Tag Archives: writing tip

Writing Tip: Your Plot in Three Acts

2010-05-22

During my work break at the library, I was skimming through the Entertainment Weekly magazine. In one of the articles, the author Miriam Toews made an interesting statement about how she constructs her novel:

You must first establish tenderness, [Mariam Toews] says. Then the excitement will build, as you put “the violence and agony of life into every note” until you must make an important decision: either return to tenderness or “continue on with the truth, the violence, the pain, the tragedy, to the very end.”

I love books that follow this construct. I try to follow this arc myself when I write.

Without this three-act structure, I lose interest in a story fast. And by the three-act structure, I mean, the beginning introduces the conflict, the middle is when crap hits the fan, and the ending is how that conflict is resolved. According to the filmmaker Edoardo Nolfo:

The three- act structure is intrinsic to the human brain’s model of the world; it matches a blueprint that is hard-wired in the human brain, which is constantly attempting to rationalize the world and resolve it into patterns. It is therefore an inevitable property of almost any successful drama, whether the writer is aware of it or not.

During my work break, I ALSO discovered the literary agent Paula Munier’s book PLOT PERFECT, where she gave a breakdown of the conventional beginning, middle and end:

Love Story

Beginning: Boy meets girl.
Middle: Boy loses girl.
End: Boy gets girl back.

Murder Mystery

Beginning: Someone gets murdered
Middle: The cops, detective, or amateur sleuth investigates the murder
End: The murderer is brought to justice

Coming-Of-Age-Story

Beginning: A young person longs for adventure — and new acquaintances and events conspire to make that happen
Middle: With the help of the new friends and mentor, the young person undergoes a series of transformative experiences.
End: Armed with this newfound knowledge and experience, the young person triumphs against overwhelming odds — and comes of age

War Story

Beginning: Our hero (or heroes) learns of the mission.
Middle: Our hero (or heroes) plan out, train for, and undertake the mission
End: Our hero (or heroes) must go above and beyond to overcome the enemy — and the mission is won

Each model shows that by the middle of a book, the Main Character should be tackling some kind of conflict. This conflict should threaten what the MC wants most in life.

 

What does the character in your book want most in life?

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Writing Tip: Live, Learn, Record

Two days ago, I was struggling to write about Lenore Winstead (from  Fall of the Sparrows) recalling the death of her husband. I was at school working this scene, coming up with the most stereotypical emotions. I just wrote and wrote, not really feeling emotionally attached.

On that very day I came home and asked my younger sister where my younger brother was. She told me he’d been in bed all day long. That pushed the alarm button for me. I went into his room, it was pitch black. I sat by his side and rested my hand on his shoulder. He was feverish and trembling slightly…

As I don’t live with my knowledgeable parents I was left to think the worst—especially after listening to his small voice explaining to me how his throat was all swollen and it pained him to swallow. I was afraid to leave his side, worrying that his throat would swell to the point of being unable to call for my name!

(Before I go on, maybe I should explain that his fever was due to his having caught the chickenpox and his trembling was due to to the fact that my hand was resting on the back of his shoulder, feeling the resounding thump of his steadily beating heart. I took him to the doctor yesterday morning–all is well).

Now, to the writing bit. The dread and concern I experienced offered me a glimpse of what my heroine must have felt: To watch her husband dying while realizing that she had loved, but had not loved well. And then to wonder why it is only when a dear one is in their most vulnerable state that we realize we had not loved them enough.

And so I’m coming to learn more and more that through the variety of hardship experienced—whether it be minor or major—it turns out that hardship allows a writer to deeper understand what they write about: Life, love and death.

Hardship, for me, is the period in which my sensitivity is at its peak. I feel great things because my heart is open and vulnerable. And much of what I write during these times is where my best writings come from.

Hardship, for me, is an opportunity. An opportunity to learn and grow.

Deeper insight into life is like breathing life into a once one-dimensional character.

Have you ever had a similar experience where you suddenly found yourself inside the shoe of a character you were writing about?

 Writing Udate: I’m sweating blood with Fall of the Sparrows. Revising this story was going well until I reached the point in the story where I was just overwhelmed. Though the first draft is complete, I need to rewrite a lot. So, why was I overwhelmed?

1) The story is dark–and not just dark, PITCH BLACK.

2) The story later revolves around a controversial issue that leaves me low spirited.

3) I realized that this story had overstepped and escaped from the genre I’ve always been writing in: Romance. FOTS is more of a general fiction, as the story’s focus is mainly on the broken father/son relationship.

And so I find myself glancing longingly back at The Runaway Courtesan. For this story, I know what needs to be improved, I love the characters, I know what genre it belongs to, and importantly, this story isn’t as dark and heavy. But then I’m worried that if I start working on TRC I’ll lose touch with all the surge of inspiration for FOTS.

Don’t get me wrong. I love, love FOTS. But I’m wondering if this project isn’t a bit too ambitious for me. And I’m also wondering whether I’m just being a moron by shrinking away from the challenge presented to me by FOTS.  

So, I’m totally divided here and would love some advice.



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Filed under Be Still My Heart (retitled: Fall of the Sparrows), Editing, Querying, The Runaway Courtesan