Monday, June 08, 2009

End of Acts

I'm one of those writers who thinks in the three act structure. I could never write some sprawling Russian novel with 500 characters - not going to happen. Maybe I'm limiting myself or it's an artistic wall I'm not talented enough to overcome, or I'm just too artistically lazy to want to overcome. I think it's a direct result of coming to writing through movies. I had a writing teacher once say that movies are a great short cut when discussing craft, which I agree with. I learned story structure through movies, most all of which follow the three act set up. The best example: Witness. I've seen thousands and thousands of movies, some more than 20 times, so I've been conditioned. I'm like one of Pavlov's dogs, the one who drools at the sight of a Blockbuster.

I have Syd Field to thank for this. The first book of craft I read was his Screenplay. I bought it when I was a freshman in high school. I highlighted it, took notes, etc. I learned the insides and outs of everything he wrote about. So, I'm a slave to his paradigm. If you are not familiar with this, Field has deconstructed just about every film within a certain structure: Act 1, Plot Point 1, Act 2, Plot Point 2, Act 3. That's a pretty simplified breakdown, but you get the idea. This is how I think when I think about plot. For close to 20 years (funny to think about, but it's true) this is how I've visualized story structure.

So, on to my point. The ends of acts suck. Do you know why? Because you have to begin again. You've gone through an entire act. Everything you've put down on paper (or on the blank screen) to this point is for the payoff at the end of the act. And BAM! You hit that plot point and the story is shooting off into another direction. It feels good for a moment. You can look behind you and see where you've come. You tend to celebrate the milestone. Great job, Steve! Then reality sets in. Not only are you not finished, but you have to start a new act. The momentum you felt push you towards that major plot point isn't behind you anymore. You have to find some new force to guide you through. That means another beginning. It's like page one all over again.

OK, you have your characters and you have the MacGuffin, but things cannot remain the way they are. You must manipulate the characters, throw up some twists and turns and pick up the pace. In some cases, the end of an act is a climax in itself - and that is where I am now. The characters I've started to develop need to react differently, but not out of character. New obstacles arrive and disrupt their normal existence. They will not go about their day as if nothing has occurred. How boring would that be? How much of a talentless hack would I be if I let that happen?

So, I'm at the end of an act and I'm not looking forward to pushing the story up another hill. I know that once I've reached this next peak, the momentum will carry me - but I'm a writer in the middle of writing, rational thought doesn't get through this thick skull.

OK, back at it. One foot in front of the other... I think I can...I think I can...I think I can...