There comes a point in your hero’s journey where stuff has got to become very, very difficult. In the beginning, we’re meeting her for the first time, and life doesn’t have to be so super duper hard right now. But something’s gotta go wrong shortly. Once we’ve got a taste of her “ordinary world” what life is like normally for her, that’s when we throw something at her: the inciting incident–and then just keep pounding her with bigger and bigger problems–consistent resistance, obstacle after obstacle, one step forward, two steps back. BUT, don’t forget that leading up to this incident and its problematic cousins there must be tension. Nope, we don’t need an action packed fight scene showing off her nifty moves. We don’t need a bunch of interior monologue info-dumping her life to the reader, but we do need that sense of tension, of something brewing, or something off, or something looming.
Then, when that inciting incident happens, life suddenly becomes harder and harder for the hero. Beat her up. Let her go through the ringer. She’s gotta feel the pain so your audience feels it with her and is itching for justice, for relief, for the answer, for things to finally work out for her.
The death alarm sounded, that phantom punch in the gut I always dreaded. I touched the metallic gateway valve embedded in my chest at the top of my sternum–warm but not yet hot. The alarm was real. Someone in my territory would die tonight, and I had to find the poor soul. -Reapers, Bryan Davis
BAM, the inciting incident hits you immediately, wonderfully, and then every sentence is dripping with tension, dread is oozing from every word. I think this is one of the best examples of a not-so-ordinary world with a very quick, in fact, and instant inciting incident that gets the story rolling and this snowball only grows larger and larger–things begin to get harder and harder soon, but first we get to know Phoenix a bit more. We see him in his dingy apartment, gathering important items for his mission; we get insight into his dystopian, supernatural Chicago life by the environment not only inside his apartment, but outside of his window where a ghost who doesn’t know it wanders by a street corner and then the interaction Phoenix has with a fellow “reaper” who lives in the apartment building directly across from his.
The next scene arrives and it’s one difficulty that leads to another and then another, and all the while the tension is like a hissing tea kettle and, in my opinion, is actually more gripping than a wild battle.
He crosses a dangerous park where baddies lurk, you sense this whole area, this whole walk to find who is dying is ominous, but then he arrives safely to find it’s a little girl on the brink, and he’s only got one pill to offer her. First, she struggles to take it. The family is dripping with desperation and the tension is rising as this little girl just can’t swallow the darn pill. But then, a DEO shows up, a death enforcement officer who isn’t here to try and save little Molly from death–she’s here to enforce it. Now Phoenix has a very difficult problem because she also isn’t just any old DEO, she’s also an Owl–she’s got supernatural abilities and a high government position. But there’s more. She finds the pill and oh snapping turtle–it’s illegal to smuggle medicine so now Phoenix’s problems are really piling up. And THEN someone–I hope by now you’ve got the point so I can stop spoiling this amazing novel for you.
In fact, reading and studying how Bryan Davis wrote Reapers would benefit you more than this blog can–and leave you flipping pages into the wee hours of the night even though you’re a sleep-deprived Momma who’s bound to be woken up early the next morning by her other kiddos.