Sunday, April 18, 2010

Act 1 - A Structural Bonaza

In this series of blogs we are going to use the 7 act structure since it breaks down a story into smaller bites for us to handle.

I'm not huge into preamble, so let's get started!

Overall, Act 1 is chalk full of arc, set-ups, and establishing tone.

Your problem with Act 1 shouldn't be what to write, but how to cram all the stuff you have to into this section!

On average Act 1 should be about 25% of your total page count.

Even more important is the 1st 10% of your novel. The Act 1 (within the 7 acts structure)

Within this 10% (for a novel that is about 50 pages for a script 10) you MUST....

Introduce your hero.

Identify or at least hint at his inner wound

Well establish his outer motivation

Introduce the opportunity (which can heal his inner wound, but usually is the antithesis of their outer motivation). Or at least the idea of the opportunity.

Have your hero reject the opportunity out of hand as the single stupidest thing he has ever heard of. #duh (wouldn't have much of a story if the hero just said - thanks, I would like to be healed, give me the balm. The only exception is if the hero is 'tricked' into believing the opportunity really is serving his outer motivation.)

Introduce an assortment of supporting characters including but not limited to side-kick, magician, and love interest.

All themes must be at the minimum introduced here (the color red, auto-racing as a metaphor of death, whatever you want!)

If you have a MAJOR paradigm shift or HUGE pay-off at the end of your novel, this is where the set-up needs to begin as well.

Establish place, tone, genre and setting.

I told you we were going to be some busy little bees!

ACT 1 is really a snapshot of your hero's life before your story happened. He's just trucking along, in total denial of the cancer that is eating him up inside (his inner wound) when BAM! your story hits with a left hook.

We need to see what your hero was like before being called to his Hero's Journey. It is the only way we are going to know how much he changed is by seeing his starting point (and believing it).

But remember we don't have a lot of pages to get a LOT of info across so each attribute you pick better be important.

Let's say later in the story your hero saves the world because of her love of chocolate. Ok, you better establish NOW that she's a chocoholic!

If you have written your 1st Act, go to the 1st 50 pages.

How many of those elements have you infused in your writing?

If not ALL, you have some rewriting to do.

If you have none of them, more than likely you started your story 'too early' in the hero's life.

The opportunity MUST be dangled in front of the hero and he MUST reject it by no later than page 75 for a novel and page 12 for a script.

If you can't see it get it in there, you are most likely over-writing.

Don't believe me? Re-read those 1st 50 pages. If you aren't talking about all the things listed above, what are you talking about? And are they really more interesting than your hero's wound, the opportunity, and your major theme?

Because those things are the backbone of your story. There should be nothing else more important.

Many people mis-identify back-story as important and fill these early pages with way too many 'recollections' and 'remembering back when.'

In this first section SHOW don't TELL is so important. Anything that is in the past, should be moved out of this section and put into the 2nd half of Act 1 (or even better sprinkle all that stuff throughout the novel in tiny snippets, revealing character and back history along the way).

Remember, these pages are your SELLING pages, if an agent or publisher won't read past these they will never get to that really 'cool' scene on page 89.

For those of you who haven't written your 1st 50 pages, GET TO IT!

This is the beauty of structure. Even if you are stuck, you now know at least the questions to start asking yourself.

What is my Hero's wound? How do I show that subtly?

What is my opportunity? How is that both appealing and terrifying to my hero? How could it heal him? Why does he reject it?

What are the major themes I want to get across in my novel and how can I start to seed them here?

See? Structure gives you so much help!

Okay, tomorrow we will finish out Act 1!

Your assignments are above, so go for it already!

As always.... if you would like me to check out your blog, please put the exact web address in the comments below, and I am also open to suggestions for future blog topics!

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