If you think plot catalyst is about a man driving cattle into a designated area of land…you are reading the wrong post! Women, if you’re drooling thinking about a shirtless man riding on the back of a horse while driving cattle…take a moment to breath!
For the serious writer, I’ll get to the matter at hand. What the bleep is a Plot Catalyst? It is often referred to as the Incite Incident. This is the physical event that must occur or there would be no story. It is not an emotion or a theme. This physical event moves the story forward, or in other words, it will provoke your story into action. The trick is making sure you don’t wait long to present this event. It should happen within the first twenty to thirty pages. If it doesn’t, then your manuscript could be in serious trouble. For example, you may be writing too much back story. And we all know what that means…YAWN!
Try this frequent exercise used among educators. Read the back cover of your favorite novel in the genre you write. Then read the first thirty pages. When finished, read the back cover again. Did you spot the plot catalyst? Did you see it when you were reading the first thirty pages? Try it with a different novel. The plot catalyst should start jumping out at you. If not, here’s an example to help. Let’s look at The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. What has to happen for there to be a story? Prim gets chosen to participate in the Games resulting in Katniss volunteering to take her place. On the back cover you will read: “Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games.” Now, try the exercise again.
Agents look for the incite incident (plot catalyst) when they pitch to a publisher. This event gets summarized into one sentence and becomes the logline (or tagline), which they build their pitch around. How does this help you? It’s good to know because it should be in your own query letter to the agent. (I’ll do a separate blog for the query later.) But most importantly, if you can’t identify the plot catalyst within the first thirty pages to write the logline, then you may need to do a revision on your manuscript.
But what if the reader has a short attention span? Another trick often used by writers is giving a hint within the first five pages of the catalyst to come. It pushes the reader forward to read.
Hope this helped a few dedicated souls. To recap, the plot catalyst must happen to move the story forward. However, I’m moving on to the cowboy who is driving some cattle.
Writer of YA Fiction/Blogger