Nita’s First Act Truck Draft: Escalation


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.


Before the act starts, Nita goes to the crime scene to help Mort, and Nick talks to Joey about his missing agents. Those are the stable worlds for those PoV characters.

The act begins when Nita finds out Joey’s been murdered (beginning stakes) and Nick is dealing with seeing Joey get murdered (beginning stakes).

The first turning point comes when Nita sees Nick as a skeleton (but doesn’t believe it so the stakes don’t rise) and when Nick realizes that Nita isn’t completely human (so now he has to find the gate and his agents, get the guy who ordered the hit on Joey AND find out what Nita is so he’ll know if she’s a problem). Nick’s plot escalates, Nita’s doesn’t.

Rewrite Goal: Rewrite that moment when Nita sees Nick as something that raises the stakes for her.

Pushed on by that turning point, Nita goes home and somebody tries to kill her, after which she covers for Button and then goes to breakfast the next morning, mentioning it in passing to Nick and then discussing poisoned doughnuts. Nick chats with Dag and Rab with no escalation, and then finds out about the demon who tried to shoot Nita and the doughnuts. Nita goes to work and Nick eats her French toast.

This is where I banged my head on my laptop several times. You know if somebody tried to kill me at 3AM, I would still be concerned about that at 7:30AM. In fact, I would be concerned about that THE ENTIRE DAMN DAY. I might even INVESTIGATE THAT. And if I also found out that a bunch of people on my island were poisoned by doughnuts, I MIGHT INVESTIGATE THAT, TOO.

And if I’m the guy who cleans up after rogue demons and one of them tried to shoot a woman I know, I MIGHT INVESTIGATE THAT. And if I then find out that somebody is poisoning demons using the guy I liked who got murdered in front of me, I MIGHT INVESTIGATE DOUGHNUTS.

I swear to god, I did not see how incredibly stupid I’d been until I did the escalation check. This is why it’s important to see the forest, not just the trees. I’m really good at details, but big picture? Not so much.

That muttering you hear in the back ground is me, swearing at myself.

So to get back to analysis, if I’d had any brains at all, there’d have been a lot of escalation at the end of this section because both Nita and Nick would have been galvanized by the attempted assassination and the poisoned doughnuts.

Rewrite Goal: Get your head out of your ass, Jenny, and fix your damn plot holes.

So that means a massive rewrite on How Nita Spends Her Afternoon and How Nick Spends his Afternoon, although Nick at least has a great escalation at the end of this section when he finds out what Nita is and gets saddled with Mammon and Max. Nita, on the other hand, chats a lot and shops. Because she’s evidently brain dead.

Rewrite Goal: Nita tries to find out who’s poisoning doughnuts and trying to kill her. Nick tries to find that out, too. Jesus wept.

In the last section, the stakes rise for Nita because she realizes the supernatural is real. The stakes rise for Nick because he’s invested in her even if he’s not realizing it yet, and because he had to smite somebody which is a serious thing for him. That’s still a little fuzzy and needs to be tied to the whole doughnut and assassination thing in a way that shows there are two conspiracies on the island, but at least the stakes are higher at the end.

Rewrite Goal: Set up the two conspiracies somehow so that it’s clear that Nita and Nick are still concerned with the doughnuts that caused Joey’s death and the attempt on Nita’s life, all of which happened about eighteen hours ago, so still very fresh in their memories.

I can’t believe I missed something that freaking huge. I know, I know, early draft, but somebody tried to kill her and she forgot about it? Somebody poisoned the island populace (and Nita) and she let that drop?

It may be awhile before I’m back with the paper edit. Talk amongst yourselves while I go beat up on myself some more.

40 thoughts on “Nita’s First Act Truck Draft: Escalation

  1. Hi Jenny, Don’t beat yourself up, like you said truck drafts are discovery drafts. I think I speak for all of your blog readers when I say I would not have missed ANY of your writing right from the beginning (the tv show) it has been a terrific journey. We will have a smug feeling that we “helped you” when we Finally hold the book in our hands.

  2. So…I know we’re the readers and you’re the writer, but like, none of us caught that, either. So it wasn’t a GLARING plot hole…
    Now that you point it out, yeah, I guess it’s weird that Nita isn’t more like, “wtf is with the guy who tried to kill me?” but she was assuming burglary gone wrong (I think) and we clearly bought it. She’s also very hungover?
    The doughnuts thing probably should have been a bigger thing for her, but she already has Joey’s death and the Devil to deal with (and Nick has a huge laundry list of stuff). Priorities. I guess the point is, if it’s any consolation, many readers accepted that she (and he) wouldn’t be more freaked out?

    We may not be the most objective readers…

    1. Well, you’ve only read about a hundred versions of these scenes, too. That can make your eyes glaze over. It makes mine glaze over.

      1. Glaze. Doughnuts. Ha.

        Nope, I completely missed it, too. I was just *loving* the snappy dialogue, I didn’t even pay attention to what was or wasn’t happening. It makes perfect sense when you bring it up, but it was not on my radar while I was reading.

    2. Yep, what Salpy said.

      Didn’t even occur to me at the time, but now that you’ve said it, it is glaringly obvious. Especially since she even says “I bet it had something to do with the new guy” when she gets shot at. Logically, there would be a lot more suspicion at breakfast, and people dying from the doughnuts would severely piss her off. She’d probably think that was Nick’s fault somehow too?

      1. Actually, as I’ve wargamed it out today–thank god for graph paper–breakfast is when she has to stop suspecting Nick of being a crook. Argh.

    1. It was part her itinerary where she tracked Nick and everybody told her about him.

      Welp, I just redid the outline and cut three scenes, so fingers crossed . . .

  3. Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been stuck on how to fix my story that has a few slow parts and a limited escalation of stakes (death to a story, I know). Then, I read this and it came together. Thanks!

  4. Actually, when Button told her the boss wanted to spy on her, Nita took this with a lot of calm, seeing skeletons, etc, doesn’t seem to faze her, I just thought this is more of the same unflappability, (a trait I believe and like, btw)……. and it made sense to me that she was more concerned by the body disappearing than someone trying and failing to shoot at her. Though now that you mention it, the disappearing body should have still been bothering her. Yep, we just get swept along with you.

    1. I like the unflappability, too, especially since she’s spending Act Two flapped, but I think she’d look into it. There aren’t supposed to be guns on the island, so that would galvanize her, plus somebody obviously sent the guy to kill her. I don’t think she’d scream and shout, but she’d go after whoever it was and so would Button, not to mention Mort. And then there’s the rest of the police force…

  5. I love the way she keeps telling Nick “Just give me a minute”. That gave me a fairly strong sense of a) her character and b) just how thrown she really is by everything.

  6. I laughed my butt off when I read this yesterday. How in the world did we ALL miss this?

    I have at least one book I love sitting in my dead draft drawer (and it’s a historical, so it hasn’t lost relevance) that failed over lack of escalation. When I finish this stupid contemporary (yeah, that’s probably not a good sign, is it?) AND the other two demon books, I’m resurrecting that thing and doing an escalation edit to see if it can be saved. (That may sound dumb, but early readers loved that book. It’s been five or six years since I set it aside and people still ask me when I’m going to finish it.)

    So much learning on this site. It’s like a post-Master’s-certificate course!

  7. Another question. Seeing how well you know your thing and what to do, why did you want to/need to do Lavender as first person?

    Random thoughts that appear to me.

    1. I wanted to try a first person mystery series (limited). I did finally give up and try to put it in third, but it wouldn’t go. I’ll get back to that. One book at a time.
      Actually I’m going back to Monday Street and Paradise Park first.

      1. Oh Thank God for that. I am unable to work up any enthusiasm for the Lavender books. Everything else, I have varying degrees of interest in seeing completed.

      2. I liked Paradise Park, but I’m really holding out for Nita. And Haunting Alice. Because, Alice. And Ethan.

      3. I’m excited for Paradise Park. All the pieces of the drafts for that were so much fun, and I really want to know the rest of the stories.

        1. And I’m all over here thinking those books sound grand, and everything, but*this one*, please. Do not distract the author!

  8. Is is OK that I see Mammon as Jack Lemmon playing Professor Fate in the Great Race? Because he has a Max too, and he keeps telling him “Push the button, Max” with mustache twirling, and then “NOT THAT BUTTON YOU IDIOT” as everything goes wrong accompanied by clouds of black smoke and explosions.

    I have a great deal of sympathy for Max.

    1. You can see him any way, you want. Once you read it, it’s your story.

      I have placeholders for all of these people, I think it’s just intrusive to inflict them on you all. If you want pictures . . .

    1. There was back when I was putting up WiPs and then taking them down. It’s the sequel to Paradise Park, kind of.

  9. I read many, many mysteries of all sorts. I wondered why there wasn’t more Concern and, you know, Investigation by Nita and by Nick about the murder attempt and the donuts, but I figured you know what you’re doing. Generally, you do. You caught it.

  10. My take on this was that Nita is well-known to be as cool as a cucumber, and she must have a strong sense of internal priorities — one can’t do everything at once, and for a cop, The Job would be more important than Personal Danger.

    I wasn’t going to mention this, but when I was reading the reveal about Nita’s true parentage, I was totally fascinated, but couldn’t help thinking, “But does this mean that Mort’s true father is the same guy? What about Mort? Is this one of those weird twins-from-different-fathers things? I wonder if Mort just hides his scariness better?” I didn’t resent not getting answers about Mort, because I was getting answers to a question I didn’t even know I had. Too fascinating! But, I think early in act 2, I would like to know a little more about Mort. (Did Nick just not know that Mort was Nita’s sister at this point? Sorry, I can’t let go of the Mort thing. I’m pretty sure Nick did know about the brother/sister relationship, although I don’t remember if Nick knows they are twins.)

    1. Nick knows they have different fathers because he saw the Mayor has blue eyes, and then goes in and asks Vinnie about Nita’s mom and finds out that she has blue eyes. So Nita can’t be the Mayor’s daughter. What he doesn’t know is who her father is; his working theory is that he’s a demon since that’s happened in the past, but that’s undercut by how fast she comes back from way too much scupper.

      I may have to just address that in the scene with Vinnie.

      Sorry, I knew that bit about two blue-eyed parents can’t have a black-eyed daughter was wrong; it’s the widow’s peak that tells the tale. But the very different eyes and the coldness and the general oddness of Nita next to the aggressively normal Mort is a giveaway.

      1. Oh, I totally follow the logic that Nick knows Nita is the daughter, and that’s some damn good stuff! Very clever! What I don’t get is how Nick knows that Mort ISN’T the son of the same guy. Blue eyes are recessive, and who knows if Nita’s real father has some blue-eyed blond in his family tree. (LOL, although, it makes my head hurt even thinking about the DNA of Nita’s real father. I don’t think any of those head demons have family trees, do they? Aren’t they the same as the original Adam as far as genetics go? Ooooh, and there goes another portion of my mind blown. Eve would be, technically speaking, Adam’s CLONE. Oh, let me get off this tangent before something horrid happens.)

        Anyway, just a data point to triangulate on. You got me, and you got Salpy. I think I implied it, but I didn’t say it: it didn’t klunk. It just had me wondering. Act 2 will probably start with a real blast, and then I’ll just roll with it.

      2. About Nita’s dad…If someone went through a hellgate 33 years ago, wouldn’t he know it was there?

        1. I’m not sure I’m following here. Nita’s dad knows there are demons on the island. He doesn’t monitor hellgates.
          Possibly I need to make the whole hellgate thing more clear.

  11. I thought you had to use a hellgate to get from hell to Earth. And if that is how Dad got to the island 33 years ago to hook up with Nita’s mom, he would know one was there available to demon use. So, why would Nick get sent to look into something Dad already knew about?

    1. Yep, I have to clarify that.
      Devils open hellgates. So when any of the Devils, or in this case Nick because Satan got bored with Earth, want to travel to Earth or send somebody, they open one and then close it right away. They’re not supposed to be permanently open.


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