Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Act One

I've had a life-long love affair with books and a somewhat dusty journalism degree, so when I set out to pen my first novel, I was certain I knew a thing or two about writing. Turns out, I really didn't.

When I studied novels in high school, we talked about POV--as in first person (I), second person (you), and third person (he or she). Sometimes, third person was also described as the omniscient narrator. We studied theme such as racism in To Kill a Mockingbird and symbolism in The Great Gatsby, so I thought I knew novels.

I had no idea that the POV character of a scene could only know what s/he could feel or experience or think. No head-hopping around the dinner table. No author intrusion, "If only Sally would have known what was about to happen next." Novels had to begin somewhere but we never discussed inciting incidents, and conflict equaled man/man, man/nature or man/self. I knew that movies/screenplays were organized into three acts, but I had no idea that books were often segmented that way.

According to Award-winning Author Susan May Warren, in her latest writing craft book, Deep and Wide Advanced Fiction Techniques for Making Your Characters Deeper and Your Plot Wider, these are the elements that should be woven into the plot and emotional journey of Act One:

--Home World/Glimpse of Hope
--Inciting Incident/Invitation to Change
--The Big Debate...Regret of the Missed Opportunity
--Need to Change...Which results in The Noble Quest

* If you have two or more POV characters, you'll need to chart the emotional journey for each one.

One of my wip's (work-in-progress), opens with the home world of my character, Sophie, a single mother, who is worried she'll be late for work--and possibly fired--but she's delayed because she's having an argument with her teenage daughter. I try to answer basic who/what/when/where/why questions about Sophie's life.

I offer Sophie a glimpse of hope as she dumps everything out of her purse onto a beautiful table she'd restored. She's able to take worn-out discarded things and make them beautiful. In time, and with God's help, she'll restore her family and her life.

The inciting incident sets the story in motion. Think, the news that the Civil War has started during the festivities at Twelve Oaks Plantation in Gone with the Wind. The inciting incident in my story happens when Sophie's car is involved in a collision with Paul, a good-looking, sweet-talking man. Now, she's not only lost her job, but her car is totaled as well.

Need to Change.
Sophie's immediate needs are to find a job and obtain transportation. But her noble quest is to take care of her family, and not just financially. She needs to make sure her two daughters don't make the same mistakes that she made. They need to avoid becoming involved with irresponsible, charming playboys at all cost. Can she afford to stand on principles and turn down the temporary job Paul offers her?

I left out one element: The Big Debate/Regret of Missed Opportunity because I haven't made that clear. Now that I've got this checklist, I know what my first chapter still needs.

Take a look at your wip. Are all these elements woven into the first act of your novel?

~Roxanne Sherwood

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