STORY ESSENTIALS #2: A Setup
This series reveals what I consider to be the ESSENTIAL components of any great story. These critical elements will all be familiar to you if you’ve followed my writing, teaching or coaching for any length of time. But my goal is not to be original; it’s to ensure you have a firm foundation on which to build an emotionally powerful and persuasive story. These are the principles you must master if you want to impact people’s lives – and increase your revenue, whether you’re creating a film, TV episode, novel, non-fiction or instructional book, speech, webinar, blog or sales pitch.
Every successful story begins with a setup – a sequence that introduces us to the hero, living his or her everyday life before beginning the journey that will define the story and drive the action forward.
This initial stage of your story must occur in a specific place and time, ideally just before you hero encounters the event that will move her to action. It is critical that you be vivid and specific in describing the setting, character, action and dialogue that comprise these scenes. Your goal must be to transport your readers or audiences from the ordinary world they occupy into the world you’ve created.
The setup is the “before” picture of your hero – your way of saying to your audience, “This is who my hero was yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that.” Then we can appreciate the “after” picture of your hero that you will reveal at the end of your story: the transformed life she is living after finding the courage to complete her journey.
The setup marks the beginning of your hero’s story chronologically, though it may not be the first scene of your story. You might prefer creating immediate emotion by opening with your hero confronting a huge, threatening obstacle late in their journey, or by revealing the nemesis of your story, whom the hero will eventually have to overcome.
Or you might begin with a prologue showing your hero’s life long before the journey begins, so we can witness some painful trauma or formative event they suffered. But any time you employ one of these openings, the sequence that immediately follows must be the setup of your story.