Story Structure Breakdown: Zone 1

by Melissa Borg
May 10, 2021

On the hunt to understand why my stories kept breaking down, I stumbled onto the idea that stories can be broken down into roughly equal Four Zones. See my previous post Story Structure Breakdown for a high-level look at Four Zone Story Structure as presented by one of my favorite teachers Lisa W Miller in her Story Safari class.

This post will define Zone 1, the first quarter of the story.

Four-Zone Structure

Zone 1 covers the first one-fourth of the story and is the Set-Up of the story. This part introduces the reader to the main character and the ordinary world they live in. This section prepares the reader for the ride they're about to go on in Zones 2 - 4. It introduces the reader to the protagonist, what's at stake in the story, the main theme, a foreshadowing of the antagonist conflict and protagonist's backstory, and challenges the protagonist's normal life.

There are a few important events that happen in this Zone 1. The Hook, Inciting Incident, Call to Action, Defining Moment, and First Plot Point. Below is a quick description of each piece.

  • Hook - something at the beginning of the story that will capture your reader's attention and propel them forward.
  • Inciting Incident - an incident or external event that throws things out of balance for the protagonist and forces them to take action
  • Call to Action - a challenge that provides the protagonist with a potential goal and motivation; the event or information puts them on the spot and gives them a chance to put up or shut up
  • Defining Moment - often a conversation that points to the protagonist's internal character flaw that they will need to face to defeat the antagonist
  • First Plot Point - an event or occurrence that flips the story toward a new direction. This is the main conflict and end the set-up arch

I personally find the first zone one of my favorites because the story is new and interesting typically without being personally life-threatening for the protagonist. Yet. 🙂

Since I'm starting to write again, I am hyper-focused on this section and unraveling its mysteries. My main reason why is that I want to hook readers and keep them turning the pages into the next zone.

Have you ever noticed these pieces during the first quarter of a book or movie? Sadly, for my husband, I do all the time and make small comments about where we are in the story arch.

From a budding story structure nerd,

~Melissa Borg

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