A Storyfix reader recently asked me this intriguing question. At first I thought, no way. Then I thought, maybe. Then I wasn’t so sure.
I’m still not so sure. But I do know this — you still need “a” first plot point, even if you manage to pull it off.
Below is my response, buffed up for publication here, and augmented with a caveat or two.
Can the first plot point happen without the hero knowing about it?
In my opinion, it can.
Sort of. Sometimes.
But only if do it right.
And by doing it right, you still need a Part 1 set-up of approximatley 20 to 25 percent of the story, followed by a Part 2 response.
Nothing about the principles of story structure changes. Ever. Even in this case.
Response to what? Answer: the first plot point. The thing you were setting up back Part 1.
Remember, the question here is whether the hero needs to know about the FPP, or not. Not whether you can skip the FPP altogether.
You can’t. You still need an FPP solidly — and functionally — in place.
If your hero isn’t aware of a sudden (though perhaps subtle) shift in the story at the proper First Plot Point milestone, then your reader absolutely needs to be.
Because the criteria for the First Plot Point milestone remains in place.
Did I say that already? I think I did.
I’m so glad you didn’t ask if you can skip the FPP altogether. The answer to that one is… loud.
The story shifts in a new direction at the FPP, even if the hero isn’t aware of it. Which means it changes. The thing that changes is the hero’s near-term need, direction, quest, journey, objective… name your favorite term.
The story really begins right there, at the FPP. Everything before that moment is a set-up for it, everything after a response to it.
Even if the hero is kept in the dark.
There needs to be stakes involved and defined by the FPP milestones. The hero has something to lose or gain, with consequences attached. The reader needs to empathize with those stakes and root for the hero.
Even if the hero is in a coma.
We still need to have a newly defined antagonistic force suddenly in play, and in a way that defines a new life-dirction for the hero.
And, most importantly (okay, just as importantly)… the hero is now in response mode.
She or he is now, in Part 2, reacting to something that is suddenly pressuring her or him, opposing her or him or otherwise stands in her or his way.
Does the hero need to know about it? Not necessarily. It can happen behind the curtain of the hero’s awareness. But when it does unfold this way, the audience absolutely needs to experience and understand all of the above.
Or it won’t work.
That said, the hero should have a visible shift in their journey at the First Plot Point, as well.
It’s just that — in context to the aforementioned Big Question — they don’t yet have to be made aware of their ultimate need or quest, nor do they need to have even the remotest clue as to the nature and goal of the force that opposes her.
Or him. Or it. Whatever.
We do… the hero doesn’t.
This is a non-traditional way of unleashing a story, and with unconventional strategies come unique challenges. It won’t be easy to pull off, to be honest, but if that’s your story… that’s your story.
When this dynamic is in place, you do need to finally let the hero in on the true nature of what their story — their need and quest, as well as that which opposes them, and with a full awareness of the stakes — at some point.
That point, almost without exception in such a rare dynamic, is the Mid-Point milestone. It’s made for such a moment, because its mission is to part the curtain for the hero and/or reader and thus create a new context going forward.
Nothing says new context quite like a hero who suddenly wakes up to what’s really going on around them.
Good luck with this… and I don’t mean that sarcastically.
It’s an example of taking a risk, and with great risk comes great opportunity. Just don’t make the mistake of creating what is, in effect, a set-up that lasts for 40 to 50 percent of the length of the story, with nothing that smells like a plot point anywhere in view beforehand.
Give us what is, in effect, a false (or at least minor) Plot Point One for the hero, and in the right place, while also delivering a contextually valid Plot Point One for the reader. They can be different narrative twists, but both need to be in the proper FPP location if they are.
If you can pull that off, you just might have a winner on your hands.
I wish that for you.