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Act One – The Orphan

Once upon a time, in a land far away there was a King and a Queen and they had three beautiful daughters… but the most beautiful of all was Psyche.

Adapted from Greek myth, The Tale of Eros and Psych

The Archetypal Pattern of Act One

The archetypal pattern of act one is based around the Call to Adventure. Without it there would be no story. In order to Cross the First Threshold your protagonist must be summoned by circumstance and encouraged by Meeting the Mentor.

So those are the three main scenes or pressure points of Act One.

  1. Call to Adventure – does your MC accept or refuse the call?
  2. Meeting the Mentor – the mentor might be a single individual or simply someone or something wearing the ‘mask of the mentor.
  3. Crossing the First Threshold – remember the importance of contrast in order to heighten tension

The Force of the Call to Adventure

The force of this call is always combined with a need for change within the main character of your story.

The Call propels him towards an adventure of transformation.

As human beings we understand this on a deep unconscious level. Only recently are we beginning to comprehend what a ‘story’ really is. By fusing the Hero’s Journey model of story pressure points with the Four-Act Story Structure it appears clear that story is a thing of and in itself.

In other words, story has a pattern or functional template. By making use of this the writer can design plot, create characters and play around with concepts in whatever way she chooses.

All stories are different.

All stories are essentially the same. The reason we return to them again and again for entertainment is that they touch us on a profound level.

We were born to make sense of the world through pattern recognition and the Universal story or Ur-story as I like to call it, it simply one of the templates we use for this purpose.

Elements of Act One

Act one needs to introduce your main characters, set-up the dramatic action and conflict, and hint at the main theme.

At the start of the myth of Eros and Psyche; Eros is the god of erotic love but the main character in this story is clearly the mortal Psyche. The antagonistic force is Eros’ mother the goddess Aphrodite.

Dramatic action begins early on when Aphrodite tells her son, Eros, to pierce Psyche’s heart with an arrow of love and make her fall for a low and ugly creature.

Conflict ensues when Eros is pierced by his own arrow and falls in love with Psyche but decides not to tell his jealous, angry, powerful mother.

Theme is hinted at by the fact that Psyche is a mortal woman who falls in love with a god. He is immortal and she is not. How can this ever work? That’s the story question – which should always be slipped in to Act One.

In a nutshell then, make sure you – Introduce Your Main Characters,

Set-up Dramatic Action and Hint at the Main Theme. It’s easiest to do this if you use a scene outline system of some kind. More on that in a later post.  As always, start with the general and work down to the particular.  Hopefully you’ve got an overall story idea.  Use the mind-map below to outline Act One more clearly by identifying the pressure points. 

Below is a mind-map I made

Print out a copy and make notes all over it.  Use colour (sorry to everyone who knows the word as ‘color’ but I have to spell it the English way, can’t help it). 

Doodle on this map.  Be free.  Create and amuse/scare/emote/surprise yourself. You’re more likely to amuse/scare/emote and surprise your reader this way to.

Making changes later will be easier because you’ve got a single sheet overview of the whole act.
Keep on writing word warriors!