Nail Your Novel
- Books for writers
- FAQ: I’m a new writer: which book should I read first?
- FREE Nail Your Novel Instant Fix: 100 Tips For Fascinating Characters
- My writing process: the picture tour
- Nail Your Novel: A Companion Workbook
- Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and how you can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence
- Reviews of Nail Your Novel
- Who’s tweeting about Nail Your Novel …
- Writing Characters Who’ll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel
- Writing Plots With Drama, Depth & Heart: Nail Your Novel
- Email me
Posts Tagged oscars
‘I woke from a wondrous and startling dream’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Mark Staufer
Posted by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris in Undercover Soundtrack on June 5, 2013
I’ve often thought we need to be able to film our dreams. While we’re at it, can we please record the fully orchestrated music we compose in them? While I’ve slumbered, I’ve written albums that surpassed my favourite artistes, and when my eyes open they’re gone. My guest this week clearly thinks the same way. He woke from a dream and wished he could preserve it on film… not surprising as he is a screenwriter and former head of production at Universal Studios. From this idea began a supernatural thriller – but it’s no ordinary book. He worked with a composer and sound designer to create a multimedia app that’s a book when you want to read and a musical experience when you choose to open your ears. And of course there are the secret pieces that showed him the souls and truths of his characters. He is Mark Staufer, and he’s on the Red Blog with his Undercover Soundtrack.
apps, authors, cross-media, dreams, dreamscapes, dreamworlds, evolved book, fiction, filming our dreams, gaming, having ideas, how to write a book, how to write a novel, inspiration, Mark Staufer, multimedia, multimedia storytelling, music, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, novels, oscars, publishing, recording our dreams, Roz Morris, screenwriting, scriptwriting, secret pieces, sound design, staufer, storytelling app, storyworlds, supernatural thriller, The Numinous Place, The Undercover Soundtrack, transmedia, transmedia storytelling, undercover soundtrack, videogames, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing life, Writing Plots With Drama, Depth & Heart, writing to music
Story structure: why plot milestones might not be equally spaced – and why that’s good
Posted by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris in My Memories of a Future Life, self-publishing, The writing business on March 17, 2013
I’ve had a question from Jennifer Ibarra.
How exact do story milestones have to be? I did a lot of planning and put them in the ‘right’ points in the story (25% for the first turning point, half way for the midpoint, 75% for the second turning point). But they’re off by 1-2k words. Will the story feel unbalanced? Or should I keep trimming and adding?
The short answer: Stop! There is much to discuss…
What are we talking about?
Let’s backtrack. Stories have natural turning points, where the plot increases the pressure on the characters. When you build a story from beats (episodes where something changes) you’ll find they often fall into a pattern (usually used in movies).
Act 1, the first quarter, is the set-up with the event that begins all the trouble – the inciting incident. Act 2 is the second two quarters, where the problem is being actively tackled and confronted. Act 3, the last quarter, is the resolution. In each of these phases, the stakes change, and the protagonists’ goals and feelings change.
Why do they divide like this? The audience seems to have an internal clock, and feels the story needs these emotional shifts. They also find it most satisfying when played out in these phases. (BTW, some people call it the three-act structure, some decide there must be four acts because act 2 has two parts. Both terms mean the same thing. Another name for these shifts is plot points. Clear?)
How exact do these act points have to be?
If you’re writing for TV they matter to the minute. Movies could be more fluid, but commercial studio executives are so used to formulae and paradigms that they only commission stories that fit it. And they go to expensive conferences that reinforce this so it becomes holy writ.
Although stories fit a natural structure, the divisions aren’t exact, as Jen is discovering. Here’s another part of her letter to me:
Once we start writing the scenes out, they take on a life of their own, and no matter how careful we are in planning, things will shift around
They do indeed. And that’s good.
Stories are organic. You can’t rush certain sections to get them to a plot point or you might race ahead of the reader. Curiously, when that happens, they might tell you you’re going too slowly. In fact, you might need to slow even more, make sure the reader understands why the scene’s events are important.
Remember, these plot points are emotional crescendos. They are times of greatest tension, pressure and surprise. And they work because of how you’ve primed the reader.
Equal but not equal
Here’s an example in action. My Memories of a Future Life is 102k words. When I released it in episodes, I aimed for roughly 25k words each. I actually got 26k, 31k, 19k and 28k.
I have to admit, I’d forgotten the proportions varied that much (although they obviously worked as readers said they were gripped). I realise this tells us something about the different flavours of each act. (So thanks, Jen, for making me consider it.)
Act 1 contains set-up, which has to be balanced with momentum. That’s tricky and it’s why beginnings are often too slow. The reader needs enough back story to understand what matters, but must also feel they’re seeing characters reaching a point of no return. (I wrote a while ago about a scene that I cut from Act 1 because of the pace – Carol’s performance dress. Not because of wordcount, but because it repeated an emotional point. If I’d left it in, the reader would have felt the story was circling over the same ground.)
In Act 2 we’ve settled down. We’re involved with the characters enough to be curious about their back story and lives. (I could have added the black dress scene here, but the moment for it was gone.) At the same time, the complications are thickening.
In Act 3, we’ve turned a corner. Situations get worse, problems are more desperate. There won’t be much new material because this is a phase of consequences. Bad choices come back to bite. Fuses burn up. We’re building to a crisis.
Act 4 is the climax, and the reader will be turning pages fast. But it has a lot to pack in. The denouement will be intense and pressured. There will be reversals where it doesn’t go as planned, and moments when all seems lost. There will be revelations. Each of these story beats will need immense space, as if time has slowed down, to do justice to their impact and to allow the characters to react and adjust. There will be many ends to tie. After the final action, you don’t just tip the reader into the street, blinking. You need a leave-taking, to send the characters on into new lives. The reader knows they’ll be leaving them behind, so will savour the chance for a few less-pressured, appreciative moments before parting for good.
Here we can see there are good, organic reasons why each act may not hit the same wordcount, even though it will feel near enough to the reader.
Novels aren’t movies
Although there’s a lot that novel-writers can learn from movie storytelling, the media are not the same. The popular prophets of the three (or four)-act structure – Robert McKee, Syd Field and Blake Snyder – are script doctors. They’re not talking about novels and they probably don’t read them. Indeed movies and TV have to fudge the plot points with fillers – extra miles in a chase, a scene where the character polishes his revolver and stares into a glass of whisky. There’s usually music or a montage to divert the audience’s attention from a scene that’s spinning its wheels. In novels you can’t use fillers; they don’t work. And what’s more, you don’t have to.
So Jen, you’ve already done enough. You’re writing in a medium that allows you different act lengths. Enjoy it!
Thanks for the golden ratio pic Snotty on Wikimedia Commons
What would you say to Jen?
Update December 2014: if you liked this discussion, you’ll find loads more in Writing Plots With Drama, Depth & Heart: Nail Your Novel – which is launching right now! Special pre-release price if you reserve a copy before 5 January.
3-act structure, 3-point arc, 4-act structure, 4-point arc, Alliance of Independent Authors, authors, Blake Snyder, books, climax, deepen your story, Depth & Heart, fiction, four-act structure, four-point arc, having ideas, Hollywood scripts, how to write a book, how to write a novel, inciting incident, Kobo, literary fiction, literature, London Book Fair, midpoint, movie scripts, My Memories of a Future Life, narrative arc, novels, oscars, Planning, plot point, plot points, polishing, publishing, revising, Rewriting, Robert McKee, Roz Morris, secret of story structure, self-publishing, Smashwords, story structure, Syd Field, three-act structure, three-point arc, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing life, Writing Plots With Drama
The ABBA of plotting: video at Beyondaries
Posted by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris in How to write a book, Writer basics 101 on March 8, 2013
I’m at Chila Woychik’s Beyondaries ezine today, musing about what it might have been like to take ABBA’s back catalogue and try to write the plot of Mamma Mia. Those of you who’ve followed this blog since its first days might recognise the post. It was one of my very earliest, but evapourated when I moved from self-hosting. So here it is again with hand-waving. (If you remember it from – gulp – 2009, wave back in the comments.)
As before, I’m in stimulating company at Beyondaries. Dan Holloway writes about fusing perfume and poetry. Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick talks about tackling the blank page. Grace Bridges talks about stories as ‘the thin places where realities merge’. Small press editor Gray Rinehart describes life as gatekeeper of a slush pile. And proprietrix Chila talks about creativity in the very atoms of the air.
In the meantime, I’m taking a blogging break this weekend while I plough on with the next book. Nail Your Novel: Bring Characters To Life is due for release in May, so if you’re interested to know more, sign up for my newsletter.
ABBA, authors, Beyondaries, Chila Woychik, Dan Holloway, elizabeth hardwick, fiction, Grace Bridges, Gray Rinehart, having ideas, how to write a book, how to write a musical, how to write a novel, how to write a plot, inspiration, literature, mamma mia, musicals, My Memories of a Future Life, novels, oscars, Planning, plots, plotting, podcast, Port Yonder Press, publishing, Roz Morris, self-publishing, Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick, video, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing life, Writing Plots With Drama, Depth & Heart
- Join 26,190 other subscribers
- In search of enhanced weirdness – novelist Kate Brandt @kbrandtwriter March 20, 2023
- Once more with feeling – some notes about description March 12, 2023
- Your first pages – 5 manuscripts critiqued at @Litopia by literary agent @AgentPete @AJ_Dickenson and me! March 10, 2023
- ‘Let the narrative bend where it wants to’ – memoirist Joseph Lezza @lezzdoothis February 21, 2023
- When machines write books: will AI writing threaten authors’ livelihoods? February 12, 2023
- How do you market literary fiction, especially as an indie author? Guest spot at @IndieAuthorALLI February 9, 2023
- ‘The sound of a typewriter brings me happiness’ – historical fiction and non-fiction author Cordelia Biddle @AuthorBiddle January 17, 2023
Seen regularly at ...
Authorised personnel only
Don\’t miss a post: subscribe to Nail Your Novel
- Join 26,190 other subscribers