Read Time: 5 minutes

Welcome to the starting line of your story: Act 1

Your first act is where the magic begins. It’s where you introduce everyone to the world you’ve dreamed up and the characters who live in it. This is your moment to hook your audience and send them on a journey worth taking.

In this quick guide, we’ll focus on three crucial elements of Act 1: the hook, the inciting incident, and the story goal launch. These are the keys to unlocking your story’s potential and ensuring your audience cares about the following two acts.

Now let’s get into it.

Act 1: The Launch Pad of Your Story

Act 1 serves multiple functions in storytelling.

It introduces your characters, establishes the setting, and sets up the stakes. But more than that, it makes a promise to your readers or viewers about the journey they’re about to embark on. This is where you grab their attention and convince them to invest in your story.

The Hook: Seizing Attention (1% mark of story)

The hook is your story’s first impression. It’s the opening scene that draws your audience in, piquing their curiosity or generating an emotional response.

A strong hook is both intriguing and reflective of the story’s overall tone.

Why It’s Important: Without a compelling hook, people may not stay engaged long enough to discover the wonders of your story. It’s your first and sometimes only chance to grab their attention.

  • Why The Matrix Works: The film opens with an intense chase scene involving Trinity, combining mystery with action. This scene immediately hooks viewers by presenting a world where the impossible seems ordinary, sparking questions about the nature of this reality. It sets the tone for a narrative filled with unexpected twists and profound revelations.
  • Why The Hunger Games Sticks: The glimpse into Katniss’s life in District 12, caring for her mother and sister in a world of scarcity, instantly grounds us in her reality. This hook does more than capture our attention; it builds empathy for Katniss and sets the stage for a tale of survival, resilience, and defiance against overwhelming odds.
  • Why Star Wars – Episode IV Captivates: The opening scene throws us into the midst of a space battle between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire, complete with a boarding action on Princess Leia’s ship. This not only establishes the central conflict but also introduces us to a universe where heroism and villainy are on a collision course, promising a saga of cosmic scale and personal valor.
  • Why Inception Intrigues: The opening sequence starts with Cobb found washed ashore and taken to meet with an elderly man, Saito, in a crumbling mansion. This encounter, framed by Cobb’s fleeting visions of children playing, hints at deep, personal loss and a past shrouded in mystery. The scene swiftly transitions into Cobb navigating a dream within a dream, showcasing the film’s exploration of dream manipulation. This hook is not just puzzling; it draws viewers into a narrative that blurs the lines between reality and the subconscious, challenging them to decipher its complexities alongside the characters.

The Inciting Incident: Sparking the Flame (Roughly 10% mark of story)

Following the hook, the inciting incident is the next major event that disrupts the protagonist’s world, compelling them to respond. This moment is crucial as it transitions the narrative from introduction to a phase of contemplation, setting the stage for action.

It not only propels the protagonist toward the story’s main conflict in Act 2 but also precedes and informs the story goal launch, where the protagonist’s objectives become clearly defined.

Why It’s Important: The inciting incident pushes the protagonist out of their comfort zone and toward an inevitable point of no return.

  • The Matrix‘s Lesson: Neo, trapped in his mundane office life, is cornered by agents and given a cryptic choice by Morpheus over the phone. This scene, where Neo’s fear overrides his curiosity, leading to his capture, serves as a precursor to his true inciting incident: the life-altering decision between the red and blue pills. It’s this choice that thrusts him into a reality-altering journey, symbolizing his first step towards transformation and the unraveling of his world.
  • The Hunger Games‘ Teachings: Katniss Everdeen’s inciting incident occurs when she volunteers to take her sister Prim’s place in the Hunger Games, a brutal televised fight to the death. This selfless act of sacrifice not only tests her strength and challenges her core values but also marks her entry into a larger battle against the oppressive Capitol, setting the stage for a story of survival, rebellion, and change.
  • Star Wars – Episode IV‘s Message: Luke Skywalker’s life on Tatooine takes a dramatic turn when he discovers a hidden message from Princess Leia in R2-D2, pleading for Obi-Wan Kenobi’s help. This discovery propels Luke from a life of obscurity into the heart of the Galactic Civil War. It’s the moment that sparks his journey from farm boy to galactic hero, challenging him to find his destiny and play a pivotal role in the battle between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire.
  • Inception’s Insight: Cobb’s decision to accept Saito’s offer, after successfully completing a test within a layered dream, marks the inciting incident. This choice to perform inception in exchange for a chance to return to his children not only drives the plot but also delves deep into themes of love, loss, and the quest for redemption.

The Story Goal Launch: Setting the Direction (Roughly 20-25% mark of story)

After the protagonist’s status quo is shaken by the inciting incident, the story goal launch clarifies what the protagonist aims to achieve during the overarching plot. This goal, whether it’s to save the world, solve a mystery, or achieve personal growth, drives the narrative forward.

Why It’s Important: Establishing a clear story goal gives your protagonist an unmistakable objective to pursue and your audience something to root for. It transforms the narrative from a series of events into a quest with stakes, direction, and purpose.

  • Neo Exits The Matrix: Neo agrees to take the red pill to learn the truth, nothing more. He wakes up to the real world and commits to learning its secrets and fighting against its controllers. This marks his transition from a disenchanted hacker to a potential savior of humanity, fully engaging with the rebels’ cause.
  • Katniss’s Survival Mission in The Hunger Games: Katniss’s objective solidifies in the Capitol, where she strategizes to manipulate public perception and gain sponsors to survive the Games. Her feigned romance with Peeta, combined with her bold defiance towards the game makers, secures her position as a standout contestant. This approach, blending cunning and defiance, sets her on a path to navigate the Games’ politics long before entering the arena.
  • Luke’s Heroic Quest in Star Wars – Episode IV: The destruction of Luke’s home and the murder of his aunt and uncle sever his ties to Tatooine, pushing him to join Obi-Wan on a mission to deliver the Death Star plans to the Rebel Alliance. This loss propels him from a farm boy dreaming of adventure to an active participant in the galactic struggle, marking his full commitment to the Rebel cause and the path of a Jedi.
  • Cobb’s Mission in Inception: Cobb’s commitment to the inception is crystallized as he assembles his team, including Ariadne, and starts the meticulous planning of the inception. It’s here that Cobb’s journey takes on dual significance, blending his goal to dismantle a corporate empire with his deeper, more personal quest for redemption and reunion with his family.

Building Your Act 1 with AI

Understanding these components is one thing, but applying them effectively is another. Here’s a prompt you can customize using your favorite chatbot.

AI-Powered Prompt:

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Imagine you’re a seasoned narrative architect with two decades of experience in sculpting stories that captivate from the very beginning. Your expertise lies in crafting Act 1, the critical first step that sets the stage for everything that follows in your narrative.

Consider these foundational elements for your story:

• Genre: [Insert Your Genre Here]

• Central Story Idea: [Provide a concise summary of your story, including potential settings, conflicts, or key characters.]

• Protagonist: [Name your protagonist and briefly outline their defining characteristics, backstory, and initial motivations.]

Now, focus on developing these pivotal Act 1 elements:

• The Hook: Outline an opening scene that instantly engages the reader by being both intriguing and emblematic of the story’s tone.

• The Inciting Incident: Describe the event that irrevocably changes the protagonist’s world, compelling them to act. How does this moment disrupt their status quo and propel them toward the main conflict?

• The Story Goal Launch: Specify the clear, tangible goal that the protagonist sets out to achieve in response to the inciting incident. How does this goal direct their actions and drive the narrative forward?


Your mission is to integrate these elements into a cohesive Act 1 framework. Reflect on how the hook not only captures attention but also subtly introduces the thematic undertones of your story; how the inciting incident serves as a catalyst for the protagonist’s journey, providing the initial push into the overarching narrative; and how the story goal launch solidifies the protagonist’s unmistakable objective, offering the audience a clear understanding of the story’s direction.

As you outline these components, think about their interconnectedness and how they collectively establish the narrative’s foundation, setting the tone for character development and plot progression. Consider the role of each element in engaging the audience, setting up expectations, and laying the groundwork for the challenges and transformations to come.

That’s it for this Saturday.

If you’re finding value in TSS, please share it with a fellow storyteller.

See ya next week!

— Dave