The Psychology of Act One

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In our last column, we’ve talked about the Inciting Incident. This week, let’s talk about the rest of Act One. What does that mean? Well, the inciting incident has happened, the monkey wrench has been thrown, our protagonist’s life is completely out of whack. What do we do when something like that happens? We try to ignore it. We don’t want to deal with it. Why can’t we stay on the couch and eat ice cream? In technical terms, Act One of a screenplay comprises SETUP, INCITING INCIDENT, HERO REJECTING THE CALL.

Now, often you might find only a hint of the hero refusing their call to action, and sometimes you might find a real struggle. However, it should always be present.

Look at life: if something big happens, we don’t normally immediately embrace it and deal with it. This can be as pronounced as a loved one dying and, at first, all we can do is sit there with our emotions frozen in amber. We don’t normally just jump right into counseling, dealing with estate stuff, planning the funeral.

Or it can be as nuanced as getting a rejection letter. We don’t saddle up right away. Or take a class. Or call our best friend. Sometimes we just end up watching animated chihuahua videos before we take action. In other words, Hero Refusing the Call makes your protagonist human.


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