Your story needs three more key points/transitions to propel your characters through those acts.
The Inciting Incident
The inciting incident is the incident, circumstance, or situation that sets the story in motion. It’s what separates backstory from the story.
Backstory is the family upbringing, education, work history, and friendships that influenced the character and direct how he responds to the situations in his life; it’s what inspires the character’s goals, motivations, and conflicts (GMCs). Backstory also influences how the character will respond to the inciting incident.
The inciting incident requires two specific things:
- It must be out of the ordinary/unexpected.
- It requires a response.
Going to the movies isn’t an inciting incident. Going to the movies and seeing an ex-wife for the first time in ten years is an inciting incident – the character didn’t plan on or expect to see his ex.
The inciting incident also requires that the character does something – in this case the character can run and hide or confront his ex. Regardless of the reaction, it’s important to see the character respond. If it’s not necessary for him to respond, if it’s something he can experience and forget about, it’s not an inciting incident.
The first door marks the transition between the first and second acts. It happens after the introduction, after the inciting incident, and after the reader has invested in the characters and their lives. This is the point where the main character has to make another decision, but this is a life-altering decision.
The first door gives your character two options: go back to normal life and hope for the best (which would be boring for the reader!) or pick the option that will forever change his life.
Using the example above, your hero sees his ex-wife (inciting incident) and decides to acknowledge her. Later that night, however, her voice haunts him. He has two choices – try to forget her and hope that he can or actively try to get that voice out of his head (he might call her to try to confront her or maybe he turns to alcohol or other women to try to forget).
Regardless of how your character responds once he steps through that door, he needs to go through it and onto a path that takes him away from his everyday life.
Every character comes to the point where he needs to make one final decision that will influence the outcome of the story. As with the inciting incident and the first door, this decision will define him, but the second door is a different kind of decision.
At the first door, your character had to decide whether or not to go through the door. The second door, however, isn’t an option – he has to go through. The conflict comes from he decision about which way to go once he walks through.
This second door is usually a decision between good or bad, right or wrong, easy or difficult. It comes at the end of act two and leads the characters (and reader) into the final, concluding act.
Going back to our hero, suppose you’re writing a romance novel: the first door he went through was to confront his ex-wife about why she cheated on him a decade ago. Throughout act two they’ve been getting to know each other again. As the feelings and situations get more intense, the hero finds himself in front of the second door – he has to choose to trust his ex-wife again and rekindle their romance or he decides to walk away. Either decision with end this part of his life’s story.
Or maybe you decided to take this character on a journey through alcoholism. After realizing how much power his past has over him, the second act shows him navigating life and developing coping mechanisms. Then, after getting fired, he ends up in a bar – will he take that drink or can he resist?
And now you’re ready!
It’s finally time to sit down and start writing – good luck!
Does any part of the two-door system confuse you? What about the inciting incident?