This is another wonky post about structure, so you have been warned.
I’m obsessed with structure. Structure has a huge impact on meaning in a story the way that structure has a huge impact on meaning in a sentence. So when I went back to Nita’s Act One, currently logging in at an unsustainable 37, 236 words, it was time to analyze the structure. In the beginning, I look for two things: word count of scenes and scene sequences (scenes that grouped together form a narrative unit of their own). If I’ve planned my scene sequences right, a one sentence description of what happens in each should tell the story of that act. I do structure analysis in Curio because it’s the easiest way to diagram out and color code a scene. So let’s start with the Curio doc of Nita’s First Act:
Netflix’s The Defenders dropped on Friday morning, and I considered dropping it Friday night. Why? It’s an eight-episode story, and at the end of the third episode, the four protagonists finally met. Everything up till then? Exposition and back story. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh. Continue reading
So after much cogitation and wailing, I have a plot for Nita. It looks like this:
Thank god, the math is over.
Escalation is pretty simple: the stakes get higher in each section between the turning points of the act. So checking for escalation is just making sure the stakes increase at each turning point.. Easy
Unless you’re an idiot who lets huge plot points drop so your protagonist can go shopping.
Let’s look at how this truck draft escalates while I berate myself throughout this post.
And now we come to the math portion of our program.
I put all the pieces of the truck draft together in one file and checked the word count: 41,067. This is a fine word count for a book that’s 120,000 words long, but this one is aiming for 100,000. So I need to ax about 6,000 to 8000 words in the Paper Edit. And not just any words, I need to ax for pacing. Argh. Continue reading
Here’s the thing about first acts: they’re a bitch to write. They’re loaded with back story and infodump that you have to make into the now of the story, you have to twist your narrative into a pretzel to foreshadow any character you can’t get into a scene, you have to start not only your main conflict but any subplots you’ve got going, and you have to do it all while moving your plot from the beginning where the stability is shattered to the first turning point where things get much, much worse and the story hits a climactic turning point that swings the entire narrative in a new direction. And you have to do that in 33,000 words or less that are never boring and continually escalate as the stakes rise. Continue reading
Yes, I know, that last scene ended abruptly. Here’s the next part.
Remember how slow the first double scene sequence was? Yes, I’m cutting it, but now we have another one: After breakfast, Nita and Nick go to work because that’s logically where they’d go. Unfortunately that’s boring. The solution: Make sure there’s lots of conflict and cut as much as possible. Continue reading
Welcome to another installment of rewriting the breakfast scene. There’s a reason why this one is so difficult: It’s the central turning point in the first act, the place where Nita and Nick start seeing each other as human beings instead of puzzles to be solved.
One way to describe the difference between discovery drafts and truck drafts is that discovery drafts are “this happens and then this happens and this happens,” and truck drafts are “and this is what those things mean.” The way to do that isn’t by telling the reader what the stuff means; it’s by putting the action on the page in a way that leads the reader to interpret subconsciously what it means. Structure is one excellent way to communicate meaning. Continue reading