The First Act

Before I get into the next chapter of the story grid, I’m going to deviate a bit to give some important background.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, most stories start with a slice of the protagonist’s life. In the heroes journey this is called “the ordinary world.” The slice of life (or beginning exposition) establishes some very important things for your character.

Who they are.

What is normal (because you can’t appreciate the abnormal until you know what has changed).

What they want.

What they have.

What they can lose.

There’s a reason one of the first lines of the Pixar story spine is “Every day….One day…”

I put together a video talking about what needs to be established in the slice of life for a creative writing class that I’m taking. Note: I know that the scene from Lilo and Stitch is not actually part of the slice of life, but it was either that or the first 15 minutes from Up, and I wanted to be a productive human today.

Once the slice of life is established, the next major plot element is the inciting incident. This is the incident that kicks off the story. This is often tied to the call to adventure, but not always.

Here’s a few of my favorite examples of inciting incidents.

Things happened in the story before each of these events, but for most, that was establishing background. You could argue, for instance, the inciting incident for Big Hero 6 was Tadashi dying, or Tadashi convincing his brother to try nerd school. Or in Frozen, Elsa being born, hurting Ana, getting locked up, or for Wreck it Ralph, the anniversary, the creation of the game, ect. But the difference between those instances and the inciting incident is that they are used to set up the slice of life. Elsa hurting Ana was used to explain why she spent every day locked up and was afraid of her powers, not to explain why she froze the kingdom. Tadashi dying could arguably be considered an inciting incident since Hiro’s personal goal was revenge for his death, but Tadashi dying isn’t what kick starts the story. It’s this moment when he activates Baymax, and Baymax realizes his microbots are active. Until this happened, Hiro didn’t know his brother needed to be avenged. Instead of kicking off the story, Tadashi’s death explains the slice of life. Why every day, Hiro sat in his room, isolated from his friends, until one day….

The inciting incident isn’t what establishes the character’s goals, that’s what the slice of life is for. The inciting incident is the thing that sets them on the path to achieving those goals. In Hiro’s case, what he wants (revenge) and what he needs (to connect with someone and grieve) are two very different things, but this moment is what puts him on the path to achieving both.

After the inciting incident, the story truly begins, and that moment is called crossing the threshold. This is when they leave the ordinary world, their slice of life, and everything begins to change.

Here’s some of my favorite examples.

Character goals tie into act one in a big way, so next week, I’ll be sharing what the Story Grid has to say about establishing character goals.


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