Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Writing Tip Tuesday

One of the most critical elements of the setup of a story is the catalyst (sometimes called the inciting incident).

The catalyst begins the action of the story.

It is the moment the story begins. The reader now knows what the story is about.

  • The catalyst should come as early in the story as possible.
  • The strongest catalyst is an event or action, but it can also be situational (a series of situations that add up to reveal the story).

I'm a firm believer in jumping right into the story. The longer you take to let the reader know what the story is about, the more you risk losing her.

(Often, however, the reader needs to be grounded in setting and character before the story action begins. In those cases, the catalyst won't necessarily be in the first page or two - but a tad later. The operative word here is tad. You'll want to get the action going ASAP.)

During revision, take a look at your manuscript and see if you can literally point your finger to the very spot where the action of the story starts.

Then ask yourself if that spot is as close to the beginning as possible.

Next, take a look at everything that comes before that spot and ask yourself if it can either come later - or be deleted altogether.

Remember my experience with David Small pinpointing the catalyst of my story - which was two chapters later than it should have been? A lesson I've never forgotten.

Next Writing Tip Tuesday: central question


susan taylor brown said...

This is a very timely post for me because I am trying to figure out how much grounding I need to do before I can put the story into motion. Since the big catalyst is what happens after they move, I need to get them moved as soon as possible. But if the MC isn't grounded in his old world first, there's not much of an impact.

In an earlier version I jumped right to the action but my critique group told me they just didn't care enough yet about all that because they had no idea what he was coming from.

Ah, this business of writing is so much rewriting.

Barbara O'Connor said...

I can totally relate to what you're saying. It's tricky finding that perfect balance. While I prefer to get that catalyst up there toward the front asap - I also agree with situations like yours - where the reader needs enough prep work to care about the character's actions.

Balance is the key, I guess.