Editing + Revising: The SRAR Method
We all know that there are formulas to a story right? You need a beginning, middle and end. And for a long time, that’s how I thought of the story. The beginning, the set up and the climax. And everything else in the middle.
I didn’t go to college and study English or writing. I’m self taught on a lot of these novel related things. Which is the way I like to learn. Anyway, this was talked about at the Writer’s Digest Novel Writing conference that I went to in 2017 by Larry Brooks. (Thanks, Larry!)
It breaks down the story into four parts. See below.
1. Set up:
Intro Hero, setup + foreshadow, stakes + quest, inciting incident (25% of the way through)
Hero reacts to the change resulting from the first plot point
Hero proactively attacks, villian ramps up too
Hero steps in, steps up, confronts and resolves
Now, these four parts line up with the three story act as well but I liked the idea of breaking it down a little bit further. It helped me see things a little more clearly when I was revising. I’m a pantser by nature so I find myself doing a little more leg work after the drafting process.
What I loved about how Larry explained this was the very simple yet informative way of laying out what needs to happen in each part.
Something that really helped me was printing out on paper my chapter by chapter summary and cutting it up so I could see how much time was spent in each part. It helped me to see I didn’t have enough set up or introduction to my story before the inciting incident went down.
That inciting incident is all too important. It is the most important moment in your story.
As Larry puts it:
The doorway of no return
The key inciting incident
The heros call to action
The first pillar of story - the intersection of Act 1 and Act 2
Everything before that point introduces the character and helps the reader identify with them and care about them before they cross paths with danger.
A lot of the time, I get the idea for the inciting incident first but I can’t just throw my MC to the wolves without first telling the reader why they should care, right? I’ve seen some conversation about this in the writing community and think that it can be hard to backtrack. It would also be way more exciting to start with the inciting incident but the reader needs to be invested first.
Using the SRAR method helps me to see that more clearly and make sure that I’m not skipping into my inciting incident too quickly.
Here are some examples of that first plot point that you might recognize!
Hunger Games - Katniss volunteering to take her sister’s place
“Prim!” I don’t need to shove through the crowd. The other kids make way, immediately allowing me a straight path to the stage. I reach her just as she is about to mount the steps. With one sweep of my arm, I push her behind me. “I volunteer as tribute!” I gasp.
— The Hunger Games, p. 22
This sets Katniss on the path to the Games and the rest of her journey. I love that this is a very character-driven choice. The inciting incident isn’t something that happens to Katniss but something that she has an active part in.
Gone Girl - Amy disappearing
She wasn’t on the water, she wasn’t in the house. Amy was not there. Amy was gone.
— Gone Girl, p. 23
Amy disappearing sets her husband on a path of mystery and trying to figure out what happened to her.