Shar 9: Act Arcs & Other Stuff

After patting each other on the back for the good job the three of us did on the first two acts, Krissie had to go out–and where she lives that means out–so Lani and I brainstormed for three solid hours in Campfire, doing the act arcs of Shar, Sam, Daisy, and Jamie.

It’s an easy concept: the book is divided into four acts that diminish in size (for us Act One is about 32K and Act Two is 28K and the remaining 40 to 50K will be divided into Acts Three and Four). And in each act, the character is at a certain point in his or her character development. If you go for classic character development, it’s a 180 degree arc. Shar begins as a mortal too withdrawn to assert herself and ends as an enraged goddess. Sam begins as a god from another time and place and ends as a mortal with a hybrid SUV. Our markers for each act are a little more sophisticated than that, we look at what’s happening to them not only internally but also externally so that what’s happening in the plot echoes and reinforces what’s happening to them as characters, but we end up with a sentence for each character in each act that tells us what we’re going to be writing. I think it was crucial for us to write the first 60K and look at what we’d written, plus we already knew what the climactic scene was, so we could sort everything out and focus the acts we’d done to figure out what the characters were doing in Three and Four.

Then we blocked out the scenes we had to have to keep the plots going. Lani and I each had four we needed in Act Three, and they were probably going to run between eight and ten K for each of us, so we’d already used up sixteen K before Krissie got there (she’ll write whatever she needs to, of course) and then there’s the Big Bad’s POV because she has crucial scenes in this act.

So we’ll write what we need put it together, and start cutting when we’ve got everything we need. You can revise acts as you go and make them better, but at a certain point, you just have to see the whole book, knowing your character’s arc (which you discover writing the whole book in the first draft), and then cut it so that every word is essential.

And then we talked about the sequel. We couldn’t help it. There’s so much we didn’t get to do in this book, and frankly, just because these couples are together at the end is no guarantee that they’re going to make it. They have real issues–she’s a flower child, he’s a math professor-and some of them have the most hellacious in-laws you’ve ever seen. And as Lani and I talked we realized that there would probably be a third book, and the good news is, the trouble gets worse in each book. We have no idea if we’ll ever do more than this one, but it was so comforting to know that even though Milki just gets a drive-by mention in this book, if we do another one, he’s going to be there. Being a complete pain the ass, but still, we had to cut him from this book and we miss him.

Brainstorming and business took up most of the day, so I took the rest of the night off, read a book on how to make stuffed animals, talked to the dogs, and then went back to work and wrote 1400 words. Which isn’t bad. Especially if they turn out to be good words.

2020 Note: There is no sequel and never will be. I had fun collaborating, but I think I’m done with that now.

12 thoughts on “Shar 9: Act Arcs & Other Stuff

  1. If you make stuffed animals, Milton will eat them, Veronica will snub them, Wolfie will be horrified (MORE animals Mom!) , Annie will shred them and Lucy will be tolerant.

    All these words you are producing are making me feel inadequate. I have temporarily abandoned writing to take a tile making class. You go, girl!

  2. I write 1400 words driving to the post office.
    Well, I think 1400 words driving to the post office.
    Not necessarily coherent words either.
    Especially if someone cuts me off.

  3. Jenny, why are the last acts shorter?

    I sometimes wish you took more time near the end, letting us see how the characters adjust to the new reality after the climactic scene.

  4. What’s with the need for Bob to defend his manhood for the second time today? It’s not just about the size, in case you haven’t read ANY of Jennie’s books. Going through a crisis, are we?

  5. Why did I always think there were only 3 Acts?


    Kira-Could be the first two acts include the murky middle and the last two are wrapping the book up. But don’t quote me.

    And Bob when someone cuts me off I can only think of one choice word. I’m in awe of you.

  6. Trust me, Bob knows that word, too, when somebody cuts him off. I’ve been there.

    Kira, each act gets shorter for pacing purposes. The reader doesn’t know the acts get shorter, she doesn’t even know there are acts, but she knows the big moments/turning points are coming closer together.

    Melissa, there are three acts in screenplay structure. They’re 25% of the story, 50%, and 25% and the middle act has a turning point in the middle. To me, that’s four acts, and it’s easier to write four acts, so that’s how I structure my work. (Tell Me Lies has five acts. I don’t know why.)

    For a better explanation, go here:

  7. Pacing is important – if the turning points didn’t come closer together, the book would drag. But – what about the big moments AFTER the climax? People don’t internalize life changes overnight, and I’d like to see the characters continue to grow based on how they have changed.

    Also, after a climax, it’s nice to cuddle for a while.

  8. I’m kinda liking the series vibe on this one. Just read The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes again and that would have solved my niggling feeling that the plot rushed through at the the end, it was a bit deus ex machina and all relationship issues suddenly solved. I wished it had been a longer book to allow the stories to breath more, to allow the relationships to develop in a less convenient way. Telling 3 couples complete stories in one book over the space of a week or so – it was a plausability stretch for me.

  9. Can’t say I’ve been doing wrong because I’ve been getting to THE END. The first turning point for me would end the first act. I’d have two turning points in the second act (the third one ending it) And the fourth turning pointing in the third. Though the first and third act would always run shorter than the second.

    Kira-Cuddling is nice after a physical climax. Can’t tell you how many books I’ve read that “cuddled” and I thought “this could have ended ten pages ago.” A lesson for both: Don’t overstay your welcome.

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