About Plot, Part I – the Set-Up

Romeo - pt 1I was sitting with my children the other night, helping my oldest study for a test in language arts.  She was studying key terms – things like “internal conflict”, “external conflict” and “sub plot”.  I realized at that moment that I initially learned about story construction in middle school.

Almost all stories can be broken down into twelve essential parts, or steps. In this series of posts I am going to go through these stages  and divide into three sections:  The set-up, the confrontation, and the resolution.

The set-up consists of the first five of the twelve stages of the story (with some variation), and takes about 25% of a story.  The parts included are the exposition – or introduction of the story, the problem or challenge, the introduction of the helper or mentor, the edge of adventure and the point of no return. 

This section is designed to introduce the ordinary world of the main characters.  The problem is introduced as well – as problem which the main character attempts to solve, resulting in the first main turning point of the story. 

This turning point signals the end of part I and must accomplish a few things – a) ensures that the hero will be forever changed, and b) raises a dramatic question which the rest of the story (especially the climax) will then answer.  Let’s look at each part related to a piece of classic literature most of us know – Romeo and Juliet.

***please note, I have purposefully split this a little differently then the 3 -act ballet, or the 5-act play.  It is for illustrative purposes only, not a set-in-stone division.  I leave that level of analysis to people with more expertise than me!***

  1. Exposition/Introduction:  Hero (s) is introduced.  Background, setting and the ordinary world of the characters are introduced as well. In the example of Romeo and Juliet, we are introduced to Verona, the character Romeo and his infatuation with Rosaline, and the dynamics between the Capulets and the Montagues. 
  2. The Problem:  The main problem in the story is introduced at this point.  In Romeo and Juliet, this is where Romeo meets his beloved Juliet and falls for her, despite the fact that she belongs to his family’s arch rivals.
  3. Mentor/Helper is Introduced:   Someone who can help the Hero overcome the problem is introduced at this point.  In Romeo and Juliet, this stage would occur when Romeo seeks out advice from Friar Lawrence .
  4. The Edge of Adventure – This is the point at which the true journey for the protagonist (s) begin.  It is the set-up to the first major turning point in the story.  Romeo an Juliet, it is the section of the story in which the couple prepare for marriage – Juliet’s nurse gets the ladder for Romeo, and the Friar prepares the secret marriage ceremony.  
  5. The Point of No Return  – This is the first major turning point at which the hero fully commits to the journey ahead.  In Romeo and Juliet, it is the marriage scene – when the couple decides to forgo their family bonds and marry, despite the fact that their families hate each other.

This entire section forms the Set-Up of the story itself.  It leads the reader directly to heart of the storyline.  

Next time, we will examine the Confrontation section of the story.

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9 thoughts on “About Plot, Part I – the Set-Up

  1. Hahaha … writing, it’s a 12-step program!

  2. I love this! :) Great break down, Christine!

  3. I love this! I use skeletons like this all the time when we’re outlining a book. It’s a little scary, but this time around we’re flying by the seat of our pants with the WIP. We definitely have an idea of where the story is going, but no outline. I know, I know, we’re totally crazy over here!

  4. Man, this makes my head hurt in a good way. I so don’t think about writing like this. I need to, I just don’t. Great post!

  5. Have you read Joseph Cambell? There’s a lot here that is similar…you might pick up some ideas from him! :)

  6. Beth – Do you mean Joseph Campbell? – Cause I LOVE him. Joseph Cambell I have not read.

  7. I agree that this seems very similar to what Joseph Campbell calls the Hero’s Journey. I always thought that applied mostly to quest stories, though–I never would have thought to analyze Romeo and Juliet that way!

  8. Sandra, I actually feel that this process applies to a LOT more than a hero’s journey…and when you start analysis lit in this way, almost all story forms can flow this way.

    Thanks fr the comments

  9. Pingback: About Plot, Part III – the Resolution « The Musings of Christine Fonseca

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