How to Plot Act I- The Catalyst
Hello, all! Exciting news. I just hit 15,000 words in my novel. I’ve been writing around 1,000- 1,500 words a day, and it is really exciting to see the progress I have made. In another post, I will break down how outlining scene by scene has helped me be able to produce quickly and efficiently. But before I could make that breakdown by scene, I had to have the overarching plot done. So let’s get back to that!
Today we are going to talk about a plot point I think of as 'The Catalyst for Change.' It’s a very important part of your book that comes after the hook. If you need to read the post on how to plot a hook, you can read that here.
Without the catalyst for change, your character would keep living the same life that they already were. So essentially without this plot point the entire rest of your book wouldn’t happen. Remember Harry Potter? Well, his catalyst for change came as a letter from Hogwarts. Until then he was living a pretty terrible life under the stairs. As soon as that letter came, massive changes occurred, such as him being moved to Dudley’s “second” bedroom. And it is important to note that a lot of things happen because of this moment in Harry Potter. The Dursley’s go so far to go hide on a rock in the middle of the sea! All the stuff the Dursley’s did to keep Harry from learning the truth are part of the “Resist or Prepare for Change” that you can see in our plotting graph.
Now, I have the catalyst for change at the 12% mark, and most of the time these percentages are right on point, but sometimes it can come a little before. Out of all the plot points, it is probably the most moveable but you should never have the Catalyst happen after the 12% point. If you do, you will have a slow beginning and risk losing your readers.
So what does the Catalyst for Change have to accomplish? Well... it pretty much says it all in the title. Something has to force your character out of their normal world. In Harry Potter, it was the letter. In Hunger Games, it was Katniss volunteering for the games. In The Hobbit, it was Gandalf and the dwarfs coming to visit and requesting him to join them on the journey. Fantasy stories are often the easiest to spot this change, because the characters literally have to leave their normal and go to a new world, but the same concept applies to other types of stories.
So let’s see this in action shall we? I think it is time to see where Hank’s story is going to go next. If you don’t know who Hank is, please read the earlier post on ‘The Hook’ linked above to catch up!
Okay, so we left Hank in a bit of a dark place. The love of his life had just been sacrificed, and he even had to sell her wedding dress. He isn’t having a great time of things, but he lives in a world where people being sacrificed is a normal thing. He just happened to have the bad luck to be the partner of the one selected. This isn’t enough to make Hank leave his regular world. He has to have some sort of push that will make him stop wallowing and try to accomplish some change.
Often the catalyst comes with a mentor. A mentor comes in and basically shows the main character the door, and then that character has to choose if they should take it or not. We see this with Hagrid and Gandalf in our earlier examples. I feel like Hank is going to need a mentor for our story... so let’s make one. Shall we?
The typical mentor is usually an old man. So... let’s not do that. I’m going to have my mentor be a spunky young girl well on her way to being called a troublesome woman. Let’s call her Sparky. That’s not her real name, of course, but her real name... Jane... is boring and she refuses to go by it. This girl knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to demand it.
Okay, so we have a mentor character. Now we somehow need to get them to cross paths with our protagonist and once they do they need something they can offer, explain, or do to the protagonist that will be the catalyst for change.
I don’t think I want Hank to have seen Sparky before. We are going to make her a complete stranger. With the characterization I have given sparky I feel like he is going to stumble upon her, probably making trouble. She isn’t going to seek him out, but she still will have some important information for him.
This is a world of magic, run by an evil sorceress who sucks the lives out of people. So what I am going to do is make it illegal to do magic. When someone is in power, and they know they have reason to fear an angry mob, they are usually going to put restrictions into place to cling to said power. So in this world Sandy, the sorceress, has banned all study of magic. If no one else studies it... well, then no one else can change her. Can they? Also, since we know that Hank’s overall story goal is to become the most powerful sorcerer in the world... making him doing that illegal only adds to the conflict. Remember that conflict = story.
So back to Sparky. Sparky doesn’t follow the prescribed role of girlhood, and she certainly isn’t going to follow some stupid law. She’s got magic, and she’s going to use it... but unfortunately because all the magical schools have been shuttered, she’s not well trained... what could go wrong?
Well, Sparky just moved next door to Hank. Hank is busy sitting in his living room grieving for the loss of Ruth. Sparky goes out to her backyard, a bit angry at her mother who said something along the lines of Sparky needing a finishing school. Once she gets there, she sees a pile of old wood left by the former tenant. And that’s all it takes. Sparky has an idea, and she didn’t give herself the name Sparky for no reason. She’s going to light that fire with magic.
And she does light things on fire. The pile of wood, the fence between their houses, and the trellis with Ruth’s roses on it. Hank smells the smoke from within the house, scrambles outside, and douses everything in water, including Sparky, who laughs.
Hank’s furious. Ruth’s roses are ruined. Who is this little girl? And why is she adding to his troubles? He asks her how the fire started so quickly and she simply says, “magic.”
And that’s going to be it. My hook was awfully dramatic, so I want this plot point to be a bit more subtle. But it is still going to fulfill the job. Until this point, Hank has accepted his normal world. His love was sacrificed, and there is nothing he could do about it. Now, with one word, an annoying neighbor causing trouble has jostled his mind and made him realize that while magic is illegal, in this world most people have it. He’s going to go home and stew over this until finally he will formulate his goal: I am going to become the most powerful sorcerer in the world, illegal or not, and overthrow Sandy.
Make sure to come back next time to see how Hank prepares for his journey out of his normal world and the moment when he truly crosses the threshold! Until then I wish you...