How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss: reviewing Act One, the beginning


Welcome to Part Sixteen of our popular fiction series. This week, Lucy shows how important it is to go back and review “Act One,” the essence of your work of fiction, to make sure you give everything a reality check on how it’s going so far. For all the articles in the series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar on the right —>>>

How to write fiction without the fuss

Reviewing Act One: the beginning

Since we finished working through the structure of your story, we have looked at your narrative voice, getting your reader hooked early on, “showing” as opposed to “telling”, writing dialogue for your characters, and the nitty gritty of sentence and paragraph construction. During this time you might have started to write your story and put some of this into practice.

Whether you are writing a full length novel, a novella or short story – even flash fiction, in fact – all storytelling is built on a three act structure: beginning, middle and end.

So if you’ve been writing the beginning of your story, which I defined earlier as two sections: the Trigger (or inciting incident which initiates the action of the plot); and the Quest Begins (in which the hero/ine or main characters set off on their physical or emotional journey) what should you have included?

Here’s a checklist:

**You have started story with, or included very early on, a dramatic incident which grabbed the readers’ attention. This might be a time to go back and check whether you can edit out some of your opening paragraphs or pages and embed background information into later action.

**You have introduced the protagonist(s) and most of the central characters.

**You have set up the status quo of their opening position(s), from where the plot will soon move them out of their comfort zone.

**You have given the reader reasons to like, or at least engage with, the main characters.

**You have initiated the major plot line, the central “problem” or “issue”, the solving or resolving of which the story revolves around, and established how high the stakes are for the protagonist(s) of achieving their quest.

**You have got the ball rolling on one or more subplots – either directly or by foreshadowing them.

**You have established the setting of your story – including the era, country, society and ethos.

**You have introduced the “villain” or nemesis of the hero(ine).

**You have embedded your theme within the opening chapters of the story.

This could be a good time to let one or a couple of trusted readers (sometimes called beta readers), and/or a writing mentor, look at your work. Be clear about what sort of feedback you want from them: it must be honest, specific and constructive, including positive reactions as well as improvements they think you could make.

Ask them to tell you:

**Their overall reaction – and especially whether they wanted to read on to find out what was going to happen next.

**How they felt about the main character(s). Did they love, hate, engage with or feel irritated by them? Specifically why?

**What they thought the story was going to consist of (you want them to be half right, but not to guess the entire plot at the stage).

**Whether they had a clear picture of the world you have established for your story.

**If they found it easy to read – in the sense of not being distracted by poor grammar, spelling, punctuation, or hard-to-follow action (bearing in mind that this is only your first draft).

**If there were any obvious plot holes or inconsistencies.

**What they enjoyed most.

**What they would most like you to change.

In summary, Act One is a preparation for the reader. In it, the world of the story should be established and the protagonist should meet most of the characters, especially their enemy/ies. It is where the reader must understand what the main problem or issue of the story is going to be, engage emotionally with the hero/ine(s) and become aware, even subliminally, of the theme of your book.

The most important aspect of the Beginning two sections is to draw the reader in and ensure they want to know how the story is going to turn out.

Next week we’ll look at coping with Writers’ Block. (I’m really looking forward to that one, in particular … Sz.)

For all the articles in this series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar up a way on the right —>>>

Lucy McCarraher

Lucy McCarraher


Managing Editor, Rethink Press.


Meanwhile, let’s perfect your non-fiction, too…

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“How To Write Winning Non-fiction”…all you need to know to write a good non-fiction book and get it published
…plus take a look at Lucy’s novels here





  1. Another great post! As usual, very informative, inspiring and helpful. Thank you very much!

    • So glad you found it useful, Vashti. Please feel free to let me know any areas of your fiction writing you would like help with, and I’ll try to address them. This applies to anyone, of course.