Something Must be Happening
Next thing we're looking for is something must be happening. We do not want to describe things in great graphic detail in the beginning. You've given us that picture. You've given us that notion of this is what the over arching problem is. What we're looking for next is what specifically sets the story problem into motion meaning for your story. 'Cause chances are again, this is something that's been building. This is the moment where it hits critical mass. And by critical mass I mean your protagonist can't ignore it. So what is happening? So now we've got that yardstick that you've given us with a context, now what exactly is happening based on that. We go oh I see, I can use that as the yardstick. And now we're going to go forward. I'm watching that story now unfold. We can take a look at the second paragraph of this All The Beautiful Places. Finch what's the second paragraph here? We ended with is today the day and if not today when? I'm asking myself this now as I stand on a narrow...
ledge stories of six stories above the ground. Six stories up. I'm up so high, I'm practically part of the sky. I look down at the pavement below and the world tilts. I close my eyes enjoying the way everything spins. Maybe this time I'll do it. Let the air carry me away. It will be like floating in a pool, drifting off until there's nothing. Okay now something's happening. He's standing, he's standing on the other side of the railing on top of a six story tower, thinking of maybe jumping off at that moment. And because, because for research and when we're writing, and when we're talking about writing, we can't worry about spoilers. Spoiler alert. But that last sentence in that paragraph is one of those seeds. The last sentence being it will be like floating in a pool drifting off until there's nothing. That's a seed. We're gonna go forward and we're gonna wait until something like that happens. And if you want to really see what this looks like, the notion that the seeds are planted, my advice always is, take whatever book you're reading now. If you like it. Whatever book you really like. And when you get to the end of it, take a minute, savor because you know that feeling when a story's ended and you're still there with the characters, you're imagining what's going to happen next but of course now it's in your imagination. Relax. And then go back and reread the first chapter. And you'll see the stuff that's planted. Because obviously that line there, you'd never know that was a tell. The same thing with the teacher, the same thing with the physics homework. You wouldn't know that. And yet it is. It's setting us up. A problem that writers have with this notion of setting the story in motion is that that's the part they'll remember. That is what they'll remember. In other words I'm sure you guys have heard this 'cause you hear it a lot. When you're starting a story, jump into action. Right have you heard that? Jump into action. And the problem is, is that writers will forget giving us that big picture promise and they'll leap directly into some kind of really intense dramatic, objectively dramatic action. And it couldn't be more boring. I'll never forget. Several years ago I was at a writer's conference in Alaska, in Anchorage. And I was, I guess, I think everybody who was speaking there had to read 10 first pages of 10 novels, works in progress to see who was going to win whatever the award was at the end of the workshop. And so I read 10 sets of 10 pages and there's one I will never forget. It was a historical novel, took place in the Wild West. Like let's say I don't know, 1857 let's say. And it opened. And there was a woman, and she was in a stagecoach by herself. And the driver, I don't know what had happened to the driver but there was no driver. And the horses were running wild and she was screaming and they were running and I mention there was right a sheer cliff there so she could've tumbled over and died and who cares? What difference does it make? We don't know her, we don't know what the point is. It's just this big dramatic thing. I'm not saying we wanted her to die. I'm not. It's just that there was no reason for us to care about her and the problem that writers tend to have when this happens is that then they will write it in great, graphic detail. So there is, there's a lot of sensory details and there's smells and there's sounds and you could hear the horses clomping and you can hear her shrill scream. And you could see the dust flying and you could hear the horses whinnying. And the sweat that comes off the horses is going through. And she's almost fall. And who cares? It starts to feel like there's going to be a test. You know like why are you telling me all of this? I mean that's really what you're thinking. Why are you telling me all this? Why does this matter? That is the problem without that overarching context, it doesn't matter, it's not just putting us into action. What you're looking for is, this is the first domino and it's about to topple. A story is a cause and effect trajectory. From beginning to end, if this then that. It builds all the way through. If this then that. One problem, story's one plot problem grows, escalates, and complicates starting right here. On the first page, and this is the first domino. And when it topples all the rest are going to have to go over. Doesn't mean it's a big giant thing. I mean think about in The Hobbit, you know all Bilbo Baggins wanted was to be left alone. I just, I want to be left alone. And it's just you know there's the Gandalf with the mark on the door and there's the knock. And now everything is going forward. That's the first domino that was there to topple. So that is your question. What is happening right there on the first page.