AJ Reads ‘Plot & Structure’: Chapter 2

Perhaps I should have said that the previous chapter was about interesting ingredients, because this chapter’s watch word really is about timing your cooking.

I had never thought of structure as being separate from plot, but it helps to make the breakdown. And likewise, I had never thought about plot as involving timing as well; but it does. The three-act structure is less about dividing your book into roughly three chunks of perhaps equal size, and more about using significant events to make the division.

Act I: Beginnings. (1/4 of the book)

  • Present the world.
  • Establish tone. (I have such a problem with this, but this makes sense.)
  • Make sure the reader cares.
  • Introduce opposition.

Act II: Muddle. And after NaNoWriMo, and watching writers struggle with it in their works, I entirely agree with “muddle”. (1/2 of the book)

  • Confrontation (battles with the opposition)
  • Deepen character relationships
  • Make sure the reader cares.
  • Set up the final confrontation

Act III: Ends. (last 1/4 of the book)

  • Resolution (win? lose? something bittersweet?)
  • Tie up loose ends ((Although I know this is arguable, since leaving things open can let you have, you know, sequels and stuff.))
  • Have meaning

Bell also talks about Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey, another way to structure a story, although it’s a more granular breakdown of the three acts. Here is how Bell intersperses them:

Act I:

  • Introduced to hero’s world
  • Call to adventure/disturbance
  • Denial of call, maybe
  • Cross the threshold into a dark world

Act II:

  • Mentor appears, maybe
  • Encounters with the forces of darkness
  • Dark moment within the hero they must overcome
  • Talisman aids in battle

Act III:

  • Final battle
  • Hero returns to their world

Bell also refers to three timing points a book should have, to help further with structure:

  • Disturbance of the status quo. Someone else, I think Uncle Jim, has referred to this principle as “start on the day that is different.”

  • First doorway (Act I to Act II), and most importantly, it’s a one-way door; unlike with the disturbance, your lead can’t simply say “fuck this” and go back.

  • Second doorway (Act II to Act III), and again also a one-way door, this time into the final battle.

Looking back at my NaNoWriMo book, I’m mentally marking down these major milestones. Without spoilers:

  • Disturbance. Lisao discovers that her sole believer has not come to her shrine one morning. And she finds the Lady of Owls (who is the goddess of beginnings and endings, and if she is a mentor, she’s one of the most unhelpful ever).

  • First doorway. 1/4 of the way through, it must be, for the timing to work, so it can’t actually be the disturbance. Um. Oh wait, I do kind of have one. No wonder that party took so long to resolve. Must find a better way to do it.

  • Second doorway. 3/4 of the way through. Yeah, what second doorway? I’m beginning to see why I have a problem ending my manuscript.

So how are you doing on your three-act structure? Or are you, as Bell also talks a little bit about, rebelling against the three acts?

Remember, you can buy or borrow the book on Amazon, buy the book at Barnes & Noble, or from your local bookshop or library.