Things that Should be Established in the Beginning of a Story?


So I’m writing a book (I know, thanks captain obvious :joy:) and I’m trying to plan out the second draft, work on mechanics and pacing. I don’t want it to be too fast, however, I also don’t want it to be too slow. The trilogy I’m writing is about a girl who gets dragged into this murder in her college town. There are things I need established before the body is found though. Some pretty key things that will tie the books together by the end of the trilogy.

My question is… what are THE things you need in the first act of your book and how long do you think a ‘first act’ should be. I’ve heard that you should wrap up the first act (or at least most of it) in the first 5 chapters or 50 pages. I’m on chapter 3 of the second draft though and I’m not sure I can get all the information needed in the next couple chapters/pages. If the book is about murder, I’m assuming the body should be found in the first act…?

*How long is your first act?
*What do you think HAS to be included in this act?
*Any other tips or remarks?


I don’t always have first acts to be honest. My books tend to just kind of not follow that kind of structure.

When they do, the first act can take everything from a couple of chapters to ten.

That heavily depends on the genre and story. I write Fantasy so I try to establish parts of the worldbuilding and the characters roles in the world. Perhaps magic systems too, if needed.

Don’t get too caught up in one way to structure your work - let the story tell itself and don’t try and force things.


In the books I normally read I’ve noticed it can be from 50-85 pages, both works well, but it all depends on the individual book\plot.

Yes, if that’s what the book revolves around it should be stated pretty early, probably by the end of the first chapter or second.

This picture may help you with the first act.


Alright…so…my first act is Chapter 1-14. The second is 15-30, and third is 31-44.

In the first half we meet all of the main characters and established a fair amount of the relationships. It doesn’t matter if it starts off as a hatred or ends in a romance, it doesn’t matter…but the key players have met by this point. The conflict of who and what has surpassed but the progession of why will need to be answered…which is where part two comes in.

In mine, we’ve met Elijah, Irina, Abraham, and the mysterious vampire whose face isn’t shown until Chapter 9 and whose name we don’t learn until Chapter 14. By the end of the first act, Elijah and Irina are engaged, Elijah moves in with her and her father (Abraham), he’s stalked by the vampire. He tries to capture the vampire (fails), and by the end of the first act has made a deal to let the vampire drink his blood every three nights.

Just by this alone, we know something insane is gonna happen. We are like, how is the family gonna react if they found out about the deal? How will Elijah and the vampire’s relationship change? How will Elijah and Irina’s? When will be the big kiss or the blow-out or will any one get hurt? Part 3 will beg the question: this stuff is insane (I won’f go into spoilers) things have so drastically changed…how will this end? How will characters react to this and that now that we know all of this?

In your case, the body has been found in the first act. In the second act…figure out what happened…act three? Who did it and why.


Act I is up to the first 25% of the book. So the number of chapters/pages depends on total word count. I think mine wraps up on page 85,

Elements in Act I. (Not my list, but I generally agree with it.)

  • Opening Image
  • Meet the Hero or Heroine
  • Hero/ine’s Inner and Outer Desire
  • Hero/ine’s Problem
  • Hero/ine’s Arc
  • Hero/ine’s Ghost or Wound
  • Inciting Incident/ Call to Adventure
  • Introduce a Mystery
  • State the Theme/ What’s the story about?
  • Introduce Allies
  • Introduce Mentor (possibly)
  • Introduce Love Interest (possibly)
  • Plants/Reveals (or: Set ups and Payoffs)
  • Hope/Fear (and Stakes)
  • Time Clock (possibly. May not have one and may be revealed later in the story)
  • Central Question
  • Sequence One Climax
  • Act One Climax

I would add:

  • Establish time and setting


The thing is… with the person thats murdered I spotlight her and leave clues as to who and why she died in the first act.

Here’s an example: My character goes to a part in the first act where she sees the victim with a man, while she drunk and doesn’t remember well after. Her body is found the next day. Her actually remembering is what book two revolves around. She also solidifies her relationship with the character that ends up dragging her into said murder mystery at this party.

There are things I put into the ‘before she’s killed’ portion also that ultimately need to be there. I could maybe condense these as bit or move them to after, but I’m not sure how that’d work.


Without concentrating on structure, what’s the best way to prevent it from getting confusing?


So my ‘body’ would be the same as Elijah’s deal with the vampire. It’s the thing that gets the story rolling. It’s the big “no return”.

I don’t have the mysterious ‘there’s a vampire stalking me’ thing going on with my book though so I’m afraid it may sag but, also, at the same time I’m not sure I can rearrange the book so that the things I need before the body are after it. Think I should just risk it and see if it works or do you think I should replot those points?


I wrote these down :joy:

Do you think they should be a general order or shuffle them around for the needs of your story? Obviously the climax needs to go at the end but the other things seem to be interchangeable.


First priority for me is to give a strong sense of the main character, especially her voice. I want the reader to hear that voice from the first page. Second is to convey the salient aspects of her personality, with dialogue the preferred medium.

The first chapter of my mystery thriller is all dialogue, one-sided, as the forest ranger MC calls the office on her radio. That gets her voice, her situation, and her attitude (bad), all in one swell foop.

I tend not to enjoy writing in which the author seems to be checking off boxes. That’s usually the sign of the trudging, uninspired hack.


I’m a panster… So I just write. :woman_shrugging:

The first draft is nothing but me just writing whatever comes to mind, and sometimes it follows the classic structure with acts - other times it doesn’t. Recently my works haven’t been following that structure. I don’t know if there’s much structure at all, tbh. I’m not a very good judge of my own works, lol.


Risk it, if you don’t like it then fix it :slight_smile:


I’ve already written the first draft, done the first edits and rearranged what I think needs moved. I just have a habit of second guessing myself :sweat:


If you’re second guessing yourself, it’s time to get new eyes on it. Either beta readers and critics - or leave the project for a while. Maybe both.

That’s what keeps me from second guessing everything. If I start to get too up in my own head, I know it’s time to leave the draft alone and let others deal with it for a while :joy:


I agree with Fray, it’s what I did. I got some incredible feedback.


I’ll look into getting a crit or beta reader!


Good luck :smile:


I’m a pantser as well so I just write and it seems to work for me! Overthinking things kills me because I have anxiety and if I let t overcome me I would never write :joy:


No set order, except as you noted, the climax at the end.


I like to give readers a sense of the main character, and immediately encourage them to like/relate/sympathise with them, so they want to stay with them on their journey throughout the story.

I would also think about trying to foreshadow what is going to be happening later on in a subtle way, for example using harsher sounding words when describing the future with uses of hard Bs or Ks etc, as well as choosing the language carefully to set the mood from the start. Pathetic fallacy could also be helpful, using the weather to help make an atmospheric entrance.

Other than that don’t think about it too much! Just write what your gut tells u too! Good luck!!!