changing Tense Many novels use the technique of changing tenses – with ‘Now’ sections told in the present tense and ‘Then’ sections told in past tense.   In Mhairi McFarlane’s Don’t you Forget About Me, one chapter’s ‘Now’ section ends with:   “It’s also the first time I’d been near a funeral since my dad’s, twelve years ago.”   There is then a line space before:   “When I was fifteen or so, my mum pinned the order of service for her cousin Janet, a physiotherapist in Swansea, to the corkboard in the kitchen.”   In the final line of the previous section “it’s” is in the present tense. There’s a line space, then “pinned” is past tense.   This is a simple technique for stories told in the present tense – but changing tenses can also be used for stories told in the past tense. Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny uses ‘had\'s – past present tense – to show the story is moving into flashback:  “Jane’s memory of the night of the accident was patchy. She remembered Luke driving her to the hospital in Petoskey to see her mother in the ER. The sight of her mother sitting on a gurney with her left arm in a sling, her large leonine face looking so slack and old, had caused Jane to burst into tears. Her mother had turned to her and held out her good hand. “Don’t cry, dearheart,’ she said. “I’m okay.””  One tip many writers who write in past tense use for flashbacks is to place a past present tense description – he had jumped, he had eaten – in the first and last lines of a flashback, to indicate the section starting and finishing. They then write the rest of the section in plain past tense, the same as the rest of the novel. This technique is invisible to a general reader – but it works!  3. Framing Techniques Your character could see a photograph or hear specific line of dialogue to prompt reminiscing, and then the reader is taken to a flashback scene. A timely doorbell or someone entering the room can break the spell and trigger your narrator back to the present.   In the example from Mhairi McFarlane’s, Don’t Forget About Me, McFarlane ends this flashback section with “I return to these memories reluctantly. Then I push them away again. It’s like forcing too many things into a cupboard and using the door to keep them jammed in.”   This is a framing technique, showing the character has ended their reminiscence. Why Have I Read Advice Saying Authors Shouldn’t Use Flashbacks? There is a lot of writing advice out there, and you can find people arguing for and against pretty much anything! And flashbacks, in particular, get a bad rap.   As with most elements of writing, there is no absolute right or wrong – just personal preferences, and ways of doing things effectively, or ineffectively.   The main reason some people dissuade new authors from using flashbacks is that a flashback is always backstory. If not earned and relevant, it can slow story pace – so we need to use caution. We want our readers to be desperate to turn the page to find out what happens next – yet we are delaying their gratification by moving out of the present to a completely different scene. No reader likes to be pushed away from the action. This is why it’s so important to ensure your flashback is done well and has earned its place in the text.   Questions To Ask Yourself When Deciding Whether To Use A Flashback Is your flashback relevant and directly related to the main plot? Does the reader need to see this scene? Can the scene be cut without the story losing coherence?  Could you share this information easily another way – in a line of dialogue, for example?  Is this the right place for a flashback? Are your readers invested in your story enough at this point to be willing to take a change of pace? Have you earned the reader’s interest enough to start playing around with chronology? Is your flashback clear to follow? Is your reader able to clearly intuit where they are in the timeline of the story? Do you have too many flashbacks? Are you risking irritating the reader by repeatedly interrupting them, and not giving them enough forward momentum in the present? Is the flashback scene exciting in its own right? Does it contain internal or external conflict, as well as providing backstory?  Does your scene work on multiple levels? Does it advance character and plot and read well?   After All That, Are Flashbacks For You? They may be, and they may not. A lot of it comes down to the story you are trying to tell, and your preferences.   Some authors write for their whole careers without using a single flashback but, for those of us who want to bend story time for narrative purposes, they are a crucial tool. Flashbacks are powerful story elements, and sparingly and effectively used, they can really benefit your writing.   Good luck!  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

What Is Chekhov’s Gun?

You may have heard of Chekhov, and you may even have heard of his gun, but what does that have to do with storytelling and plotting a novel? In this comprehensive article we will teach you everything you need to know about Chekhov’s Gun (with examples), and explore similar literary principles and devices. What Does Chekhov’s Gun Mean? The principle of Chekhov’s Gun (sometimes called Chekhov’s Law or Chekhov’s Gun Law) is not to introduce anything that won’t eventually be important to the plot. This principle not only helps writers cut down on extraneous and unnecessary details in their stories, but ensures readers will be satisfied by the end. Drawing attention to something that doesn’t have any significance to the story can frustrate the reader and waste precious words in your novel. Essentially, the principle enables writers to generate clear plots by considering the significance of everything they mention in their story, and tackles the over-symbolism in literature. (The exception to the rule is a red herring – but we’ll look at that a little bit later on.) So who was Chekhov and why is everyone so interested in his gun? History of Chekhov’s Gun Chekhov’s Gun is a dramatic principle that, unsurprisingly, comes from Anton Chekhov - a Russian playwright and short story-writer in the late 1800s. While Chekhov leaves behind a great literary and theatrical legacy, he is probably most well-known for this dramatic principle. In a letter to Aleksandr Semenovich, Chekhov once said: One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn\'t going to go off. It\'s wrong to make promises you don\'t mean to keep. Similarly, he once wrote: Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it\'s not going to be fired, it shouldn\'t be hanging there. Intended as advice for young playwrights, this principle is still widely cited and utilised today. Chekhov used this principle in his play, The Seagull, where there is a literal gun that gets introduced at the start and then fired at the end (hence the name given to the principle). In Act One, Konstantin Treplyev uses a rifle to kill a seagull. In the final act, Konstantin uses that rifle to kill himself. Significance is placed on the rifle in the beginning which draws the audience’s attention to the item, and then the rifle has significant impact at the climax of the play. The audience is satisfied, there are no loose ends, and the principle has done its job. Chekhov’s Gun vs Foreshadowing If you get the concept of Chekhov’s Gun and foreshadowing confused then you aren’t alone. Though they have similarities, they do also have some big differences. Chekhov’s Gun is the dramatic principle whereby the writers won’t make ‘false promises’. That you must only draw attention to something if its significance will be revealed later in the story. Foreshadowing is the literary device where the writer drops hints that the reader will probably overlook until the end, or even until a second read through. This can be something fairly innocuous that hints at a bigger plot development later on. Though Chekhov’s Gun is a form of foreshadowing, the ‘gun’ (item, person, etc) has a direct impact on the plot by the end of the story. While traditional foreshadowing merely hints at the outcome of the plot rather than having a direct influence. Let’s look at an example: In Othello there are examples of both Chekhov’s Gun and foreshadowing. Desdemona’s handkerchief acts as the ‘gun’ here. In Act III Desdemona drops her handkerchief. Iago later finds it and uses it to trick Othello into believing Desdemona has been unfaithful. This is an example of Chekhov’s Gun – Shakespeare draws significant attention to Desdemona’s dropped handkerchief, which then plays a crucial role at a critical moment of the plot. Foreshadowing appears in the play when Desdemona sings a song to her maidservant about a lover who goes mad. This foreshadows the outcome of the play as Othello, Desdemona’s husband, descends into madness and kills her. This moment drops hints for the climax of the plot, but does not have any influence on the plot. How is Chekhov’s Gun Used in Writing? In order to achieve the principle of Chekhov’s Gun there are certain things you need to do as a writer. 1. You must first set up the ‘gun’. The ‘gun’ can be anything potentially impactful in your story, such as an object, a character, an event, or a place. 2. To set up the ‘gun’ you should draw attention to it early in your story, giving it significance and ensuring the reader notices it. You can draw attention to this item multiple times if you wish between the initial introduction and the conclusion of the story, but that’s up to author preference. 3. To round off this principle, the ‘gun’ must then ‘go off’. The item must return by the end of the book and have a significant impact to the conclusion of the story. The item must play a crucial role in order to truly achieve the principle of Chekhov’s Gun. The exceptions to this rule are red herrings and MacGuffins. Red Herring: The exception to the rule of not introducing or emphasising anything that won’t be significant to the plot is the red herring. A red herring is something that distracts from the true plot, and makes the reader guess at the conclusion (it must still be plausible). Red herrings are often used in thrillers, crime stories, and whodunnits, when the author wants to highlight something which makes the reader think it’s significant to the plot, when in actuality it’s there to distract and trick the reader. This literary device is most commonly used in novels where the reader is busy ‘sleuthing’ and purposely looking for clues. It should be noted that a red herring should still have some casual impact on the story, but not significant. The dead ends can’t be haphazardly placed with no tie-in with the overall plot. Red herrings are very common within Agatha Christie novels, particularly And Then There Were None. Ten people are invited to an island under mysterious circumstances, and are killed one by one. There are several convincing red herrings throughout the novel that lead the reader to guess the killer, but each time the new prime suspect is killed. Christie achieves the ultimate plot twist by having the actual murderer \'die\' earlier on in the novel (a death he faked so convincingly that neither the characters nor readers doubt it), so when the reveal occurs it ends up being a twist that no one could have guessed. MacGuffin: MacGuffin is a plot device which many claim is the opposite of Chekhov’s Gun. It’s an object, event, or character that serves to set and keep the plot in motion but actually lacks significance to the outcome. This is usually a goal or object of desire for the protagonist, but whether or not it is achieved has no influence on the plot. An excellent example of a MacGuffin is the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. It seems of vital importance to the characters but the object inside the briefcase is never revealed to the audience so the object is of little actual consequence to the plot. How Chekhov’s Gun can be effective in a series: Used effectively, Chekhov’s Gun creates a cyclical and satisfying conclusion to a story. If you were to follow the Save The Cat plotting beats, for example, Chekhov’s Gun would go off in the last 10% of the book and mirror the first 10% of the novel (either through setting, actions, theme, or dialogue – but with a twist). This way the reader/audience is happy, there are no loose ends, and the plot makes sense. This principle has been used in books and on screen since its inception. Not only can this literary principle be used in standalone novels and movies, but also as part of a series. If an item is mentioned in book one, then by book 3 you expect it to come into play again. The same principles that work within one story, can work across a number of novels in a series. Let’s look at some examples of Chekhov’s Gun in books and on screen. 5 Book Examples of Chekhov’s Gun Great Expectations In Dickens’ Great Expectations, the ‘gun’ is the character Magwitch. He is introduced significantly at the start of the novel due to his interactions with Pip. Enough mystery surrounds him that the reader is interested in his story, but then many years pass and he isn’t mentioned again. When it’s finally revealed that Magwitch has been Pip’s financial supporter this is an unexpected but satisfying twist. The reader has forgotten about this character in the interim but the second he is revealed we instantly remember him again. The use of Chekhov’s Gun here, the initial spotlight on Magwitch and then the big reveal, is both shocking but satisfying to the reader. The perfect plot twist. Ready Player One In Ready Player One, the ‘gun’ is a coin. Specifically, the 1981 Quarter Artefact that protagonist Wade Watts collects from a Pac-Man machine after playing a perfect game. He takes the coin and doesn’t think about it again. There is enough emphasis placed on this moment that the reader remembers it, but not enough that they guess the climax of the book. The coin turns out to be an extra life which enables Watts’ avatar to survive an explosion and continue his quest. This brings about the conclusion of the story and ties up all loose ends in a satisfying way. All the elements of the story were relevant and essential to the plot. The Hunger Games In The Hunger Games, the ‘gun’ is Katniss’ knowledge of poisonous plants. This demonstrates how the ‘gun’ doesn’t have to be an object but can be a character trait. This knowledge is explained and emphasised multiple times throughout the novel, and its significance is revealed at the climax of the novel as she uses poisonous berries to trick the Capitol into releasing both her and Peeta. A Gentleman in Moscow In Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow, the ‘gun’ is a pair of duelling pistols. Count Rostov discovers a pair of duelling pistols hidden behind a wall in the hotel manager’s office. The significance of this discovery is revealed in the climax of the novel as Rostov uses one of the pistols to intimidate the Bishop into destroying secret files on the employees of the hotel, and locks him up in order to resume his plan to escape. The reader already knows about the pistols, and so it makes sense when Rostov later uses one in order to escape. Harry Potter The Harry Potter series contains multiple examples of Chekhov’s Gun, which Rowling utilises within individual books and across the series as a whole. Examples include the mention of bezoar in Harry’s first potions class which is later used in Book 6 to save Ron when he drinks poisoned mead. Also in Book 1 is the introduction of the Snitch caught in Harry’s first Quidditch match which becomes significant again in the final book as the hiding place for the resurrection stone. These are just two of many Chekhov Gun examples occurring within the series. It’s satisfying to the reader when the solution to a problem involves something that we’ve seen before. 5 Screen Examples of Chekhov’s Gun The Shawshank Redemption There are multiple examples of a ‘gun’ within The Shawshank Redemption, namely a poster, rock hammer, and bible. These objects are highlighted when they’re introduced at the beginning of the movie but seem fairly innocuous at the time. Andy requests a poster of Rita Hayworth, supposedly because he’s lonely, a rock hammer for his boredom as he likes rock carving, and a bible, which wouldn’t raise any eyebrows. These items actually have another use which we find out at the climax of the film. The rock hammer is used to dig a tunnel out of his cell (and he hides the hammer in the bible), with the escape tunnel covered by the poster. The reveal is both shocking and satisfying to the audience. The items are only ever alluded to as for their false use, and none of the other characters even know their real use, so when the twist is revealed it has the required effect on the audience. Breaking Bad In the Breaking Bad episode “Box Cutter” the ‘gun’ is, surprise surprise, a box cutter. At the beginning of the episode we see the box cutter, which is then later used as a weapon by Gus to kill Victor. It’s an ordinary object that you wouldn’t be surprised to see in the setting, so the climax is shocking to the audience. The Lost Boys In The Lost Boys the ‘gun’ is the antlers and fence post in the protagonists’ Grandpa’s house. He has a taxidermy collection so the antlers on the wall are unsurprising, and he’s building a fence in the garden with wooden posts, which are appropriate to both the character and setting and, once again, appear completely innocuous. These items are focused on early in the movie, but disregarded by the audience because they simply appear to serve as character building. Yet these items are key to the climax of the movie. Michael, the protagonist, defeats David, a vampire, by impaling him on the antlers, and the head vampire is killed by one of the fence posts as the Grandpa drives through the building and the post flies off the hood of his Jeep. The solution to their problem was highlighted right at the start of the movie, but no one would have guessed – least of all the audience! Shaun of the Dead In Shaun of the Dead, the ‘gun’ is an actual gun – the Winchester rifle. At the start of the film Shaun and Ed are arguing about whether the Winchester rifle mounted above the bar in the Winchester pub is real. Later on in the film Shaun uses the gun to hit the zombified pub owner and it goes off, proving not only that it is a real gun, but its significance is highlighted as it ends up playing a crucial role in Shaun defending himself. Signs In M Night Shyamalan’s Signs, the ‘gun’ is represented by glasses of water and Morgan’s asthma. Graham’s daughter Bo leaves glasses of water around the house (she believes the water is contaminated after being left so gets a new glass each time she wants a drink.) At the climax of the movie they discover that the invading aliens are vulnerable to water, and the significance of these glasses of water becomes immediately apparent in defeating the attacking aliens. Similarly Morgan’s asthma, alluded to in many ordinary ways throughout the film, has a massive significance in saving his life at the climax of the film. His airways are closed due to an attack, meaning he is unable to inhale the toxic gas from the alien and survives the murder attempt. Both of these things (the glasses of water and the asthma) are innocuous and ordinary so it’s surprising to the audience when they end up having a big impact on the plot. Conclusion Having outlined the importance of Chekhov’s Gun in storytelling, we hope you are now confident to utilise this literary principle in your own writing. Go ahead and create an exciting and satisfying cyclical plot for your readers, and remember to cut out extraneous and unnecessary detail in your story. Remember – if you shine a spotlight on something at the beginning of your story, make sure it helps save the day at the end! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Driving The Story: Internal Vs. External Conflict

You can’t have a story without conflict. But what types of conflict should your characters be dealing with? Will it be the bad guys that get between them and their end goal – or will they be the ones standing in their own way?  This internal vs. external conflict debate may sound unnecessary, and some writers simply choose to ignore it, however injecting various types of conflict in your story can be incredibly useful and makes for a deeper (and more tension-filled) story.   There’s a general misconception that a literary fiction novel can’t have external conflict and a fast-paced thriller can’t have internal conflict – that commercial work is all about action, and ‘deeper’ books are more character-driven. That is simply not true.   Before we delve into this discussion, let’s establish what constitutes internal and external conflict - or indeed, conflict itself.  What Is Conflict? Conflict is the stuff of drama. It’s the main reason people read books. Nobody is interested in a protagonist that’s like a cork bobbing aimlessly in the water. No. Readers want to root for a protagonist that has some sort of aim in life, stakes that are high and difficult to achieve. To be more specific, a book character needs motivation and the drive to achieve something. The obstacles that arise to prevent that from happening are conflict and they only make us root for the protagonist harder.   There’s a reason why plot-driven series like The Hunger Games and Divergent are so popular. They provide us with solid main characters who are thrust into an inhospitable environment and are asked to survive through them. With plenty of obstacles thrown in their way (be it people trying to kill them, or trauma from their past preventing them from moving on), it makes for popcorn-worthy entertainment. For the same reason, film franchises like Jurassic World, Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings have enduring appeal.   Conflict is what makes a story world compelling and a book ‘unputdownable’. If a conflict is weak then so is the story. The more complex and hard to resolve the issue is, the better the story. The best conflicts are an amalgamation of internal and external conflicts.  So what’s the difference between internal and external conflict?   Internal Conflict In simple terms, internal conflict pertains to a character’s fight with the self. This internal struggle tells us a great deal about the kind of person they are. In the film The Woman in the Window, the main character, Anna Fox, suffers from agoraphobia which makes it near impossible for her to venture out of her house. That is internal conflict. It’s this which drives the story forward. Everything that happens in the film basically revolves around Anna’s agoraphobia.  It’s incorrect to say internal conflict only exists in literary fiction. Sure, it can help in exploring the various nuances of a character, but it can also be vital in pushing the story forward. The Woman in the Window is a psychological thriller that thrives on the main character’s internal conflict. Similarly, in Anna Karenina, we have an example of internal conflict in yet another character called Anna. Unhappy in her marriage, she falls in love with a man she can’t have. Her internal struggle is part of the novel’s enduring appeal. External Conflict External conflicts arise when things happen that are out of the character’s control and how they affect their life and prevent them from achieving whatever they want.  External conflict is plot-driven and thus is used to great effect in thrillers and action novels. However, that isn’t to say that external conflict has no use in character-driven novels. In Anna Karenina, her society is one of the reasons Anna can’t be with the man she loves. This is a great external conflict example that appears to be a lot more internal. In the Jurassic World franchise, the conflict doesn’t only arise between the main characters, but mostly due to rampaging dinosaurs being an integral part of the plot. The franchise shows us how, despite every precaution being taken, life itself is difficult to control.  Turning to YA literature, The Hunger Games offers an excellent example of external conflict. Survival is in jeopardy when Katniss Everdeen takes her sister’s place for the games that are held on the order of the Capital. Whatever action she takes against the external forces she’s forced to deal with determine her survival. The Difference Between Internal And External Conflict Internal vs external conflicts can be more nuanced than this, but here’s a handy reference to distinguish between the two…  Internal: Psychological, emotional, and the past: fears, mental health, trauma, social conditioning and self-doubt.  External: People/animals/monsters who are out to get your character, an inhospitable landscape, and events out of their control.  Adding Conflict To Your Writing There’s no better way to move a story forward than to create conflict between characters, their environment, or their internal angst. Without anything to overcome there’s no hero.  Conflict can take many forms, but it can mostly be categorised into two camps: internal and external. A novel that possesses both forms of literary conflict affords readers a well-rounded view of not only the characters but also of the story world and overall theme.   There are plenty of examples of novels that have both. Some that come to mind are: The House at Riverton by Kate Morton, Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, The Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood and The Corset by Laura Purcell.   Remember, conflict isn’t only about fistfights and weapons causing widespread destruction. Conflict can be as simple as a person applying for a job and the insecurity they might feel from the other participants.   Let’s take a look at how we can add conflict to our work in more subtle ways.  Dialogue Arguments between characters, not to mention those powerful one-liners, are what drive conflict. Dialogue is often considered one of the best devices for introducing immediate conflict. By applying the old adage ‘Show Don’t Tell’, instead of telling us a character is mean, it’s better to show them being unkind through mannerisms, action and dialogue.   This leads us on to…  Creating Characters With Opposing Views Novels are generally categorised as follows:  Action-based (external conflict) Reflective (internal conflict)  The action-based novel is driven by events happening in the plot and how the characters respond to them in order to move forward and fulfil whatever purpose they may have. The reflective novel, on the other hand, takes a more languid pace with plenty of characterization. Both of these can be enhanced by introducing characters with opposing views.  Pride and Prejudice, for instance, is an excellent example of a reflective novel where Elizabeth Bennett is torn about her feelings for Mr Darcy throughout the novel. She seems to love and hate him, but ultimately love trumps all. The same goes for North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell where the main characters engage in a dance of love and hate. That is an example of internal conflict and opposing characters.   Subplots In addition to dialogue and characterisation, subplots are also a great way of adding conflict. Subplots allow minor characters to have storylines of their own, and since a subplot always complements the main plot and never competes with it, we get to understand a bit more about the main characters. Think of ways a subplot and the main plot meet, and how they can create conflict for one another.  Flashbacks Flashbacks are also a useful device and are useful in establishing the character as three-dimensional, illustrating why the character is struggling with internal conflict. For instance, if a character has faced trauma in the past, the flashback may explain their behaviour in certain situations in the present.   Conclusion As we’ve demonstrated, conflict in storytelling is a complex subject, but not something that should overwhelm us. On the contrary, conflict is our friend as it can help us write fast-paced scenes and it may be the answer to our plot holes or writing slumps.   Writing conflict doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, whenever the pace of the novel is lagging, conflict is the one thing that will come to your rescue and elevate your novel back to the pace it had in the first place.    So have fun building your worlds and creating characters your readers will root for – then put them through hell! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Freytag’s Pyramid: Understanding Dramatic Structure and Applying it to Your Own Narrative

What is Freytag’s Pyramid? You might be familiar with the Three Act Structure, or the ‘Beats’ of Save The Cat, but have you heard of their predecessor, Freytag’s Pyramid?  Freytag’s Pyramid was the brainchild of Gustav Freytag, a nineteenth century playwright and novelist who liked to peer beneath the surface of his favourite plays – namely Greek tragedies and Shakespearean drama – and figure out how they worked.  He realised they all followed a distinct dramatic arc, which he plotted out in a pyramid for everyone to see. It’s one of the more popular dramatic structures that writers use, and likely the oldest. It consists of two halves, the play, and the counterplay, which together form a pyramid that contains five acts. These five acts are the introduction, rising movement, climax, falling action, and catastrophe. How Does Freytag’s Pyramid Work? As we just found out, Freytag’s Pyramid is formed by five acts: IntroductionRising actionClimax (midpoint)Falling ActionCatastrophe (denouement) In a nutshell, Freytag’s Pyramid works by giving writers a way to structure their story that makes it comprehensible to readers. Each act represents a different stage of conflict or tension. A little disclaimer here: this might not be a structure you’ll want to use if you’re writing a rom-com. Freytag was all about the tragic. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, but Freytag’s Pyramid is in essence all about storytelling, and understanding it will help any aspiring novelist really nail their plotting, whatever their genre. Freytag’s Pyramid, Act by Act So that you can see the Pyramid in action, as well as explaining the acts, we’re going to use one of his most famous sources as our example. Namely the classic Shakespeare play, ‘Macbeth.’ Spoiler alert: everyone dies. Act 1: Introduction It’s always helpful to consider your reader when beginning your novel. Where are we? What’s going on? This is where you show us the world you’ve created and introduce us to your characters. Your first act also needs to tell us what situation your characters are in and it needs to end with the famous ‘inciting incident’ – the kick-off, the discovery, the moment everything changes.  In ‘Macbeth’ we see our anti-hero emerge victorious from war. We’re introduced to our other main players, Banquo, King Duncan, Macduff, Malcolm, and the most excellent of characters, Lady Macbeth. The inciting incident is the three witches putting the worm of ambition into Macbeth’s mind when they prophesy that he could be king… All hail, Macbeth. Act 2: Rising Action This is usually the longest act and it’s where things get meaty. The inciting incident will have set off a series of events that are building to the climax (or midpoint if you prefer). Obstacles that your character must overcome to get what they want will become more and more difficult. They will really have to strive. This is where we can start to learn about the motives of your creations – how far are they going to go to get what they desire? Why do they want it? Your protagonists might make bad choices in this act and get themselves into trouble. Maybe they’ll face danger from enemies, or they might even be the danger themselves. Or things could just be going really well because you know pride always comes before a fall. New characters can cause new problems, but all the elements in this section need to be raising the temperature.  Back to our Scottish friends. The Rising Action of ‘Macbeth’ is full of drama. Macbeth and his wife have plotted and schemed and actually murdered poor King Duncan. Not only that, but they’ve managed to get his sons to run away, making them look very guilty indeed. They’ve also bumped off some pesky guard witnesses. They knew what they wanted and they went to extremes in order to get it – they’re nearly there and things are looking good for them. Or are they? Act 3: Climax (Midpoint) This is the pointy bit of Freytag’s Pyramid, where all the lovely tension has been leading up to so far. From this point on, in our tragedies at least, it’s a race to the bottom. Unlike in other dramatic models where the power scene is at the end (think Battle of Hogwarts or Frodo at the crater of Mount Doom) this instead is a crisis in the middle of the narrative. It was all going so well, but now it’s time to pull the thread that will cause everything in your characters’ lives to unravel.  As for Macbeth, he’s done it. He’s finally been crowned King; his ambition has peaked. Unfortunately, he has also sent some frankly useless assassins to get Banquo, and they’ve let his son escape to tell the tale. And this is before the ghost of poor murdered ex-King Duncan turns up at the coronation banquet and terrifies Macbeth so badly that his lords think perhaps, he’s not such a great kingly option after all. Down we go into Act 4, the Falling Action. Act 4: Falling Action It’s important to know here that ‘falling’ does not necessarily mean winding down – rather once you’ve crossed the point of no return, the protagonists star is falling where it was rising before. It can and should still be full of tension and anticipation. We know the final catastrophe is coming, and we can’t tear our eyes away from the inevitability of it all. This is where you can tidy up some of the plot points that began in Rising Action, and reveal some of the secrets you might have hidden away. You can throw in some hints at hope to make us think maybe everything will be okay if you want to add some suspense, but this is a tragedy template after all. We know it won’t end well.  Back in Scotland, it’s all going terribly for Macbeth. The witches have conned him into thinking he’s invincible, he’s slaughtered his friend’s family in an attempt to strengthen his hold on the throne, and his enemies are coming. Oh, and Lady Macbeth has driven herself to the edge with guilt. Out, damned spot! Act 5: Catastrophe (Denouement) And here we are, all is undone, your character has brought themselves, or been brought, to an ultimate low. It’s the end of the road. This act ends in a roundup of what happens next – if anything – and it’ll be up to you whether there’s a glimpse of redemption or happiness to be had. If this is the case, your final act is a denouement rather than just a catastrophe. If you’re Freytag, it’s catastrophe all round, as per Macbeth, who really has messed everything right up. Wild ambition is bad, guys, keep away from those daggers.  At Glamis, enemies have crept on the castle hiding behind branches, Lady Macbeth is dead, and all Macbeth can think about is the utter meaningless of life. It’s his own fault really, and it’s almost a mercy when untimely ripped Macduff ends his suffering, and Malcolm is made king, restoring the correct order of things. Some Final Thoughts on Freytag’s Pyramid... While this is quite a specific structural template, it has its uses across the board of writing fiction. The idea of the central reversal, a rise, and a fall can really give an emotional hit to a narrative, especially if you have a relatable and sympathetic character in mind. Even Lady Macbeth, who essentially convinces her husband to commit regicide, is doing so out of misguided love for him. We can kind of understand that, and there’s satisfaction in seeing the story resolve itself, even if it is tragic. This pyramid structure really lets you explore the classic human pattern of desire and denial, and what happens when you lose yourself in pursuit of something impossible or wrong. It also provides a helpful way to think of your novel in the sense that each scene needs to be one side of the pyramid – your characters are either pushing the boundaries to breaking point, or they’re suffering the consequences and likely making things worse. This can help you balance your narrative. You could also skew the pyramid if you don’t want to go full-Gustav. In this interpretation, the catastrophe becomes more a resolution of sorts where your character survives the disaster in a slightly better shape than they started out despite their misbehaviour – they learn their lesson. Obviously, this was not the case for poor old Macbeth who really should have been happy with what he had. There are more modern ways of approaching structure that you might be interested in reading about, be that using character arc templates or thinking about different methods of plotting, but Freytag’s Pyramid is a classic and seamless way of structuring a tragedy. If it worked for Shakespeare it can work for us, right? Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community.

The Hero’s Journey

The Hero\'s Journey - Writing a Compelling Story One of the most compelling storytelling structures that writers can use is The Hero’s Journey. In 1949, Joseph Campbell published The Hero with a Thousand Faces, where he discusses the central myth which he argues is at the heart of all stories. However you look at it, the Hero’s Journey has formed the basis for the narrative arc of a wide variety of literary works across time and all cultures – something we’ll look at within this article. Mostly though, this story structure offers a great way to give your narrative both a strong arc and emotional power. In this guide, you’ll learn the essential steps involved in the Hero’s Journey in order to structure your novel with style. What is the Hero\'s Journey? The Hero’s Journey is a particular structure in which the lead – otherwise known as a hero, heroine or protagonist – is called to head off on a journey or adventure in response to facing a problem or challenge. This issue leads them to set a specific narrative goal and they go off to achieve this, finding allies and facing enemies and their own weaknesses along the way. Once this aim has been achieved, the much-changed protagonist then returns home, bringing wisdom and knowledge to share with their community and loved ones. You’ve probably already realised from just reading the above summary that most literature uses this particular storytelling structure. In fact, it has similarities to the three act structure which is also used in drama and screenplays, as well as novels and memoirs to create a powerful narrative arc. In the rest of this article, I’m going to set out the main steps of the Hero’s Journey, so you can use them to build your own compelling story. Stages of the Hero\'s Journey All stories can be broken down into three stages — the beginning, middle and end — and the Hero’s Journey is no different in the way that it is comprised of three main sections: Departure, Initiation and Return. The opening Departure section is very much focused on the way the hero is called to go on a quest (often reluctantly) due to having to deal with a problem or challenge. The Initiation then takes place after they embark on their journey and begin to face obstacles, temptations and fears and develop skills and wisdom as a result which allow them to attain their narrative goal. Hence, once this has been achieved, they return home triumphant and often more enlightened than before.  If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’re probably thinking of how the geeky teen, Luke Skywalker, gets pushed by tragedy into his Hero’s Journey of becoming a Jedi (he even mucks that up!), before defeating evil (cue scary Darth Vader voice!) — and you’d be right on the money, as George Lucas was profoundly influenced by Campbell’s work. Steps of the Hero\'s Journey In Campbell’s original breakdown of the Hero’s Journey, the hero’s story is comprised of seventeen steps. However, in 1993, Vogler broke down this storytelling structure into just twelve steps in his book, The Writer’s Journey, making it much easier for authors to use. In this guide, we’ll utilise this twelve stage model and I’ll go through it step by step.  1. Ordinary World At the start of the Hero’s Journey, we get a glimpse of the everyday life of the lead and the unique world they inhabit. This allows us to grasp the setting if it’s something unusual like we see in sci-fi or fantasy, but we are also able to start to get to know the hero and care about them, as well as noting some of their particular strengths and weaknesses which may get in their way.  2. The Call to Adventure This is what might also be seen as the narrative’s inciting incident or trigger as it’s what really sets the story and the whole Departure section of the book going.  It involves the hero having to face a problem or challenge – just as in the classical story of The Odyssey, Odysseus is called to fight the Trojans. 3. Refusal of the Call The hero doesn’t simply trot off on their journey though – Odysseus struggles with leaving his family and similar inner conflicts beset most leads during this stage, including fear at what might befall them if they accept the call. By showing these doubts, the humanity of the hero is revealed and the high stakes of the journey ahead are brought into focus, increasing the narrative tension in a very potent way. 4. Meeting with the Mentor At this point, the hero meets a mentor who offers advice and wisdom for the journey ahead and whose presence often helps them overcome their reluctance to embark on their journey. (Do we need to mention Yoda here? \"Do or do not\", my writer friends.) This step is important as we come to understand that the quest is something difficult which requires support, as well as personal bravery, and the encounter with the mentor shows that this is a spiritual and personal path, as well as a more concrete journey to get a certain goal.  5. Crossing the First Threshold Here, the hero leaves their ordinary world and takes the decision to embark on their journey. This is incredibly important, as despite the call to adventure having started the story off in some sense, the real adventure begins now for the hero as they leave behind everything they know and walk into a realm of external dangers and personal doubts.  We only have to think of the terrifying quest Frodo and Sam go on in Lord of the Rings to understand how powerful this moment can be in a story as our rather vulnerable, tiny Hobbit heroes shed safety and familiarity to pursue a noble goal. This setting off closes the Departure part of the story and we now see the hero enter the Initiation stage of their journey. 6. Test, Allies and Enemies Having committed to their journey, the hero now has to learn the rules of the new world they’ve entered, encountering friends who will act as supportive confidant(e)s and sidekicks during their quest, as well as dastardly foes who often present terrifying obstacles.  This first section of the Initiation is important in developing the story’s cast of characters, including the hero’s allies and establishing those who will oppose them, such as a vile villain, increasing the stakes by showing that the road ahead will not be easy, despite the hero having assistance.  7. Approach to the Innermost Cave The rising action of the book will see failures and setbacks, with the hero often facing multiple obstacles or finally progressing towards their narrative goal, only to confront an even bigger challenge from enemies, or even due to their own inner fears and flaws. This rises to the point that, in the innermost cave, they’re really in deep and are feeling the pain of their journey! For example, in The Odyssey, the crew opens a bag of winds which blow them far away again when they were almost home – doh! In this second dramatic part of the Initiation, the hero thus needs to persist and be flexible in their approach in the face of these nightmares, trying new ways to reach their aims, as the stakes are rising and they know that the cost of failing to achieve their journey’s end is far too high. 8. The Ordeal You think it was tough in the innermost cave? Well, now the hero faces a major obstacle — often a life or death ordeal.  What’s worse, this challenge often highlights their character flaws to boot, showing they need to overcome their weaknesses or perish. Most heroes barely get out of this ordeal alive, leaving the Initiation phase of their journey in tatters and with readers on the edge of their seat wondering how the heck they’ll ever complete their journey.  For example, you thought the bags of wind were bad for Odysseus? Now, he has to go to the Underworld! (You cannot be kidding me!)  9. Reward (Seizing the Sword) But, hey, it’s not all bad as, after surviving death, the hero gets a reward – maybe even achieving their journey’s goal, such as grabbing the Ring and tossing it away so it cannot darken the world any more. This is a great moment of success and celebration in the story and the hero has clearly emerged from their trials an improved person, although we may not see the full extent of this yet as they still have other preoccupations. However, now the hero has their goal, they need to Return to their ordinary world in the third section – and that’s often not as easy as it sounds. 10. The Road Back After all the challenges of the Initiation phase, meeting new friends and facing off with foes, the hero who left their home isn’t the same person who returns. Hence reintegrating into their old reality can come as another form of challenge in this final part of the story.  In fact, they may not even want to go back! The reluctance to embark on their journey which we saw at the beginning of the story may reappear to haunt the hero as they now cannot imagine returning to their ordinary world, showing just how much the struggles they’ve been through have changed their character. 11. The Resurrection If you thought it was just a case of the hero getting home now, I’m afraid they have to face yet more trouble in terms of a test which puts at stake everything they’ve achieved. This is where the personality changes and skillsets they’ve developed from their challenging journey become obvious and they realise they’re made for the times they’re facing. Hence they emerge as a resurrected hero — reborn from the one who embarked at the beginning. This part is obviously important for adding climactic drama to keep readers engaged right ‘til the end – they think they’ve killed the alien, or other baddie, but they’re back! – and showcasing the full depth of the lead’s character development. 12. Return with the Elixir The hero returns home with knowledge or a particular ‘elixir’ or item which symbolises their achievements on their journey and this is often used to help others. This altruistic result is the real reward for their battles and represents deep personal and spiritual transformation, bringing the Return section and the story as a whole to a close in a way which hopefully leaves the reader both satisfied and enlightened. The Hero\'s Journey in Literature As you can see from my examples above, the Hero’s Journey is prominent in both film and literature. From classical storytelling to more modern sci-fi and fantasy, the Hero’s Journey has given powerful narrative arcs to many great works.  Indeed, if you look carefully enough, even many contemporary crime novels or TV series will feature a reluctant detective who, at first, is scared to take the case – perhaps due to retirement or trauma – who then changes their mind and solves the murder.  The Hero’s Journey has thus influenced many writers across the ages and across all literary genres, but it’s still important to note that not all stories follow this paradigm – so, if it’s not inspiring for you, then don’t use it! Using the Hero\'s Journey to Tell Your Story If you have found the structure set out above to be thought-provoking or something which might fit your story, then the Hero’s Journey model can easily be applied to your writing project. Structure is such a key part of creating a compelling story and the Hero’s Journey offers a clear way to build a potent narrative arc. It’s important to plan ahead though, when using this paradigm, fitting your narrative to the three stages of Departure, Initiation and Return and plotting your scenes along the steps above. Consider your hero’s particular personal flaws, just as Shakespeare often did in his tragedies — making Othello too jealous, for example – in order to set out how your hero might trip themselves up, or what would absolutely freak them out (like Indiana Jones and snakes!) in order to really test them on their journey. You might also riff on the reasons they might be reluctant to embark on their quest – such as family commitments or outright fear, and who might act as a wise mentor and change their minds, or boost them up as allies along the way.  It’s also important to think of a strong opposition figure who is out to stop them achieving their journey’s goal as this is great for adding conflict and tension. The Hero\'s Journey is in so Many Stories As you’ve seen, the Hero’s Journey is present in so many of the stories which surround us — and for good reason as it provides a fantastic narrative structure which allows for deep character development, high drama and profound emotion. Although every story has a hero, not every story is a Hero’s Journey, yet this storytelling structure has a lot to teach all authors. Try it with your adventure or quest novel, and see how far you and your hero get. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Writing a Three Act Structure

Writing a Three Act Structure Mastering the three act structure is one of the most important writing skills for any author. If you want to know how to structure a book, whether that’s a novel or memoir, or you want to learn how short fiction works, absorbing and using the three act story structure is one of the best ways to make your piece shine. Used widely by screenplay writers, the three act story structure outline is deceptively simple. A Story in Three Acts Act One is where we see exposition which establishes the world or everyday life of the character, before a dramatic inciting incident occurs which sets the normal life of the lead on its head, causing them to go on a journey to attain a particular narrative goal. Act One is often called the Set Up, or the Inspiration part of a plot. Act Two is the real ‘meat’ of the piece, where we see the lead go after the narrative aim they set in Act One, facing multiple obstacles and their deepest fears. Hence this part is often referred to as the Confrontation, or Craft, as it contains rising action, with the lead fighting against ever higher stakes and building their skills. This also includes the plot’s midpoint which seems to really set back the protagonist in terms of their journey to attain their narrative goal. Act Three is often called the Resolution, for obvious reasons, as this final part is where your lead reaches the end of their journey, achieving or failing to achieve their plot aims. This section includes the pre-climax and climax events which keep the reader on the edge of their seats as we think we’ve seen it all in the pre-climax and, then, boom, there’s more!  This section is also sometimes referred to as Philosophy as it brings to fruition the themes and concepts which have been developed in the course of the narrative. The History of the Three Act Structure Like so many writing craft concepts, the three act story structure has ancient roots, coming from Aristotle’s Poetics. However, modern screenwriters have honed this particular story structure to a high level, creating story outlines which are also very useful for novelists and memoirists. How the Three Act Structure Works If you want to learn how the three act structure works, have a close look at books and films you enjoy, as you’ll likely find it there, propping up the story. You’ll likely see exposition as the lead’s everyday life and, perhaps, in the case of fantasy or sci-fi, the uniqueness of the world the protagonist inhabits is brought to life. Perhaps, in a crime novel, we’ll see the detective’s family and work life to familiarise with the protagonist. Then the lead’s world will be thrown on its head by the inciting incident – say, the detective’s spouse is murdered. They’re in turmoil, but, ultimately, of course, they want to track down who killed their spouse – and this is the narrative goal they will fight their way towards throughout the book or screenplay. The second act shows them fighting through rising action, which is comprised of various obstacles and facing their deepest fears on the way to getting their narrative aim – say, of bringing their spouse’s killer to justice.  But they reach a new low at the midpoint of the book when something happens that makes the reader doubt they will ever get their goal. Perhaps they realise a close colleague may be involved in their spouse’s murder or important evidence is lost and we have to wonder whether they’ll ever solve this crime.  However, somehow they drag themselves back onto their feet and go into Act Three where they face a pre-climax which looks like the resolution, but it isn’t – such as the detective thinking they’ve found the killer, but they haven’t.  Then there’s the real climax which brings resolution in terms of the narrative goal which was set at the start, after the inciting incident – often the lead achieves their plot aim, but sometimes they don’t (although negative endings can be hard to pull off!). How to Use the Three Act Structure If you’re wondering how to plan your novel using the three act structure, it’s easy to do if you learn the basic craft and are prepared to plan your plot. Start by mapping out your story and then break it down into three acts, as follows. Act One – Set Up Exposition is so important, as I mentioned above, both in terms of establishing the setting, but by also familiarising us with the lead and making us care for them.  As a writing teacher once told me, we need to make the reader sympathise with the characters before we show their car hitting a wall! If we know the protagonist a bit, the inciting incident which sets their life on its head will hit home even more powerfully. Also known as a trigger event, this is a key plot point which forces the lead to pursue a particular narrative aim throughout, such as finding a killer, pursuing a quest, winning the guy’s heart and so on. In a memoir, the writer may face a tragic or traumatic life event which sent their life into turmoil, with the rest of the autobiography being the journey of how they recovered. This plot point and its aftermath is so crucial to the narrative arc that I often ask my author clients to consider what their lead wants and why as a result of the inciting incident, as it is this which will fuel their journey throughout the rest of the story. Act Two – Confrontation If Act One sets up the story and shows the plot point which rocks the lead’s world and sets them off on a particular journey, Act Two is where the rubber hits the road. Comprising the majority of a novel, at around fifty percent of the manuscript, this is where we see the lead doggedly pursue their narrative goal, facing obstacles and their deepest fears.  It’s often linked to rising action as the drama gets more intense when the lead keeps trying and failing in each scene as they try different ways to reach their aim or they finally progress … only to face an even worse problem.  This is where the story’s most important characters will be introduced and the midpoint of the book arrives – the next key plot point to consider. This will be linked to the lead revisiting their central goal, often wondering if they’ll ever get resolution as the challenges of this second Confrontation act have really taken it out of them!  Act Three – Resolution If Act Two is where you’ve put your lead up a tree and then cut it down, Act Three is the home stretch where they are heading towards the resolution of their story. However, it’s still not plain sailing as we want to keep readers turning pages right to the end – hence this part might see the lead really face off with the villain or opposition character as the baddie strives to stop your lead from getting their goal. This means the final third act can often dominate the story in terms of intensity, although it often simply makes up the final quarter of your manuscript. You also want to make sure you include a pre-climax, where we think the protagonist’s goal is in sight … and then it eludes them. This makes the story compelling for the reader, right ‘til the end, as they’ve still got to keep going to see what the real climax entails.  Often, the climax takes the form of a single, stand out scene as it’s so important in terms of bringing resolution to the plot and any themes which have been present in the book. Making the Three Act Structure Work for You In this guide, we’ve seen how to create a three act structure and just how powerful a tool this can be for novelists, memoirists or screenwriters. In fact, it can also be effective in helping us learn how to structure a short story by following the same outline, but with more brevity. See if you can spot the three acts next time you are watching a movie or reading a book, and see how you can apply it to your own story. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

What Is A Prologue And How Do You Write One?

What Is A Prologue And How Do You Write One? Most writers know that the opening of a book is all-important in terms of grabbing the attention of busy agents and editors. Many of us also know from our own experience browsing online that a striking beginning might make a difference between buying a book or not. Hence if how you start your plot can change your literary fortune, prologues can offer a fresh way to launch a narrative.  In this piece, we’ll look at what prologues are, a little bit of their history and their main types and purposes. What is a Prologue? What does ‘prologue’ mean?  Prologues originate in Greek drama, coming from the term prologos, ‘before word’. Ancient dramatists used them as devices to introduce the play to come and you can see the influence of this in later Shakespearean works, such as Romeo and Juliet, where the Bard uses a prologue to set the scene for  the star-crossed lovers. Another famous prologue is that of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which was written in the Medieval period and introduces his cast of characters and the context of the pilgrimage. As you can see, prologues are used at the start of a work to bring the audience into a piece, but, as you’ll see below, in fiction writing, there are particular types of prologue which you might use to make your book opening more compelling.  Purpose of a Prologue As we’ve seen above, in plays, prologues literally set the stage for the action to come, bringing us into the world of the drama in a succinct way. However, prologues are not always necessary in novels and, indeed, they are a source of debate in writing circles as they can tempt writers to add too much ‘backstory’ about their characters and the setting in one go, before the main plot begins in Chapter One, leading to an overload of information which can be off-putting.  Prologues can also easily be too long, meaning the ‘real’ beginning of the story is delayed. Make sure you don’t make your prologue longer than your standard chapter and possibly consider making it even shorter to add real punch. You need to lay the foundations for the plot to come, but without being long-winded. Another difficulty is that prologues often don’t contain the lead character, unless in a mysterious and often unnamed way, so you’ve got to be careful about being too ‘on the nose’ as this device can be a way to generate real tension and excitement about your story. As you can see then, prologues come with various pitfalls, so they can be a challenge to pull off well. We’ll look at some of the reasons why you might use a prologue below, but just remember that not every plot needs a prologue, so don’t feel your work isn’t solid without one. Differences Between Prologue, Preface, Foreword And Introduction If we’re new to writing, it can be hard to tell the difference between prologues, prefaces, forewords and introductions and to understand exactly what is a prologue in a book. A preface is usually a short account by an author, explaining the origins of their book, with a foreword often offering an introduction to the text and its author by another person, usually a writer or authority in the same field.  An introduction, on the other hand, is a summary chapter, outlining the argument and contents to come, which is used primarily in non-fiction. Indeed, most fiction doesn’t have a preface or foreword on the whole, so it’s not something the majority of writers need to worry about.  Prologues are primarily the preserve of novelists then (as well as some playwrights), being a part of the narrative itself, rather than material which precedes it.  Types Of Prologues Considering the various functions prologues can perform is perhaps one of the most important things if you’re going to include one in your novel.  Many writing experts say there are four main types of prologue, involving a future protagonist, past protagonist, a different point of view and one which presents background. Future Protagonist This sort of prologue shows us the future self of the lead character – perhaps including their death – in order to set in motion the story of how they reached that point. It is written in the same point of view and style as the rest of the novel, but if you’re using the third person, the prologue often presents the end of the story first, with the journey towards that point beginning in the first chapter.  If you’re using a first person voice, the prologue might show the lead writing a letter or memoir, stating why they needed to tell this story, and the tone is often reflective. In this sort of prologue, an older character often is introduced, presenting the overall plot as a walk down memory lane. Past Protagonist Sometimes there’s a juicy event in your protagonist’s life which the reader needs to know to understand them fully. Often, it’s a tragic event, such as a loss or trauma, which might not be given its due in the course of a flashback, but which has set up the wounded detective lead, say, to have a passion for justice.  This sort of prologue allows us a look into the past then to let us see what makes the lead tick, bringing to life a powerful event which will draw the reader in and making us sympathise with the protagonist deeply right from the get-go and, luckily, it’s effective when written in the first or third person point of view. Different Point Of View Prologue Sometimes, it’s useful to bring in a different narrative perspective in a prologue than the viewpoints presented in the main plot. It can be particularly useful in order to add mystery to the coming story, perhaps, say, by showing a murder in the viewpoint of the unknown killer before the main plot shows the hunt for this villain. You can also use this sort of prologue to create dramatic irony, so the reader sees some event coming down the pipe – probably something which threatens them in some way – whilst the lead remains unaware. In women’s commercial fiction, for example, we might be presented with a cheating husband, while the protagonist wife goes on oblivious – until reality hits later in the book at some point. This sort of prologue is often useful in historical or adventure fiction with, say, an artefact being used or hidden in the past, which the lead only discovers later on, as this brings the world of the book into focus, as well as establishing the compelling question about what this thing is and why it’s important. However, it’s crucial that this sort of prologue is written in the third person, even if the main part of the novel is in the first person, to make it stand out from the rest of the narrative. Background Prologue If the world of your novel is very different than our own, such as if you’re writing science fiction or fantasy, this sort of prologue can be used to establish your unique setting and its rules in detail, so we understand the main action better. However, this is tricky to pull off as you don’t want to throw your reader into your alien world, say, unprepared, but you also don’t want the book’s opening to become an overwhelming info dump either. Focus then on creating a simple plot which illuminates how your particular world works – preferably one which links to the main narrative. Sometimes, however, the prologue might could take the form of a document which sets out the strange wonders of the world we’re entering and this form of opening offers a lot of opportunities to use your imagination, but, again, it’s a matter or balance as you also don’t want to make the beginning too obscure. Again, it’s good to narrate this sort of prologue in the third person, even if the main plot is told through the first. How to Write a Great Prologue So, does a book need a prologue? As I discussed above, many novels don’t require one at all, so it might not be necessary for you to learn the skills set out here in order to create a killer plot opening. However, as you can see, prologues can perform some very useful functions in terms of opening a plot with power and they can be particularly helpful when writing certain genres of fiction, so you might want to consider including one in your novel.  We all know how crucial a striking and stylish opening is, so bear this in mind when writing your prologue – this will be the first thing agents, editors and the general reader sees of your book, so you must make it compelling.  If you’re wondering how to write a prologue, it’s key that you grab your audience’s attention from the first line and keep it. The prologue needs to be essential reading for the rest of the book, so make sure it’s both relevant to the main plot and dramatic.  Immediately Engage The Reader In order to make your prologue stand out, it’s a good idea to take a powerful event and milk it for all its worth. You must also ensure you’re engaging the reader all the way through and not getting lost in backstory or obscure details.  You want the prologue to keep the reader turning pages right into the main narrative, so keep it peppy, no matter what genre you’re writing in. You might not need a car crash or explosion in literary fiction, but even emotional crises can stir emotions enough to lure the reader in. Provide Essential Information As I said before, prologues can help with world-building for fantasy, sci-fi and historical fiction writers, allowing the reader to become aware of the specific context of the coming story. Indeed, prologues can also provide relevant information about past events which have impacted the lead or show scenes, such as a murder, which set up the ensuing narrative.  In many ways then, prologues can give the reader relevant information for the literary journey to come and can be extremely useful devices. However, as I’ve also stressed, it can be difficult to not overload the reader with information. Add details gradually, like a breadcrumb trail through the forest, knowing you have the whole book to establish your characters and setting and remembering that an air of mystery and unanswered questions can be very alluring. Make sure the reader has the necessary information, but no more.  Use a Consistent Tone and Style It’s important to remember that, whilst the prologue might well be in a different point of view from the main text or come from the viewpoint of a character whose perspective does not appear in the later narrative, the prologue’s style always needs to fit with that of the main narrative. What you don’t want is for your prologue to seem inconsistent with the rest of the book. Yes, you want the prologue to stand out, but if your prologue doesn’t sit well with the rest of your plot and language, it will possibly offer a false impression of your book to the publishing industry and general reader.  You don’t want to confuse your audience as to what your book is like or to have your readers feel perplexed when they reach the first chapter, so make the prologue powerful, but in keeping with the ideas and style of the main text. Keep It Short I described before how prologues shouldn’t go beyond your average chapter length and this is one way to ensure you don’t bore the reader or include excessive information. Indeed, some of the most powerful prologues are brief, offering just a glimpse into a murder scene or a crucial part of the lead’s past, before delving into the main action. In this way, prologues can be very evocative, without giving away the store.  Consider then if less might be more with your prologue. Review Other Prologues Much of our skills as a writer come from reading, so research other prologues, particularly those from books in your genre to see how the best ones work. You could even try to experiment by emulating certain types, copying prologues to see how they’re put together, and experimenting with different types from the four given above to see what might work for your novel. Excellent Prologue Examples I’ve already mentioned some of the most famous prologues, such as Chaucer’s General Prologue, Shakespeare’s opening to Romeo and Juliet, but there are also plenty of more contemporary examples available, including those from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity.  From ancient Greece to modern action and adventure, there are plenty of juicy examples of prologues to ponder. Think carefully as you read about what the author is presenting in the prologue, what type of prologue it is (does it provide background, for instance) and how long the author has made it. By taking notes and really absorbing what the author is doing, your own ideas and writing craft will grow. Prologues Can Add So Much As you can see, prologues aren’t always necessary, but they can add a lot to the opening of a novel if handled well.  From ancient Greece on, writers have turned to prologues to provide important past information on the characters and general background. They also can be part of world-building in sci-fi and fantasy or generate context for historical fiction.  Moreover, prologues can offer a framework for an older narrator to look back to the past, or to present a different point-of-view – such as that of a murderer in crime – thus adding mystery, as well as dramatic irony and a juicy impending sense of doom. Although you have to be careful not to add too much backstory or go on too long, ensuring that you keep the prologue relevant and consistent with the style of the rest of the book, you might end up with a really special opening to your novel. Try it and see how you get on! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How to Write a Compelling Plot Twist

How to Write a Compelling Plot Twist - a Complete Guide We all know that a book with a great hook is something agents, editors, and readers are looking for. But when it comes to books that last, the ones that readers will be recommending for years to come, it’s those with the best plot twists that stand the test of time. Yet plot twists are so hard to write. So how do you deliver thrilling twists and turns that will keep your readers guessing until the very end? What is a plot twist? “I feel that the characters in my book, if they were real, would be like, \"Seriously, another plot twist?” (Author, Meghan Blistinsky)A plot twist is a literary device found in all forms of storytelling, where the reader (or viewer) is lured into the intrigue of the plot and left reeling by a grand revelation or turn of events they didn’t see coming. A plot twist can take place in any scenario, but there are three very important rules a writer must follow: 1. It must be plausibleThe reader needs to be surprised by the revelation, but not shocked. All readers love to guess what will happen next, but if the plot twist doesn’t make sense or hasn’t been primed in advance the readers will feel tricked or let down.2. It must be a surpriseIt’s not much of a twist if the reader is able to guess the outcome from the very beginning. A successful plot twist, whether in a book or movie, will keep people guessing all the way through.3. It must be foreshadowedWe all love to think we can outsmart the writer and guess what will happen. But a great writer will make you think you’ve cracked it, and still surprise you with a revelation that makes total sense, but only in retrospect. Why is it important to have plot twists in your book? It’s not. Plot twists aren’t vital in every book, but they are a great way to add intrigue, keep readers turning the pages, and get them invested in the plot. Not to mention add much-needed hype to your book. And it doesn’t matter what genre you write in. A great plot twist transcends all types of books and stories. We often think of thriller plot twists when considering books with a grand reveal – you can’t have a successful murder mystery without a shocking revelation at the end - but every book can benefit from adding a plot twist (or two, or three, or four) to add tension, intrigue, and keep readers talking.A good plot twist can be used effectively in all genres, from fantasy and YA to rom coms and gothic horror. Even if no one has gone missing or been killed. Plot twist examples from books and movies “The best stories are the ones with the unexpected plot twists that no one would have guessed, even the writer.”(Author, Shannon L. Alder) There are too many amazing movie plot twist examples and great plot twists in books to list them all, so we’ve split them up into three types. Plus, we’ve kept the descriptions vague so as not to ruin their big ‘wow’ moments if you are unfamiliar with them. Watching a movie, or reading a book, a second time can be extra enjoyable because that’s when we see how the writer planted the clues to the twists throughout the story from the beginning. See if you can think of your favourite plot twists and where they would fit in to these three categories. Plot Twist #1: The Grand Reveal This is generally known as the ‘who dunnit?’ and is used in all crime, thriller, and murder mystery books and movies.Behind her Eyes by Sarah PinboroughA single mother falls in love with her boss and befriends his wife, but something is very wrong.Sharp Objects by Gillian FlynnA reporter confronts the psychological demons from her past when she returns to her hometown to cover a violent murder. Knives OutWho killed crime novelist Harlan Thrombey? A murder mystery with more twists than Chubby Checker.The Orient Express by Agatha ChristieJust after midnight the Orient Express stops in its tracks. In the morning, an American is found stabbed to death. Who did it?Secret Window, Secret Garden by Stephen KingPeople are being murdered. But who is the bad guy when you’re a writer living alone? Plot Twist # 2: The Plot Thickens These types of plot twists are often used to change the direction of the story. Sometimes the twist is the inciting incident, sometimes the midway reveal, or it can pull the protagonist in a new direction and lurching into act 3. When it comes to a series, these types of revelations can also serve as great cliff hangers. The Maze Runner by James DashnerDozens of boys, and one girl, must escape a maze for freedom. Yet who is behind their imprisonment? Fingersmith by Sarah WatersA novel set in Victorian England follows the intertwining lives of two women from different worlds. ParasiteA poor family scheme to become employed by a wealthy family and infiltrate their household by lying about who they are. The Girl With All the Gifts by Mike CareyA teacher and a scientist living in a dystopian future embark on a journey of survival with an unusual young girl.I am Legend by Richard MathesonA post-apocalyptic vampire thriller, about a lone survivor struggling to live in a world that is no longer his own. Plot Twist #3: Wait! What? Some of the best plot twists are those that you never asked for and come out of nowhere. By adding a huge twist at the end, one that (unlike a murder mystery) you were not waiting for, it changes the entire story from what you were led to believe to something else. Unlike a simple ‘who dunnit?’, these twists throw the biggest curve balls and leave you reeling as the credits roll or you close the book for the last time. Sixth SenseA little boy can see ghosts and is helped by a psychologist…who may not be all he seems. Everything, Everything by Nicola YoonA teen girl has an illness which means she can’t leave her bedroom. Then she falls in love. SevenSomeone is killing people based on the seven deadly sins. But what’s in that box at the end? American Psycho by Bret Easton EllisWe know he’s a cold-blooded killer. Or is he?We Were Liars by E. LockhartA lonely teen girl recounts one beautiful summer, that may not have been so beautiful after all. How to write your own plot twists “Beneath every story, there is another story. There is a hand within the hand...... There is a blow behind the blow.”(Author, Naomi Alderman) You only have to read the latest Amazon reviews of a newly-hyped thriller to see how important plot twists are to readers. Many books are sold as having a ‘twist you never saw coming’ – which can backfire if readers are able to guess the grand reveal too early, leaving them feeling cheated. In other words, readers want you to surprise them with twists that they never saw coming yet were obvious in retrospect. This is easier said than done. So how can you, as a writer, achieve that? Here are five plot twist writing tips to keep your readers intrigued and guessing until the very end:1. Let your characters do the hard work If you have created well-rounded characters with clear intentions and strong personalities, they will often reveal to you something you never initially planned. Relax and leave your main characters to do the walking and talking. Perhaps put them in a strange scenario and see what happens. You may be surprised by where they take you. 2. Work backwards When it comes to the best thriller plot twists, authors often work backwards. They start with the big reveal, then go back and insert subtle clues and pointers alongside dead ends and red herrings. It’s important the clues are hidden amongst the more obvious clues that are placed on purpose to misdirect the reader. For example: If you want the killer at the end of your novel to be the cleaner, you may have her polishing the gun in act one, and you may have her cleaning in a scene where another suspect is acting more obviously guilty. The best places to add plausible clues that lead to your twist is to hide them among action or dramatic narrative where the readers won’t be noticing them as much. Let your readers think they’ve cracked it, then lead them down a dead end and make them circle back. 3. Mislead your readers on purpose This leads us on to misdirection, red herrings, and dead ends. The only way to keep your readers guessing is to play with them. Like any good magician, you make them look at your right hand while hiding the coin with your left. This doesn’t mean simply pointing at the wrong culprit until the big reveal at the end, but entertaining your readers with plenty of action and intrigue until they are yanked out of their comfort zone with a big twist.For example, in Life of Pi by Yann Martel, we are so intrigued by the concept of a man having to survive on a life raft with a killer tiger, that it doesn’t occur to us that the story may be an allegory. And in Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, we are so enthralled by the depiction of a seedy club full of men fighting one another, that we never once consider that perhaps our narrator is far from reliable. 4. Give them a mega twist at the end of the first twist There are no rules when it comes to how many plot twists you can have in one book (as long as you don’t make your readers dizzy with them). One fun device is to build up to an expected twist, then deliver a mega-deadly twist straight after. One example of three twists in a row is in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. In the original novel, not only does Dorothy discover that the Great Oz is merely an inept man behind a curtain, but she learns that she could have got home simply by clicking her heels. And then, as if that’s not enough drama, once she’s back in Kansas we discover it was a dream all along. Or was it?These twists after twists are a fun way to add tension and speed up the pace during the last act, and to keep readers thinking of the story long after they close the book. 5. Play with your readers’ emotions Authors love to make you feel – whether that means making you laugh, cry, shocked, or even so angry you throw the book against the wall (then quickly pick it back up, because you simply have to know what happens next). The best way to play with a reader’s emotions is to deliver a roller coaster of gut-wrenching twists. In Romeo and Juliet, we go from the throes of passion and teen love to Romeo’s best friend Mercutio being killed by Juliet’s cousin. A big dilemma we never saw coming. From love to despair, Romeo then delivers another twist when he kills Tybalt in revenge. We go from a cute YA love story to one of violence, tragedy, and drama when Romeo is banished. If Romeo and Juliet were a teen novel today, most readers would expect that arc to lift by the end of the book, proving that love can overcome everything. Yet this is no love story, it’s a tragedy that purposely messes with your emotions. As a final, fatal, twist we see Romeo not only kill himself in the last act because he thinks Juliet is dead – but Juliet wakes up, sees that her lover is dead, and kills herself too! This onslaught of dramatic twists leaves the spectators reeling with every imaginable emotion until at the end of the play they are left completely bereft. But in the very best way. Because, ultimately, a reader wants a writer to make them feel. A plot twist with a difference As a final plot twist of our own, we’re adding a little bit more to this article and supplying you with some inspiration for your own memorable plot twist creations. Now we’ve had a look at what plot twists are, which ones work best, and how to write your own, here are some fun prompts to get you messing with your readers’ minds. What if… - The bad guy isn’t the bad guy after all? The MC is? - The MC falls in love with the friend helping them get the girl? - The imaginary world is the real world? - The MC isn’t the narrator? It’s all been from someone else’s POV? - The good guys were never there to help after all? - The MC isn’t alone, as we have been led to believe? - The narrator is unreliable? - The MC has been lied to all along? - They were pretending to be someone else? - They are not dead? - Or…are not alive?Plot twists, when executed well, are not only fun to experience as a reader, but are also a lot of fun to write. There’s no greater thrill than a reader exclaiming they never saw your twist coming. Next time you are reading a great book, or watching a movie, study where the writer or director is asking you to look and look in the opposite direction. Study the clues, guess the outcome, and try to get one over on the writer. You may even be inspired to write your own unforgettable plot twist. For support with your creative writing and helping you get published, join the world’s leading online writers club at Jericho Writers.

How to Create a Great Inciting Incident

Got a great plot-twist in mind, but not quite sure how to get there? C M Taylor’s blog post will help you piece together your ideas and show you how to implement that all important inciting incident. The catalyst. The plot-twist. Or, as we’re calling it here, the inciting incident is the pivotal moment when your protagonist is forced to change course. This blog post will give you all the tools you’ll need to create your own page-turning incident. What Is An Inciting Incident? Put as simply as possible, the inciting incident is an event that occurs, in relation to your protagonist, near to the beginning of your story, which sets that story moving in a different direction. The word ‘inciting’ is used because the event which occurs incites your protagonist towards a new course of action. But note, it causes them to react. It does not necessarily cause them to act at this point, that may come later. The inciting incident as we are calling it here has many names. Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero’s Journey calls it ‘The call to adventure’. Blake Snyder in his book Save The Cat refers to it as ‘the catalyst’.  Scott Myers, host of the esteemed Go Into The Story blog and resource calls it simply ‘the hook’. You can call it what you like, but in terms of how you tell your story, it has the same effect. It provokes the hero, it incites them, it creates a before and an after. The inciting incident is the gateway to the action. And like all gateways, it leads from something and it leads to something. The inciting incident leads from the before to the after. It leads from the world that was to the world that will be. Before the inciting incident, the world is as it was. The hero was about their normal business. They were doing what they normally do at work, at rest and at play. This is what Chris Vogler in his book The Writer’s Journey calls ‘the ordinary world’. It is what Dara Marks in her book Inside Story refers to the as ‘the known world’. It is what Blake Snyder calls the set-up. Snyder says that, ‘in the set-up you have told us what the world is like and in the catalyst you knock that wall down.’ The known world is suddenly not the only world there is. There is the glimmer, the allure of the new world on the horizon, tugging away at the hero. Perhaps not yet compelling the hero to act but certainly disturbing them with the strong sense that their everyday world is fragile and temporary... How to Write An Inciting Incident: Make sure the inciting incident is suitable for the genre you\'re writingAn inciting incident is normally (not always) done to not done by the protagonistThe event should upset the status quoIt should create questions for the reader and engage the reader\'s attentionAnd, generate a sense of urgency by setting the story in motion How Soon Should An Inciting Incident Take Place In My Novel? While there are strong tendencies and traditions, there is no programmatic answer to this question. It’s always a good idea to consider how you’re going to move your story on in the planning stages. Remember, most stories have an inciting incident that takes place very early on in the story, within the first 10-15% of elapsed story time, certainly within the first quarter of the story. But that does not have to be, because your story – its genre and tone – will dictate the nature of your inciting incident. I’ll explain… Five Tips to Write A Great Inciting Incident The Inciting Incident Is Commensurate With Your Genre And Theme In The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald, the inciting incident does not take place until a quarter of the way through the book. This is when the narrator of the novel meets the titular character for the first time and the relationship, which will define the plot’s course, commences. Now, even though this is an unusually long wait for an inciting incident, it is perfectly appropriate for the subject of the book. The Great Gatsby is a work of apostolic fiction – where one person tells the story of an impressive other. The book is about being dazzled by money, is about money separating the rich from others and from consequence, and it’s about the mysterious nature of the titular Gatsby. Dazzle, mystery, separation. What better subjects could justify holding off the meeting that incites the action than those? Holding off increases the allure, the anticipation, the yearning that are the subjects of the book. The subject and genre of the book has dictated the timing and nature of the inciting incident. Conversely, in the screenplay Juno by Diablo Cody, the inciting incident has already happened when the film begins. The titular Juno, a 16-year-old school student is already pregnant after a one-off dalliance with her best friend, Bleeker. How can you have an inciting incident happen before the story starts? Well, remember that the inciting incident is a departure from the known world. Now in many stories, the inciting incident obliges the hero to leave their physical world in quest and so the backstory of the character – the known world – needs to be sketched to show what is being departed from. But in Juno, Juno stays at home throughout the film. The film takes place in the backstory. There is no physical separation. It is an existential departure. The problem of the film for the main character Juno is how to integrate the unknown of the pregnancy into the known world. We see her friends, school, parents, home throughout the film. The contrast between the new world of the pregnancy integrating with the known world of the mundane high schooler is the subject. If you are writing an adventure story, the inciting incident might be a physical summons in some nature, a push or a pull into a new physical world. If you are writing a crime story the inciting incident is very often a crime, or villain, that is brought to the attention of the detective. The Inciting Incident Usually But Not Always Is done to Rather Than Done by the Protagonist The letter arrives. The stranger arrives. The murder is committed. The friend betrays. The partner leaves. The bank forecloses. The job ends. The aliens descend. The microfilm is stolen. But this is not always the case. Take the film Her for example. The protagonist of that film conjures the inciting incident themselves by buying the software with which they are going to fall in love. Whenever It Happens, and Whoever Authors It, the Inciting Incident Seems Designed to Upset the Status Quo As Robert Mckee says in his book Story, ‘The inciting incident radically upsets the balances of forces in your protagonist’s life.’ But that is not all. A great inciting incident, as Dara Marks says, ‘Prays on the inner conflict of the character established in The Known World.’ Harry Potter is already established as victimised and desperate to leave his known world before the letter from Hogwarts arrives. Luke Skywalker is already frustrated and bored on the farm before the message from Leia is transmitted from R2-D2. The protagonist is already susceptible to the summons of the inciting incident before it arrives and the incident maps on to and accelerates the disintegration of the status quo. Create Questions for the Reader The inciting incident introduces the central problem of the story. How will Juno handle the pregnancy? What will the narrator learn of the mysterious Gatsby now he has made his acquaintance? The protagonist is the avatar for the reader in the story and the summons for the unknown world creates mystery and urgency. Generate Some Sense of Urgency The ticking clock of Juno’s pregnancy means the action is concertinaed by necessity. The jeopardy voiced by Princess Leia communicates to Luke that he needs to get his skates on. The inciting incident sets off the ticking clock – the known world is disintegrating and the unknown is beckoning. And yet the inciting incident is just the call to adventure, it is not the adventure itself. It is the signal that the departure must be made, it is not the departure itself. The protagonist reacts to the incident - they do not yet act on it. In Joseph Campbell’s description of the underlying structures of narrative, what is followed by the call to adventure (our inciting incident) is the refusal of the call. At first, the new world which has beckoned the heroic character feels too onerous, too difficult, the cosy allure of the status quo, however dissatisfying, is stronger in the beginning than the summons. As Dara Marks explains in Inside Story, humans only ever act to make radical changes when the risk of staying the same is greater than the risk of changing. When the inciting incident arrives, the risk of staying the same is still not great enough in many examples to justify definitive action. The inciting incident is the beginning of the story arc. The inciting incident introduces the problem to be solved, it is not the protagonist acting to solve the problem. Cinderella receiving the invitation to the ball is not the same as her attending. Inciting Incidents: 8 Great Examples In the anonymous 14th century chivalric romance, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the gigantic Green Knight interrupts King Arthur’s New Year’s feast at Camelot to issue the gathered nobles with a challenge.In The 2015 Ridley Scott film The Martian, during a violent storm on the planet mars, botanist-astronaut Mark Watney is separated from his team. Believing him to be dead they take the difficult decision to evacuate without him, marooning Watney on the red planet.In the 1992 film by David Mamet, Glengarry Glen Ross, based on the author’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1983 play of the same name, the inciting incident occurs when the salesman Blake is sent from head office to motivate a team of dysfunctional salesman. Insulting and subjecting them to profane abuse, Blake challenges the team to sell or be sacked.In Homer’s 8th century BC epic The Odyssey, after the opening exposition, the hero Odysseus having being marooned in the known world of Ogygia for seven years, is visited by the Goddess Hermes who urges him to build a ship.In the 1942 Michael Curtiz film Casablanca, small time crook Ugarte shows Rik the letters of transit which will allow two people to leave the occupied city. Ugarte is arrested, leaving Rik with the letters.In Jane Austen’s 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice, Mr Darcy’s negative assessment of Elizabeth and his refusal to dance with her set in train the suppressed and combative emotions that will eventually see the two fall for each other. Just to really demonstrate this sense of how malleable the call to adventure can be, it is often said that in the romantic comedy genre it is the meeting of the lovers that is the call to adventure or the inciting incident (a moment that aficionados of the form refer to as the ‘meet cute’), but it really does not have to be so. To take a couple of examples… In the 1984 rom-com, Romancing The Stone, written by Diane Thomas, it is the arrival of a treasure map pointing to the possible whereabouts of her kidnapped sister Elaine which incites lonely romantic novelist Joan towards action.While in the 1993 Nora Ephron directed and co-written romantic comedy masterpiece Sleepless in Seattle, the lovers do not meet until the final sequence of the film, and it is the Meg Ryan character Annie hearing the Tom Hanks character Sam talk on the radio about his deceased wife that incites the lovers to cross paths. So, there we have it, a foolproof method to create an inciting incident. What do you think? Have we missed anything? Head on over to the Jericho Townhouse and let us know.  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community.

How To Write Seven Basic Plots

Knowing the key plot archetypes can help you get going, so we’re looking at the prospective seven basic plots that underpin all fiction. Whilst your story mightn’t conform consciously to a plot structure, such structures do exist, and knowing them could help keep you inspired and on track. What Are The Seven Basic Plots? According to Christopher Booker, there are seven main plotlines, as written in The Seven Basic Plots. If you’re still planning things, why not choose one to place your ideas in so far? (If you’re at a very early stage in planning, read up on how to have story ideas. Remember, you can mess around a little, too. No story will ever fit only one plotline, there may just be one obvious one. Take subplots, plots within plots, to layer your story and give it complexity and meaning.) Here are the seven basic plots and how to make each one work for you. Overcoming The Monster Your protagonist must battle a monster (or a monstrous force) that threatens, probably, more than just your protagonist’s survival in scope and scale. Christopher Booker offers the classic examples of The Epic of Gilgamesh or Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Stephen King’s It falls under this plotline, too, but of course monsters needn’t always be literal. They can be human. They can be ideological. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis is (foremost) about the Pevensie children needing to overthrow the White Witch and bring peace to Narnia with Aslan’s help. The Help by Kathryn Stockett is about Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny battling racial prejudice (embodied in housewife Hilly Holbrook) in Mississippi during the 1960s. To make your ‘monster’ work, you’ll need this threat to chill us. You need a genuinely existential battle of survival to make things work. You’ll also want the monster to represent something beyond just claws and fangs. It needs to be vengeance, or racial intolerance, or something else that really matters. Voyage And Return Born with Odysseus and The Odyssey (battling monstrosities like Circe, Scylla and Charybdis to journey safe home to wife Penelope) in Greek myth, your protagonist here must journey from home, returning with new strength and experience from challenges faced. Think of Bilbo Baggins’ journey out of the Shire in The Hobbit. First come trolls, and after (not before) comes the dragon. The key is in your rising action, the threats getting worse as Bilbo carries on, growing in courage. Your voyage should be getting more dangerous all the time, before your protagonist can safely make a ‘turnabout’ and return (not without transfiguration, since Bilbo comes home braver, stronger). The fact that Bilbo never turns back before the essential point and challenge of the quest is faced is also important. Giving your protagonist chances to turn back reflects growth and heroism when they soldier on, anyway. To make this plot work, your protagonist is going to be leaving one world, encountering another, ending up transfigured – so raise the stakes. Give plenty of options to turn back (which they won’t take, because something other than themselves is at risk, too). Rags To Riches The word ‘Cinderella’ sums up this plotline, but the ‘riches’ in this phrasing is relative, and needn’t be literal. The point is that your protagonist should grow in character, strength and understanding, helping them achieve their desire, or better, and be empowered. Your protagonist should ascend, with newfound strength, from a low point to new heights, sometimes involving romance, and sometimes not. A good example of ‘not’ would be Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah, where a happy ending simply means being able to attend college. Other examples include Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, or Aladdin and His Enchanted Lamp from The Thousand and One Nights. You’ll make this plot work by empowering your protagonist in various ways. Cinderella, in her fairy tale, makes it out of rags to riches but we can assume she won’t still be scrubbing floors at the palace. She’s valued for herself in her new home and free to live on her own terms, so she’s become empowered (inside and out). This is your key to unlocking plot material. The Quest In this narrative, your protagonist sets out to find someone, or to find an object, a proverbial ‘buried treasure’. Famous examples include the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, or (broadly) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. Philip Pullman’s protagonist Lyra in Northern Lights (or, in the US, The Golden Compass) for instance, faces bears, witches and kidnappers to reach her father, before she carries on into another world. Lyra faces worse as the challenges mount up, so she matures and changes with learning and strength. Ultimately, Lyra makes her costliest sacrifice at the close of her (multiple) quests in His Dark Materials, and so she becomes heroic. We are given final proof of her courage and selflessness as her adventuring concludes in The Amber Spyglass. You’ll also need to raise stakes, making things harder and harder, before a final ‘good’ deed from your protagonist grants them victory. Comedy In comic narrative, the gist is to create a whirl of misunderstandings for your protagonist that becomes more fraught with time. All will ‘miraculously transformed’ near the end, as your action moves happily from dark to light. Classic examples include any of Jane Austen’s novels, The Inimitable Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse, Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding, or Chocolat by Joanne Harris. Make your comic plot work by continuing to muddle events, feelings and perceptions as we go, right up to the finish line. Bridget Jones remains confused about Mark Darcy in most of the novel (firstly misjudging Mark, then Daniel, then misjudging how both feel about her) before all is happily resolved. Tragedy This is the inverse of ‘Comedy’, moving from light to dark. Your protagonist here has an irredeemable flaw or makes an irredeemable mistake, causing their undoing and ‘fall’. Your protagonist could be reprehensible, like Humbert Humbert from Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, or like the example Christopher Booker gives us, Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Shakespearean tragedies give a rich choice of protagonists whose flaws lead them to doom, such as Othello and his jealousy, or Lear and his arrogance. Other tragic protagonists may be more questionable, as in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. An example of an innocent protagonist falling to tragedy would be Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Anna’s ‘mistake’ being to fall in love and leave her husband for a man who’ll betray her. You’ll make a tragic plot work by thinking deeply about all the ‘if onlys’ of your protagonist’s situation. Think how we mull over our own mistakes, wishing we’d seen things coming. If only Othello had trusted Desdemona, or if only Gatsby hadn’t fallen for Daisy. How could all have been avoided? How differently could things have worked out? Give your poor protagonist routes out (which they’ll not take, e.g. Jay Gatsby fails to accept Nick’s warning that the past can’t be repeated, since Gatsby can’t let Daisy go), then seal off exit options to amplify emotion in your tragic plot. Rebirth ‘Rebirth’ is poised to be like ‘Tragedy’ but with a hopeful outcome. Your protagonist needs a redemptive arc to their journey. This is sometimes combined with a hero romantically redeemed by a heroine, or vice versa. Classics examples of this trope are fairy tales like Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont’s Beauty and the Beast or Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, and retellings based on these tales, such as Beauty by Robin McKinley or Uprooted by Naomi Novik. Other examples are The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Emma by Jane Austen (also a ‘Comedy’ tale), or The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Make a plot like this work by making a happy outcome dependent on nothing but the ‘Rebirth’ component alone. Identify what this is, because your protagonist’s success and happy ending will hinge on it. In a tale like Beauty and the Beast, for instance, love can’t be mutual until Bête lets Belle go free. Emma Woodhouse needs to reflect and change before she can marry someone as good as Mr Knightley. Amir risks his life returning to Kabul, but can’t be free of his past guilt in The Kite Runner until he tries to help his best friend’s son. The question, after all this, is which general plotline feels authentic for where you’d most like to take your story? Choose More Than One Plot And Add Subplots So, we\'ve discussed the seven basic plot examples, but sometimes more than one plot outline will fit your story material. In A Game of Thrones, there is a tragic narrative for one protagonist, Eddard or Ned Stark, and the ‘fault’ that kills Ned is his integrity in a dark world. However, A Game of Thrones uses various plot archetypes to tell multiple protagonists’ stories over a sprawling scale. It isn’t only a tragic plot. J.K. Rowling’s stories don’t fit neatly into a single plot idea, either, since Harry Potter’s overarching tale checks several of these boxes. Harry’s story could be defined as a ‘Rags to riches’ tale, because he goes from an abusive boyhood living under his aunt’s staircase to freedom, to a successful career and happiness with his wife and children at the series’ close. There’s also a ‘Voyage and return’ element to each book, as Harry attends Hogwarts every year, only to return to his aunt and uncle every summer (though in the seventh, Harry leaves Privet Drive for the last time). It’s also an ‘Overcoming the monster’ story, because the spectre of Voldemort haunts Harry throughout the series, as do other monstrous beings like the Basilisk or Dementors, or monstrous characters like Voldemort’s supporters (led by Bellatrix Lestrange), Professor Umbridge, and others. It’s also a ‘Quest’ because Harry’s ‘hunts’ through the series culminate, in the seventh book, with his seeking Horcruxes and Hallows. The existential question of which is right to seek becomes a determinant of Harry’s success, and overall character development. There are strong comic elements, strong tragic elements, and there are strong elements of ‘Rebirth’, too. In sum, stories often can’t be boxed and they shouldn’t be. These plotlines are threadbare for a reason, since they’re foremost guides, and exist to help you build upon them. 3 Next Steps To Penning Your Plot Too little plot can be as tedious as no structure at all, so plan with care and remember plotting can be your aide. Plot should serve as a creative constraint, existing to help you produce your best work. A few steps on what you can do from here with the seven basic plots: Gather your story material. Review characters, the things you want to happen, and pick a plot for your novel.Map your key plot events. Adapt them to whichever plot you chose. If it’s a quest, map out testing moments where your protagonist can or should turn back – or, if it’s tragic, map out moments your tragic protagonist could have avoided what they’re heading for, and so on.Link these moments together and create your resolution to the action. All this will create a core meaning in your narrative (before you add subplots for complexity). After this, you’ll be needing a plot mountain, too, for adding the fun bits. Story structures are always there to help, not hinder you. Happy writing! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 
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