Most writing coaches agree that the first 1/4 of your story is where you reveal your characters and show their world while introducing hints of trouble and foreshadowing the first plot point. That is the first act, so to speak.
Something large and dramatic must occur right around the 1/4 mark to force the hero into action, an intense, powerful scene that changes everything.
Quite often the inciting scene will be comparatively disastrous, and one that that forces the protagonist to react. He/she may be thrust into a situation that radically changes their life and forces them to make a series of difficult decisions.
Putting this together requires intention on your part:
Conflict drives the story. We know a great story has a compelling protagonist, but if you want to have a conflict that will impact the reader, you must have a worthy adversary. The hero has an objective, and so does the villain.
You must identify the opponent. Who are they and what is their power-base?
We are rarely perceived as being villains for no reason. We don’t realize we are arrogant or obstructive—we have goals and don’t understand why others can’t see that.
You must identify why they are so committed to thwarting your heroine.
Do the hero and the villain know each other, or are they faceless enemies to each other?
How does the adversary counter the hero’s efforts?
In fantasy, and often in thrillers and horror, we have an adversary who is capable of great evil. They may have supernatural powers, and at first they seem invincible. Their position of greater power forces the hero to become stronger, craftier, to develop ways to beat the adversary at his game. A strong, compelling villain creates interest and drives the conflict. Write several pages of back-story for your own use, to make sure your antagonist is as well-developed in your mind as your protagonist is, so that he/she radiates evil and power when you put them on the page. If you know your antagonist as well as you know the hero, the enemy will be believable when you write about their actions.
The Hero’s Struggle:
With the first calamity out of the way, the story is hurtling toward the midpoint, that place called the second plot-point.
The characters are acting and reacting to events that are out of their control. Nothing is going right—the hero and his/her cohorts must scramble to stay alive, and now they are desperately searching for the right equipment or a crucial piece of information that will give them an edge.
The struggle is the story, and at this point it looks like the hero may not get what they need in time.
The adversary must first exploit the hero’s weaknesses. Only then can she overcome them and turn weakness into strength. The hero has a character arc and must grow into a stronger person.
During this part of the story you must build upon your characters’ strengths. Identify the hero’s goals and clarify why he/she must struggle to achieve them.
Midway between the first plot point and the second plot point, what new incident will occur to once again dramatically alter the hero’s path? This will be a turning point, drama and mayhem will ensue, perhaps offering the hero a slim chance.
The books I loved to read the most were crafted in such a way that we got to know the characters, saw them in their safe environment, and bam! Calamity happened, thrusting them down the road to Naglimund or to the Misty Mountains.
Calamity combined with villainy creates struggle, which creates opportunity for great adventure, and that is what great literature is all about.
Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger and can be found blogging regularly at Life in the Realm of Fantasy