Tag Archives: inciting incident

Twelve Questions To Ask Yourself After That First Draft Is Done

You’ve finished your first draft!

You are so, so, so proud. This is an accomplishment worth celebrating!

And in the midst of your hard work, you’ve fought all kinds of self-doubt and torment. The quoted author was right, you really did just open a vein and bleed. 

But you’re not done. Please, for the love of all that is super easy publishing, please don’t think you’re done. If your goal is to be a serious writer, to be a viable literary force in your genre, to be a legitimate player in the world of books, please don’t stop with your first draft. You’ll need to improve on it.

Here are twelve questions to ask yourself as you go back and improve.

12 Questions To Ask After That First Draft is Done by Katharine Grubb

 

Have you captured the readers’ attention from the first page?

You know that you do if your main character takes action. The scene needs to be active and visual so that your reader can see well what is happening. If you have an inciting incident, then you’ve created a trigger that will get the story flowing. If you introduce an idea to your main character, one that could be interesting and adventurous, then you’re getting him ready for launch into the next couple of chapters.

Have you created a picture within the first two pages that the reader can visualize?

You can do this with specific description abut not too much. Also, you can do this by adding in sensory details, but not too much. You should also give plenty of clues to the time and place of the story so that the reader can be intrigued.

Is your inciting incident obvious and require the main character to react?

This is an event that begins the story. Everything that happens could be a result of that event. This incident may reveal the character and desires of the main character to the reader. You may not have done this with the first draft. No worries! Now’s the time to fix it!

What mysteries did you introduce in the first act that have been revealed in the third?

This could be something obvious, like ‘who killed Kevin?’ or it could be something more subtle. This will depend on your genre. Your main character may want answers and spend the whole book getting them. But this unanswered moment can potentially capture the reader and draw them in enough so that they want to know the answer the question and they keep reading. And now that you’ve completed a draft, you know where you’re going. You can go back to the beginning and scatter hints in the first act that will lead up to the third.

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Does your protagonist go through a literal or figurative gateway about one-third of the way in?

This can be the set off to a grand adventure. It can also be taking a chance on a new romance. It could also be literal– your character flies to Bermuda. Everything that happens before this point is an introduction. Everything after is really what the story is about. Not sure if your draft has three acts? You can brush up on story structure here. 

Does your protagonist go on a literal or figurative journey after that point?

In this type of plot, a character needs to be curious too. He/ she needs to discover the world around them, get lost, misunderstand some sign posts and correct himself. This journey is the gist of the second act. Don’t hesitate to give him a lot of conflicts, dangers and moments in which he has to make decisions. All of this is what makes up the meat of the story!

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Do you have a character that exposes your main character’s secrets?

We are not angels. Our characters should be either. You could either give this job to the antagonist, which of course would make the reader love/hate him all the more. Or you could give the job of secret-revealer to a trusted friend who doesn’t realize what they are doing. Either way, allow exposure to be a problem for our main character. This will amp up the conflict and that’s what good storytelling is all about.

Does your main character have enough hindrances to their goal?

Besides the secrets exposed, you should also throw in a lot of obstacles in their way. Make some of it physical, like the car won’t start, they ran out of Omega 3 crystals for the transponder, or Hurricane Katrina is barreling into New Orleans any day now. But you could also make it from their own inner lives: they have a PTSD episode, the ex shows up with an engagement ring, or they get the call from a casting agent at the totally wrong time. All of these things add more layers of conflict!

Is your main character blind to major character flaws that are holding them back?

What if your main character has intimacy issues and pushes others away? What if they can only talk about themselves? What if they hate their appearance? This also can create some good conflict especially if the people they are pushing away are the very people they need to meet their goals.

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Does your main character make mistakes that cause the reader to want to read more?

You want to bring your reader to that happy balance of them cheering for your main character and then also wishing they get it right next time. This is tough to do, and in my humble opinion, likable protagonists are overrated. What ISN’T overrated is the need for a reader to want to follow a character’s choices without getting exasperated by them. If you want to get me started, ask me about my love/hate relationship with Rory Gilmore!

Does your main character show something positive in their personality within the first two or three pages?

Blake Snyder calls this the Save the Cat moment. In the first few pages, your reader needs to see your main character do something really good — like saving a cat. This moment should be altruistic, humble, kind, and compassionate. Your readers need this so that they know that your main character is not just the good guy (he isn’t, necessarily) but that he’s worth following on an adventure. This goodness should be enough to get your reader motivated.

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
Toni Morrison

Have you revealed to your reader what your main character fears most of all?

Personally, I think that real honest to goodness fear isn’t tapped into enough with main characters (but that could just be me, the PTSD survivor talking.) I think that well-drawn main characters have a foundational fear — if this should happen, then they believe that their whole world will fall apart. A good author should figure this out, have it revealed subtly in the first couple of chapters and then put their poor main character through the wringer as they face that fear over and over again in the story.

Now, these are just a handful of the questions that you should ask.

And ideally, the questions should prompt you to make a few notes in your first draft and fill in holes, move things around add in stuff and take stuff away.

Don’t freak out.

You’re supposed to have more than one draft. Some writers have dozens. Do what you need to do to make your story sing, even if it means getting to eight or ten drafts.

It’s well worth the time and effort to make your story great.


If you like this post, you may also like:

10 Writing Prompts To Help You Unstick Your First Draft and Five Signs To Keep Writers From Going Wrong


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Beginning Badly: Eight Awful Ways To Start A Novel

 In the beginning . . .

It’s the first page of a brand new novel. Will it be a good beginning or a bad one? Within reading the first two sentences, you’ve already made a decision on whether or not you’ll keep reading. Your reader has too. If they have picked up your novel, they may be turned off by what they read if you have one of these eight awful beginnings.

Bad Beginning: Eight Awful Ways To Start A Novel by Katharine Grrubb

Your main character is asleep, dreaming. Why is this bad? Sleeping is passive. Unless the action of the entire novel is based in dreams or sleeping frequently, this is an amateur move. Take out the dream sequence completely and start the story with action.

Your first two pages are filled with bizarre landscape description. Why is this bad? Your reader needs a reason to care about this world and they can only do this through the eyes of the character. A description of a foreign world may be fun to write, you may even do it well, but give it to the reader after they’ve fallen in love with the story.

You have a prologue. Why is this bad? A prologue assumes that a reader needs to know some back story to fully appreciate what happens in chapter one. If the author believes this, a better way to put back story in is to add it in with a delicate touch, somewhere between chapter 3 and the midpoint of the book. Start the story when the action begins and have faith that your reader can figure it all out.

It was a dark and stormy night.

You describe your character with a long list. Her eyes, her hair, her Grecian nose (what is that, anyway?) Her smile, her scar that she got falling off the skateboard when she was 11, all this detail can be off-putting! Why is this bad? Your reader may have trouble keeping the details straight in their head. It may be too much to ask that they remember every single detail. Yes, you adore your character and you’ve thought long and hard about how they should smirk in the right place, but your reader should have freedom and ease in picturing the characters in their heads. Keep those descriptions simple so that the reader can move on.

Your character thinks. Often they think when they are looking out the window. Or they may think when they are viewing a sunset. Why is this bad? For the same reason that dreaming is bad: no action. Sure, all of us need to contemplate what we want and why we want it, but not in the beginning of a book. Save the navel gazing for later in the second act when the hero questions the quest in the first place.

Your character begins their day. The alarm goes off and they are late. They make the coffee and catch the bus. They go about their business and the reader is bored out of their mind. Why is this bad? The first scenes of a book should set the stage, but it should reveal a purpose for the main character not the unnecessary details. If the action starts at the office, then start it at the office. Start the story full of action. Your reader will be more likely to join you.

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You show off your vocabulary. Smugly, you use words that require a dictionary. Maybe you secretly hope an former English teacher sees it. Why is this bad? In your effort to impress, you may have sacrificed clarity. Good writing is writing that communicates. While this may seem obvious to some, for others good writing is adding syllables. Your reader wants to know what’s going on. Don’t make it difficult. Readers will come back to you if you don’t make them feel stupid. 

You shock. The opening scene is so brutal, so violent, so gory or so offensive, you congratulate yourself on your graphic description. Why is this bad? You’ve turned the reader to 11 right from the beginning, so there’s no place to go. Even if the point of the story is to solve the gory murder, you’ll have to tone down the imagery and emotion just to tell the story. It’s a good idea to “open with a hook” but “hook” your reader, don’t drag them in kicking and screaming.   

So how do you avoid bad beginnings?

Study, maybe even collect, the beginnings of great novels. Examine them for their simplicity, their action, their concise description, and how they all lead up to the inciting incident.

Practice writing them. Wait until you have a solid complete draft before you tackle your beginning, then write several of them. Analyze their strengths and weaknesses and take your time in choosing them.

Don’t be afraid to start late in the story. Experienced novelists know the first chapter will probably be cut out anyway. Often they draft it, get it out of their system and unceremoniously cut it out.

Think action. Put your main character in a fix right in the beginning and show  him doing something that is consistent with what he’s going to tackle later.

Think theme. Introduce your big idea in the first of the book. The reader may not be aware of it when they first read it, but it will tug at them subconsciously. They may even re-read the beginning to understand it fully.

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Why should you care?

Twenty five gajillion books are published each year. If you want your novel to make a dent in the market at all, you need to be excellent. The first impression that your novel makes to the reader is in what they read in the first five pages. Make sure those pages are as good as they can be.

Your first pages carry a lot of weight. Make sure that you avoid these eight awful openings, engage your reader and get on with your adventure!

 


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

Eleven Requirements For The First Pages of Your Bestseller

The first pages of a book are like opening a door.

I let myself go at the beginning and write with an easy mind, but by the time I get to the middle I begin to grow timid and to fear my story will be too long…That is why the beginning of my stories is always very promising and looks as though I were starting on a novel, and the middle is huddled and timid, and the end is…like fireworks. — Anton Chekov

Eleven Requirements You Need For The First Pages of Your Bestseller by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelists

The first pages of a book are  the first impression a reader, agent, publisher or reviewer will read.

Your goal is to keep them so interested that they can’t put it down. To make sure this happens, consider these eleven requirements for the first few pages. And to make it clear, I’ve used examples from Disney movies.

1. Your beginning should set the stage for the story. Without getting too bogged down with detail, the reader needs to know the general feel for the first scene. Is it indoors or outdoors? What time of year is it, if that’s important? What’s the weather like? Is the main character comfortable or not? What details needs to be mentioned to really see the first scene? Are the descriptions of the initial impression enough for the reader to piece it together so they can put their attention on the main character? In the opening of Aladdin, the viewer sees that the story takes place in a Middle Eastern desert in an Islamic culture. While you don’t have the use of computer animation and story boards, you can express this kind of detail in your words to set the stage.

2. Your beginning should introduce your protagonist. The reader needs a sympathetic inclination toward them, or identify with them or see them doing something that seems virtuous or heroic. A reader will formulate a main character’s appearance in their heads, so rather than insist that the protagonist’s look be precise, give just enough details to help the reader along. Our first impression of the main character should be an active one. Don’t have them waking up first thing in the morning or looking out a window. Now Disney did do this with poor Cinderella. The viewer meets her as she is wakened by birds and mice, but I’m going to cut her a break, since she worked so dang much and deserves a little shut eye.

“Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.”
Ray Bradbury

3. Your beginning should indicate early on the point of view and narrative voice. These are important because they set the tone of whole story.  Carefully choose what character you want to tell the story that’s in your head. Choose the character that has the most to lose. Consider choosing the character that has the strongest emotional connection to the theme. Then, make the words that they use be unique to them. In Pocahontas,  the story was not told from the point of view of Captain Smith, but of our title character. Pocahontas and her tribe had the most to lose in this story. The entire tone of the movie reflected her rich connection with nature and her worldview. Had it been told from Captain Smith’s point of view, everything about it would have been different. Including the name.

Eleven Requirements For The First Pages of Your Bestseller by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelist

4. Your beginning should hint at the theme. This must be a just a subtlety. In the first reading, your audience won’t see the connection between this opening shot and the rest of the book. But, if your theme is strong and consistent, they will go back to the beginning and see what you have done. Make your theme and intentions of the book understated. It may even be helpful to wait until the rest of the story has been drafted before you tackle the first scene. That’s not cheating, that’s art. In Lion King, the grand, big opening is the presentation of Simba to all of the animal kingdom by his family. Later the viewer sees that the themes include duty and family obligations. So the opening shot points to what’s coming up next.

5. Your beginning shouldn’t focus on making your main character likable.  Instead, focus on making them interesting. Whatever actions you put them in, make it intriguing enough so that the reader wants to know what happened. You’ve got the first third of the book to convince your reader that your protagonist is worth rooting for. Take your time. With apologies to every four-year-old girl in the universe, I’m not convinced that Anna from Frozen was all that likable. She was certainly cute, cheerful and spunky.  I had a hard time being sympathetic to her for never leaving her castle. Don’t even get me started on wanting to marry the first guy to show up at her party. Regardless of how I felt about her, I was still interested in how she was going to get out of this mess. For all her flaws, she was interesting.

“A novel is a tricky thing to map.”
Reif Larsen

6. Your beginning should move quickly with vivid action. A first chapter is not the place for deep introspection, navel gazing or explanation of tragic backstory. All of that can come about the first fourth of the story when the protagonist is debating whether or not to move forward on the adventure. In the beginning, concentrate on convincing the reader this character is worth following through his actions and words. Let’s turn our attention to Cars. The first scene is a race! What’s more active than that? The viewer meets Lightning McQueen (who also wasn’t that likeable) and sees him in action. We rooted for him to win and we didn’t even know why. The action told us about his history and his strengths and weaknesses. We were far more willing to watch what happened to him because we had seen him in action.

7. Your beginning should also explain the status quo. What is the main character’s life like? In just a few pages, you’re going to have that inciting incident jump on the reader like a jungle cat. To have the reader react well and care about the protagonist, the reader needs to know what peace is like for this main character. If done effectively, the reader will become more sympathetic to their plight and hope they fight that tiger well. This is where Belle from Beauty and the Beast sings Bonjour and shows us what it’s like in her poor provincial town. We know something is coming, (I mean the title is kind of a spoiler.) We’re more sympathetic to her because we understand how much she will lose once the story gets going.

“I almost always urge people to write in the first person. Writing is an act of ego and you might as well admit it.”
William Zinsser

8. Your beginning should explain, even briefly, what the deepest longing is for the protagonist. Now as you sculpt the story, you can add to this, or change it. The story hinges on your protagonist’s desire. Express this in a simple choice they make, something they say, or how they respond to a situation. Make sure that this desire is significant: it must be something that is a universal, something we can all identify with. Oh, Ariel, can you sing us that song again? In The Little Mermaid, we see Ariel swimming around describing her collection of treasures, explaining how unsatisfying they are. Part of Your World explains her deepest longing and sets the viewer up. We wonder now how she is going to get it.

9. Your beginning should have a big event. This is called the inciting incident. Besides being redundant, this is the big event that gets everything going for our main character. Often, the event is unexpected and disturbing. In Snow White, the queen hates our sweet little princess. The queen makes a decision that forces Snow White into the woods. This changes everything for Snow. Within your first few pages, you need to have your main character face something unexpected — it can be positive or negative — that sets the story in motion around them. Hopefully this incident will spark even more sympathy for them and keep the reader engaged.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Ernest Hemingway

10. Your beginning must have a figurative or literal threshold for your main character.  He or she enters a new world or a new phase of life that is unfamiliar. In Toy Story, Woody unwillingly crosses the threshold from being Andy’s favorite toy to his second favorite. With the arrival of Buzz Lightyear, everything about Woody’s life is different. He has to figure out how he’s going to handle it. We’ve all been rejected. We’ve all tried to make sense of it. So Woody has our sympathy.  Woody crosses another threshold when he decides to rescue Buzz against his better judgement, but that crossing goes into the second act. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

11. Your beginning should ask questions. What will happen next? In A Bug’s Life, by the end of the first act, the viewer wondered what was going to happen to Flick. The viewer wondered what the Ant Queen was going to do about the Grasshopper terrorists. As the story progresses, the questions should become more complicated and not necessarily answered.


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community.