When I start a new story, one of the first things I do is figure out the major plot points – statement of theme on page 3 (or at least thereabouts), inciting incident on page 10, and so on. After that, it’s coming up with the most effective way to get from one to the next. It’s how I’ve always done it, and it works for me.
One of the key purposes of the end of your first act is to get your hero off on their journey. This includes raising the central question of your story – will the hero accomplish their goal? For example, in STAR WARS it’s the scene after Luke discovers the smoldering corpses of his aunt and uncle. He tells Ben he wants to go with him to Alderaan, learn the ways of the Jedi, etc.
Since I’d started working on my western outline, a lot of the plot points were pretty firmly established. I knew what I wanted to happen and when. For the most part, they’ve stayed the same this whole time.
I filled in the gaps between those points with scenes and sequences that I felt did the best job of moving the story forward, including some that needed to have the proper amount of emotional gravitas.
Jump ahead to the present. The churning-out of pages continues. Some scenes are easier to write than others, but progress is constant. I work my way through Act One, wrapping it up with a sequence that really changes things around.
But then I realized Act One really ends in the scene right before it. This short, dialogue-free scene still moves the story forward, but has a more significant impact on the story itself – moreso than the rousing sequence that follows. The hero’s situation completely changes direction, and you can’t help but wonder how she could possibly accomplish her goal after this. No matter what, her situation is going to get worse before it gets better.
Working all of this out during the outline stage was a huge benefit. It seems very doubtful I would have discovered this if I had just dashed off a quick outline and dove into pages. Further proof why it’s important to take your time and fine-tune your outline.
So now I’m a few pages into Act Two and as this sequence kicks in, things get changed up even further. Only negative that came to light: my hero isn’t the one making things happen. She has to be more active and less reactive. I may spend a little time on it now, or come back to it during the rewrite.
And if I’ve done a good enough job on developing this outline, the answer may already be right there in front of me again.
I just don’t know it yet.