Inspiring Writers Want to Know:
I have so many story ideas. Where do I begin?
That is an excellent question. When I began my writing career I felt just like you do. In fact, I wrote 700 pages in two months the eventually became the Children of the Shawnee series. Over the years my story ideas have grew almost on a daily basis. I was fortunate enough to have some wonderful writing mentors who helped me to sort out my ideas but it wasn't until I was in graduate school did I ever learn the secrets to a successful writing career.
Meet my best friends:
Story Arc, Hero's Journey and Three Act Structure.
Why are they my best friends? Because without them my writing would be all over the place. I want you to be a successful author so I'm going to share all the secrets I learned about my best friends with you. I can't explain all there of them in a single post so today I will cover this pre-writing process through a series that will take place every Wednesday.
The first thing you need to be familiar with before you write the first word is the Three Act Structure. Have you ever wondered what make a great novel or movie? Why is that some of the best creative writing ideas flop when presented to the public? It all has to do with the Three Act Structure.
Humans are biologically geared to appreciating a story that has a solid Three Act Structure. So what is a Three Act Structure? I'm glad you asked.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC) is often credited for the discovery of the Three Act Structure. A prolific writer, he declared "A whole is what has a beginning and middle and end" The ancient Greeks utilized the Three Act Structure when they wrote their tragedies. If you were to take inventory of every classic story, blockbuster movie and bestselling novel you would find that they all share one thing in common. They all have a solid Three Act Structure.
ACT I - THE SETUP
This section is called the set-up because it is the place where you will introduce your protagonist, the antagonist, and the setting. You want to introduce the protagonist form the first page of your manuscript. Remember you readers will judge your book based on the first few pages. This means you need to show and not tell the story. Don't add a lot of exposition. Your characters and setting need to be believable. You have been creating the characters and building their world for months but your readers have not. For example, here's the first paragraphs of my book, Calico.
Eight-year-old Calico ran quickly through the hilly, wooded countryside. Her long brown dress kept
her from going as fast as she wanted. She hated her French dress; its large layered skirt hindered her. She felt freer in her Shawnee leather leggings and linen shirt. A pair of strong arms grabbed her at the waist. She screamed loudly, kicked hard with her black shoes, and struggled to get away. She couldn’t let this man harm her. The mysterious warrior picked her up and carried her deeper into the woods, his thick hand covering her mouth. In a deep tone, he commanded, “Nooleewi-a!”
I have your attention with this paragraph. You know this is a historical fiction by the cover, that this is going to be about a white girl living with the Shawnee. You also know the location and date if you read the chapter heading but that is all you know. You have no idea why she is running in the woods. I have perked my reader's interest and they will want to continue reading.
ACT 1 is also the place where you protagonist's world will start to come apart as they are faced with a challenge. Your protagonist will have to face something. He or she will have a goal that they must strive to achieve throughout the book. You protagonist and antagonist goals will always clash thus creating conflict. Well talk about developing conflict in the next post.
ACT II - CONFLICT
This is the largest Act in the structure. It will encompass 80% of your novel but is split in half with a midpoint. The midpoint in a play is usually when the intermission happens. In a novel, it is generally the middle of your book. I like to describe this part of the book as an intense pin pong battle between the antagonist and protagonist. Every time your protagonist takes one step towards their goal your antagonist will do something to stop the protagonist. The battles between them will increase until the final battle occurs. We will talk more about developing conflict on the next post.
ACT III - RESOLUTION
The last 10% of your novel begins with the climax and descends to a new beginning for your protagonist. It is during this section you will tie up all the loose ends. Be very careful in this section. Readers do not like unanswered questions. If you have subplots you will need to tie those ends as well. What is a subplot? A subplot is the plots of your supporting character's stories. If they are developed well enough they will enrich your story but you have to be careful with supporting characters. Sometimes the subplots will lead you down the proverbial rabbit hole. You don't need that. Your subplots must either mirror your main plot or lead back to your protagonist's plot line. We will talk more about subplots in another post. You do not want to attempt developing and layering subplots if you are new to writing a novel. If an idea comes to you just write it on a piece of paper and leave it for another time.
What about series?
You can entice you reader to read the next book in your series by leaving a question at the end of your book but don't do this until all the loose ends have been tied up. We will talk about how to do this in another post.