Six Ways to Improve the First Fifteen Percent Of Your Novel
This post will dissect the Zero to Fifteen Percent of the First Act of the Three Act Structure. The first fifteen percent of your novel, I believe, is the most important. It encompasses the Hook and the Setup of the First Act. If you’re wondering what they all are, and how it is going to make your story a best-seller––read below.
The Three Act Structure, defined by Reedsy, is “It digs deep into the popular notion that a story must have a beginning, middle, and end, and goes even further, defining specific plot events that must take place at each stage.”Reedsy.
I’m going to do a part-series on how you can apply the Three Act Structure to your story but more importantly, focusing in on the specific stages, to help you entice the reader to keep reading past chapter one.
The HOOK is the very first scene or sequence in your novel, and its purpose is to do just that: to hook readers into your story so they’ll continue reading past chapter one. According to Well-Storied, an effective hook must do three things:
- Introduce the protagonist.
- Establish the protagonist’s everyday life.
- Show the protagonist dealing with an everyday conflict.
These three items give readers a strong understanding of not only who your protagonist is, but also what they’re like — their personality, their shortcomings, their hopes and dreams.
So, below are 6 ways to help the First Fifteen Percent of your novel and page-turner.
- Setup of a strong, compelling, empathetic protagonist. You need your reader to bond with your protagonist in the first page or two (of the first scene he or she is in). Unless you have a terrific prologue to launch your story (meaning, it’s just what your premise and story line need), you should be starting your novel with your protagonist. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but if you’re a novice writer, I would highly recommend this course. If you’re not clear on how to create a compelling protagonist, read some of my posts on the topic. Just know, though, this is paramount. Without that compelling protagonist, your novel is going to flop.
- Get the protagonist’s core need, motivation, and life situation clear. You might think this is a no-brainer, but this is severely lacking in a lot of manuscripts I critique. Part of setting up that main character is revealing these key facets about him. Start your story in the middle of something important happening in his life that will reveal his living situation, his immediate problems and concerns, his work and lifestyle, his deepest hopes and dreams and fears. This is all key to story structure and preparation for the inciting incident to come.
- Present the inciting incident. This comes close to the start of your novel. Usually by the 10% mark. But when you are just starting your novel, you don’t know what will end up being 10%. So it’s easier to think in terms of scenes. Get the opening scene or two setting things up so you can slam your character with that incident. Without proper setup of your protagonist, which means risking the bond and concern for what happens to him, that incident may fall flat. You need to first get your reader to like, care, and understand—to some extent—what he’s about.
- Introduce key supporting characters. These opening chapters need to set up your protagonist’s world populated by character types: family, friends, rivals, love interests, etc. These all need clear roles and should have unique personalities and voices (which includes the narrative voice if they have their own POV scenes).
- Hint at the stakes, and make them high. The more stakes, both personal and public, you can create, the better. But they need to be believable and appropriate. In other words, if you have a boring, weak concept without any kicker, throwing in a ton of danger and conflict that is random and meaningless won’t do anything to hype up the tension in your story. Again, I have gobs of posts and chapters in my writing craft books on conflict, stakes, and tension. Do your homework if you need to learn all this.
- Get that protagonist’s goal in sight! Fifty pages will sometimes get you to that 25% mark in the novel, at which point the hero’s goal for the novel is locked into place. If you’re writing a long novel, by page fifty, your character might not be at that turning point yet, but he should be getting close. All scenes should be propelling your character to that important point. What I see in a lot of novels is a string of scenes, random events and interchanges that don’t seem to have any point to them.
If you like what you read, if you have any questions or ideas, make sure you post your comments below. If you think someone has an interesting point of view, a question or an answer, please invite them or share this post with them.
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