Stage I mainly encompasses our setup to the everyday life of our hero before their journey begins. As writers this is where we must create a hero worth falling in love with or rooting for. How do we do this?
First, create empathy by either making the hero a victim of some misfortune, or by putting your character in jeopardy. The threat doesn’t necessarily need to be physical. The threat of losing something of vital importance to the hero will draw the readers to the character’s plight. It is also important to create a likable hero. Without this, no matter how dire the situation, the readers will not connect with the character. There are various ways of achieving this. People are naturally drawn to people who are funny, people who have a unique skill, or those who are good at what they do. Likable hero’s readily share their time and talents with others. If your character is a loner, a random act of kindness will leave a lasting impression in the readers’ minds.
The Amazing Spiderman does a fantastic job of setting up the world of Peter Parker prior to his transformation. Peter is a victim of mysterious misfortune. His parents left him in the safe hands of his Aunt and Uncle at a young age and then were killed in an automobile accident. The audience sees a tormented, lonely hero in search for the truth about his parents. We also see a young man who struggles to fit in. Even so, he is still willing to reach out a hand to help others. Peter is often the target of bullies in school. This does not stop him from stepping in and helping another target to his own great detriment. After suffering a beating at the hands of a bully in front of the entire school, he is rewarded by gaining the attention of the girl he admires most. Gwen believes Peter’s actions exceptionally brave, if not incredibly stupid. Her response is the embodiment of the audience’s reaction. In addition to finding him an interesting character, we now empathize with Peter Parker. This is the perfect set up for when he gains his Spidey powers. The audience already knows that with or without his powers, Peter Parker is the type of young man who runs towards danger to aid others. So much has already happened, and Peter has yet to embark on his actual journey.
At the start of my current WIP, Forbidden Signs, Terra is living the life of a seemingly normal teenager. Sure, there have been unique and unexplainable occurrences in her life, but they have grown to be par for the course over time. At the start of the novel, we see a well-liked girl, readily willing to lend a hand to others in her community and abroad. She has turned her unique and unexplainable talent into a thriving business for her previously struggling family. In addition, the opportunity to be with the boy she considers her true love is abruptly taken away without explanation. Prior to applying The Six Stage Plot Structure to Forbidden Signs, these emphatic devices were already in the draft. After taking a closer look at my set up, I enhanced them in the hopes of drawing my audience closer to my heroine.
For the most part our own daily lives are rooted firmly in Stage I. Often we are strolling along, feeling as if we’re in a groove, and then BAM, welcome to your journey! For example, years ago I was a young mother to a 1 year old. After four years of trying for a child, she finally made her way into this world. That first year was so peaceful in its routine of juggling work and parenthood for my husband and I. Then out of nowhere my father was diagnosed with brain cancer. Life was turned upside down for my entire family. This change moved us all swiftly from the comfortable confines of Stage I on to an unavoidable journey.
The important thing to keep in mind regarding Stage I in novels or screenplays is that at this point, our hero is living FULLY IN HIS IDENTITY. He or she is stuck in some way until Turning Point #1 comes along and takes the hero in a new direction. It is at this point that the Hero’s Journey truly begins.
Next week I’ll focus exclusively on Turning Point #1. Until then, I’d love to hear from you. What Stage I story set ups in novels or films have made lasting impressions on you, and why? What emphatic devices do the story tellers use to draw the readers or viewers to the hero?