I love reading books and blogs on writing because, in the midst of all the "Yep, I know, I've only read that a million times", there's always something new to add to my education as a writer. Sometimes it's a really obvious thing that I feel like I should have learned already (or did learn, but ignored).
This week, it's the three-act structure. Now, I get this - I do. The first act is the beginning, usually about a quarter of the novel; you have to start strong, but this is where you do your setup. The second act is the middle, the bulk of the story - about 50% of your average manuscript. Then the third act, the last 25% of the story, wraps it all up for the reader. Oh, so my story's supposed to have a beginning, middle, and end? Revolutionary stuff, that.
But reading Thanks, But This Isn't For Us by Jessica Page Morrell has introduced me to a lot more detail about those three acts, wich makes them seem much more useful to me. This is a book by a professional editor and writing teacher about identifying flaws in your writing (I'd love to see a sequel, Here's What Isn't Jacked Up In Your Manuscript).
Basically, Jessica Morell gives you a "blueprint" for each act of your story, covering the different aspects that will help keep readers hooked throughout each of the three acts. Today, I'm going to talk about good old act one.
Paraphrasing Morrell: In act one, the protoganist and the other primary characters are introduced, as is their world, that world is thrown into disarray as soon as possible by an inciting incident, and a cauldron is established (i.e. the sitation that keeps the characters coming together for conflict). Act one ends with a crisis, as the MC steps forward into whatever breech has developed from that inciting incident.
For me, reading about the "cauldron" was a big "Oh, yeah" moment. During my first draft of SHARDS OF GLASS, I was having a tough time keeping my characters in conflict by forcing them to encounter each other again and again - there just wasn't a natural way of doing that. I wish I'd thought about that before I'd come up with some of the more laborous scenes in SHARDS - I should have taken a step back in Act One and figured out what was going to keep all these characters interacting.
And while this description of Act One may read as a touch formulaic, it's a structure that has a lot of give - obviously, these inciting incidents are very different in a mystery (where it could be a dead body) and a literary novel (where it could be an unsettling conversation).
Do you use a definite three act structure in your WIP? Anything you've learned recently that could have made your previous writing go a bit more smoothly?
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