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Establishing Normalcy

I am an English Teach….ing student. I graduate this semester, but regardless I won’t have all the knowledge that comes with 10 years teaching in the classroom (obviously). I recently had to teach my M.S. students the various ways that plot works within a story, and the first thing my mentor teacher had me start with was Establishing Normalcy.

So how does one go about this unspoken of method (at least in the 15-odd writing books and classes I’ve taken). This is a meter, a level by which the reader understands the world and becomes comfortable with how the protagonist lives their life.

In Andrew K. Rowe’s Arcane Ascension, he begins by throwing his protagonist into a deep dark dungeon. In Dakota Krouts Divine Dungeon, he begins by self-analysis and methods of gaining power.

There’s nothing wrong with having a strange bit of normalcy, but I’ve read other books whereby the story, specifically the prologue, throws you into one tumultuous sequence of action, followed by a story landing on a farm with a boy (rarely a girl) who will save the world and doesn’t know it yet. The above two stories are recent releases in the last 5 years, while the farmboy “chosen one” protagonist is from the 80’s.

So why am I seeing this style returning in the last few books I’ve perused? Will Wight’s Cradle series begins like a 80’s style chosen one, and I found his first book incredibly boring and a slog to get through until he meets his partner near the middle-end. For those who have read Wight’s series, it’s incredible and well-made, but first you have to punch through the boring beginning. So it made me think, do we really need normalcy?

I read in a book by Orson Scott Card, about how he was having trouble writing Ender’s Game until he had an epiphany. He had issues with the writing because of just how bored these scenes were to write, so he figured “why not just write the exciting parts?”. By cutting away the normalcy, by cutting away anything which might be boring and plot-derivative, you’re increasing the speed and excitement the novel brings to the reader.

I wonder, now, with all of my experience and reading, if I need to go back and chop-up my books the way Card did. I’ve had trouble writing my plot-driven book The Boy and the Stick, as establishing normalcy has greatly dragged out the first chapter and all of it’s worldbuilding exposition. If I find it boring to write, does it still have value? Shouldn’t the act of writing drive me to a fun purpose?

Just questions I’m raising for myself, and hopefully it helps any future or aspiring writers who have reviewed the plot diagram (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution(denouement). Feel free to comment and let me know your thoughts.

Categories: Discovery and Writing Tips Thoughts and Tips

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I'm a high school English teacher in Texas. I also hold degrees in radiography and radio and television broadcasting. Though I obtained certain knowledge and skills from my prior degrees, I do not currently use them.

2 replies

  1. A fascinating question.

    If we follow the guideline of “start with the inciting incident,” then we’re not likely to spend much time in normalcy before the changes start heating up. And I’m entirely on board with Card’s mantra about skipping the boring parts.

    The difficulty comes when having a baseline normal is important in how the reader reacts to the story. The most common reason for this, I think, is to establish the stakes. The long intro to _The Lord of the Rings_ shows us the Shire, and hobbits, as something worth defending — and the whole rest of the epic is played against that background, right down to “The Scouring of the Shire” where we see what our expeditionary hobbits actually do come back to.

    That suggests to me that if we do need a glimpse of normalcy in a story, it’s essential to find a way to make that interesting — to “light up” the ordinary so that experiencing it isn’t a slog, as in your Wight example.

    Which is a perennial challenge in real life as well.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you very much for the examples. While I’m no copycat (if I can help it, yada yada it’s all been done before), I hadn’t viewed the LOTR exposition phase with new eyes before (read when I was a kid). I think there’s a fine line between establishing normalcy and living normally, and that’s the line I need to illuminate in order to have a strong start of the book. Thank you very much for commenting Rick.


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