Nail Your NaNoWriMo #8: Why and How Your First 12 to 15 Scenes are Different

Today’s tip springboard’s from ‘, so if you’ve arrived here in the middle of this series, I highly recommend that you go back one square and study up on tip #7, which is about the all-important First Plot Point.

The First Plot Point is the reason your first 12-t0-15 scenes — which come before the First Plot Point — are different than the rest of the scenes in your novel. If they aren’t, your novel is already broken.

You now know — by virtue of having a good understanding of the First Plot Point (if that’s too assumptive, then stop here and play a little catch-up) — that your story doesn’t really begin in earnest until that FPP moment.  That everything that preceeds it is a set-up for it, and everything that comes after it is because of it.

It’s like turning 21.  Before that you’re a kid, perhaps living in anticipation of that moment… and after that day, everything gets harder, though that realization remains as a surprise that awaits.

The First Plot Point is square one of your hero’s journey.  Sure, they may have been smack in the middle of a lfie-changing quest before the FPP, but it’ s the FPP that defines THE CENTRAL STORY of this novel, by either kicking off the story-specific hero’s quest or changing it dramatically.

Either way, the FPP is where things change.  Where set-up, ignition and narrative sequencing collide.

It happens at about the 20th to 25th percentile mark (in terms of story length).  Not before, not after.  Both have risks attached.

The FPP assumes the reader knows, and cares about, your hero. 

And therefore, when you’ve cracked your hero over the head with a new problem or challenge or opportunity at the FPP… when that changes thrusts them in a new and urgent direction… when there are suddenly clearer and heavier stakes attached to this newly minted hero’s need… when we feel the pressure of those stakes because we (the reader) already empathize… when we (the reader) can feel this impending journey to our marrow… when there is now a full rendering of an antagonistic force on the scene, ready threaten and oppose the hero on this newly-defined or at least newly-shifted quest…

… then every scene that comes before the FPP moment has a purpose: to impart to the story precisely the elements described above. 

Your first 12 to 15 scenes comprise the Part One quartile of your story.  If you have your hero being heroic here, that’s too soon and out of context.  If you have your hero facing precisely the same set of issue and problems and challenges, with the same goals, that you will have them embracing after the FPP, then you’re out of context with the necessary mission of your Part 1 scenes.

Read a novel.  Better yet, rent a DVD… and notice how this almost ALWAYS unfolds in this manner.  That’s not an accident, but rather, its the subtle hand of a professional storytelling who already knows and practices what you are just now, perhaps, discovering.

This discovery can make or break your writing career.  And you can begin to demonstrate your command of it with your NaNoWriMo story.

Click here to read more about the all-important context of your Part One scenes:–-five-missions-for-the-set-up-part-1-of-your-story.

As a footnote… don’t submit to the urge to feel overwhelmed.  If you’re clicking through to these posts, you may have discovered that all the rest of it is available within posts that are, for the most part, adjacent to the ones’ I’m linking to here.

Or you could just read “Story Engineering” and get it all in one place. 

Knowing the proper context of your scenes is critical to planning them effectively.  There are four different contextual parts to your story… the set-up… the response… the attack… and the resolution.  If the context of any given scene differs from the context of the part in which is appears… you’re sticking a square post into a round hole.  And your story will suffer for it.


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6 Responses to Nail Your NaNoWriMo #8: Why and How Your First 12 to 15 Scenes are Different

  1. E

    “don’t submit to the urge to feel overwhelmed”

    🙂 I know you’re referencing the other posts, but just the FPP has me really stumped. Not to be ungrateful but this is starting to feel like math!

  2. Oh, I can think of an arc where I could have my hero being heroic in the first quartile.

    That’s a great setup for “Superman Meets Kryptonite.” First quartile he’s cheery, confident, always wins and knows it. Cocky. Overconfident. Fun but has that streak and doesn’t believe he can lose.

    Then the FPP is when he faces an epic fail and the rest of the book is rebuilding his courage until at the end he’s more genuinely heroic, what he took for granted in the first quartile is proven true, he can overcome defeat. That’s true heroism.

    Sorry, I can’t help whenever I see a rule like that, using it as a starting point for a concept. Of course it’s only a technicality that he’s heroic in the first quartile. It’s the difference between “he believes he’s heroic because he’s been lucky” and “he is now heroic because he can get up again after an epic fail and carry on when he believes he can’t win.”

    E – First Plot Point is explained thoroughly in a post linked to yesterday’s 7th post. Follow that link and there’s a beautiful essay on it. You can find it in every novel – something jacks up the stakes around a quarter of the way into the book and it’s a game-changer. That’s when the heroine finds out she’s pregnant or the fireman’s kid gets kidnapped or something happens that all the rest of the book is a response to it. Wizard of Oz, it’s getting blown out of Kansas into Oz and killing the witch.

  3. Martha

    I love this circus ten graphic representation of story structure you refer to in today’s post. I’d like to print it so I can refer to it often, or show it to others, but can’t seem to capture the whole thing with my printer. Is there someplace where I can purchase a copy of the poster?

  4. E

    Thanks, Robert! I think I just need to sit down and think this through. As I was driving a long stretch the other day, I had an epiphany about at least 3 different stories I’ve started and abandoned, all of them with a “we’re not in Kansas anymore” moment. Now that I recognize it, I may be able to take baby steps forward.

    I agree with Martha regarding the poster–pictures always help.

  5. So many helpful tips here. Thank you. So energizing to check in here, as always. Cathy x

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