Monday, March 30, 2009

Where the Story Starts

Most stories start with an ‘Initial Situation’ or a depiction of the main character’s ordinary world, his home. Here the reader learns about the main character, his family situation, and any prophecies or forewarning about this character. This setting indicates the hero’s condition, the world in which they currently live. Valdimir Propp called it the ‘Initial Situation,’ and Joseph Campbell, the ‘Call to Adventure,’ which he says, ‘signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown.’

The Initial Situation also gives hint to the basic problem, or the main character’s lack, or a lack in his family or community. There may a coincidence or mistake that reveals a hidden secret or something amiss that the hero must be resolved. These mishaps are often an invitation to journey, the chance change -- whether it be to find new love, to solve a murder, to save the world, or to visit an altogether different world. Adventure calls promising change.

With today’s fast-paced society, stories have also sped up. Opening scenes, first paragraphs and first chapters have to have a ‘hook,’ a dilemma or situation that grabs the reader's attention and pulls them into the story. Often this occurs in the character’s common world. In the various CSI television programs, it is the murder as it happens or the discovery of a body and then shortly the main character and his investigation team that serves as the initial situation and call to adventure.

Check it out. Think about TV shows or any book you’re reading. Can you identify the initial situation and the demand for change? It might be in the opening credits, an opening scene lasting a minute or less, it might be a sentence, a paragraph, or a whole chapter.

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