Card # 14, the First Set-up Scene Card asks the question,
“What leads to Act 2 of my novel?”
Near the end of Act 1 of your novel, after you’ve hooked your reader with the beginning scene and shown your protagonist and her world, you need a scene in which the protagonist commits to the action required in the book. Syd Field called it Plot Point 1 of a movie script and other authors have used the same term for the novel. But I prefer the term set-up since that’s what this scene does. Specifically, the first set-up scene sets up the action that follows in Act 2 in which the heroine confronts the problem and tries to resolve the situation by jumping the hurdles in her way.
It’s like the moment in a boxing match–after the fighter you favor has strutted into the ring, likewise his opponent–when the bell rings and one of boxers throws the first punch, thus setting the tone and character of the match. Or the tennis player puts the ball into play. The private eye might have signed the contract earlier, but now he emotionally commits to it.
In a romance, the heroine and her love interest, having met cute in Act 1, decide to try to make a go of it somehow.
In fantasy, the first set up happens when the hero accepts the call to adventure and sets off on his epic adventure through Middle Earth or goes off to Hogwarts for his first year of wizardry school.
In Theresa Hupp’s historical Western novels Lead Me Home and Forever Mine, the characters begin their journey on the Oregon Trail in the first set-up scene.
And now let’s move on to another pivotal part of your novel, the Second Set up Scene.
The Second Set-up Scene Card asks the question,
“How leads to Act 3 of my novel?”
Similar to the first set-up scene, the second set-up scene, more commonly called Plot Point 2, sets up Act 3 of the novel. That is, it sets up the climactic scene of the novel, the most intense scene of the novel, and also the aftermath of the climax, the dénouement. In the second set-up scene, for example, the hero prepares to make one more attempt to defeat the villain, or the antagonist throws one last, truly daunting challenge in the hero’s way. The protagonist girds her loins, or the villain musters his troops.
In Western fiction, the sheriff sets off to meet the swaggering bad guys in the middle of the street of the little cow town.
In romantic fiction, the hero prepares one last attempt to woo and win the gal he loves.
One of my all time favorite second set-up scenes in crime fiction appears in Dick Francis’s debut novel, Odds Against. Sid Halley, already handicapped with a missing hand, wakes up strapped to a boiler about to explode. Oh boy, you say to yourself, Will Sid get out of there in time to avoid dying? How will he do it? If he gets free, does he go after the bad guy and catch him? No spoilers from me. You have to read this great novel for yourself to find out.
Don’t worry if you don’t have much of an idea for this scene when you initially make out your cards. It will come.
Next time we’ll move on to one more plot card.