Build-up (Act 1 of the 3-Act Story Structure)

Build-up

The Build-up

The build-up is literally a phase in which the story is ‘building-up towards the conflict’. This is the point where your characters or main character faces their ‘Impossible’ question or situation. Building on the inciting incident, what would be a realistic, difficult choice for your character to make? What question would have two choices that are equally hard? There has to be an internal struggle already present in your character to create such a question/choice. There should be a defined comfort zone that your character is in. The question should contain two choices: step out of their comfort zone or stay inside. And the step out should entail a certain urgency or importance, which drives your character to choose that option. Because a comfort zone won’t make (your) character development happen.

Some questions to ask yourself, about your own story:

  • What is your character’s comfort zone?
  • What would be an (almost) impossible choice for your character to face?
  • Who or what would make your character choose the difficult option?
  • What is the most important thing/person in your character’s life?
  • What adventure would develop your character the most, from the starting point of the story?

Build-up Examples

Mulan
Copyright © The Walt Disney Company

Mulan 

Facing the inciting incident as described in the last post, Mulan has a choice: either go to war as a man and try to bring honor to her family, but also face to fear of getting caught and being executed, which would result in bringing dishonor to her family. Or stay put and let her father go, who’ll probably die. 

Interstellar
Copyright © Warner Bros

Interstellar

Facing the revelations that the inciting incident brought Cooper, he faces the following choice: To say yes and be the pilot for the last—and arguably, most important—NASA mission and leave his kids behind (possibly for forever), but secure a better future for them, or stay put and live out his life with his family, but not helping humankind advance and trying to secure a better future for his kids.

The Hunger Games
Copyright © Lionsgate

The Hunger Games

When her younger sister gets picked for the Hunger Games, Katniss faces a split-second dilemma. Her sister is the most important person in her life and her main motivation is keeping her safe. She has the choice to volunteer to participate in the Hunger Games in her sister’s stead. Katniss has skills and a chance to win the Hunger Games, where her sister has none (survival-related) and kind of has a zero chance of winning.

Avatar
Copyright © 20th Century Studios

Avatar

As we’ve discussed, Jake is on his way to the mission on Pandora, to work as an Avatar. We also covered that he’s an ex-soldier and lost use of his legs during service. At his arrival on Pandora, he quickly faces a question from a Colonel that sounds like a no-brainer to him: report back on him about the Avatar colony and get his legs back, or just go on the mission and only report back to the scientists. But little does he know that the choice isn’t as easy as he thinks. Especially not when he learns more about the Avatar colony and the plans the Kolonel and the rest of the humans (minus the scientists) have for the planet: exploitation.

Beauty and the Beast
Copyright © The Walt Disney Company

Beauty and the Beast 

Belle faces the choice between letting her father stay a prisoner (for life) or take his place. Her father is the most important person in her life and because his health is rapidly declining inside the cold cell, the choice is practically made for her.

I hope you got some inspiration to write the build-up of your story!

Lots of Love,
Britt

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Britt van den Elzen

Hi! I’m Britt, a 20-something creative entrepreneur from the Netherlands. I’m passionate about all things magic and can often be found dreaming about fictional worlds. The greatest love of my life is storytelling and I’ve been reading and watching stories ever since I can remember. ✨

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