The 8 C’s of Plotting: Reaction and Complication

This is Part 4 of The 8 C’s of Plotting. Read parts one and two first, if you please. Click here for the whole series on the 8 C’s. Click the image below to be taken to the General Fiction Feed.

With the Prologue, Opening, Captivation, and Change we discussed last time, the Reaction and Complication flesh out the rest of Act One, if you are familiar with the 3-Act structure.

I told you that I’d start using The Lion King and The Hunger Games as examples to illustrate. To get you up to speed, here are the Prologue, Opening, Captivation, and Change for each. I’m not hiding these, because even if you haven’t seen either, this information is pretty standardly given in a movie trailer.

The Lion King

Prologue—The Circle of Life, Simba introduced

Captivation—Lions! In Africa! Great Soundtrack!

Opening—Simba Just Can’t Wait to Be King

Change/Inciting Incident—Elephant Graveyard; Scar makes a plan to become king

The Hunger Games

Prologue (Movie)—Panem, District 12

Captivation (book)—It’s the Reaping. What’s the Reaping?

Opening—The Reaping

Change/Inciting Incident—Katniss’ sister is chosen as tribute in the 74th Hunger Games. Katniss volunteers in her place.

Up to speed? Here’s the Reaction and Complication. They don’t need very long descriptions.


The reaction is anything that happens after the Change. How does the protagonist (and/or the antagonist) react to the change?

In The Fugitive, Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) is convicted of killing his wife, though we are pretty sure he didn’t do it. The conviction is the change. The reaction? He is sent to be executed.

In The Lion King, (highlight the area between brackets to read the spoiler) [Simba still trusts his uncle Scar, so he willingly, naively, sits at the bottom of a canyon waiting for his dad, not knowing that Scar intends to trample him with a stampede of wildebeests.]

In The Hunger Games, [Katniss and Peeta go to the Capitol and train. Katniss isn’t very cooperative (or likable) as far as Haymitch is concerned. This includes the parade, the training, and the arrow through the apple.]

The reaction can play out in different ways, but whatever the Protagonist does during the “reaction” stage, he or she will do something else after the complication.

Before or during the Complication, it’s a good idea to show what the antagonist is doing.


This is whatever happens to make the protagonist stop reacting (likely due to a “complication” or obstacle of some sort), and start acting (setting upon a “campaign”).

It can be a switch from passive to active, like in The Lion King.

Or it can mean a change of direction or a different approach, like in The Hunger Games.

It might also be the entrance into a new world or setting, like in the monomyth.

In a character-driven story like Toy Story, the complication:

  • is a bad decision, mistake, or accident
  • which grows out of the Reaction
  • and ends unfortunately,
  • resulting in the need to make new plans—the “campaign” of Act Two.

—”Act One: Threatened Characters Make Mistakes

The Complication corresponds with the 3-Act structure’s First Plot Point or the End of Act One and is often a MAJOR SCENE. Major scenes have their own beginning, middle, and end.

In The Fugitive, Kimble is riding the bus, on his way to be executed. His fellow convicts plan an escape, but that backfires. A guard gets shot. Kimble, a doctor, is unchained to help the guard. The bus crashes. It crashes on a train track. The train is coming. Kimble has to escape from the train. Once he escapes from the train, a fellow convict frees him. Now he’s free…a fugitive on the run. And because he’s a fugitive, the US Marshalls get put on the case. This introduces Gerard, the antagonist and in some ways, a secondary protagonist.

In The Lion King, [Scar kills Mufasa and blames Simba, Simba runs away.]

In The Hunger Games, [Peeta declares his love for Katniss during the interview. She freaks out, but Haymitch teaches her that she needs to play up the audience to get sponsors]


(See my deconstruction of Toy Story’s Act One and how it relates to the story’s theme.)

Any questions? Ask below. Just don’t include spoilers. If you disagree with my assignments of plot points, all the power to you, as long as you are thinking critically.

Next week I will devote the entire post to the Preparation and Problems segment, which nearly always takes up the longest chunk of narrative, and is what Blake Snyder calls “Fun and Games.”

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