Qualities of a Good Narrative 1: Frontloading

Good narratives are frontloaded. This means that everything needed to understand and appreciate the piece is provided in the first quarter, commonly called Act I or Setup, what I like to call Country.

At the moment, I can think of four things the front section should contain. Setting is one, especially world. By world, I mean the rules and tools that delimit the story's potential. As close as possible to the very beginning, it should become clear whether or not magic, monsters, advanced technology or other such factors are present. World is key to the Hook, which heads the first eighth of the narrative.

Another key element of the Hook is the protagonist. The first eighth deals with the protagonist's "flow-of-life", or life before the featured conflict, so it is here that we typically meet or hear about the protagonist and the people in his circle of regular friends and enemies. The second eighth, headed by the Inciting Incident, generally introduces the antagonist and his circle. Characters reserved for later introduction are suggested by group or location if not by name.

Although the conflict does not really commence until the First Plot Turn at the end of the first quarter, at the end of the first eighth we look for an Inciting Incident to reassure us that a conflict is imminent. This is the point at which the protagonist's goals and the forces against them become apparent to the audience if not to the characters.

The first quarter is also where themes first appear. Subtly or boldly, the narrative indicates what area of human experience it concerns itself with.

 

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