Actually, today’s blog is the beginning of a three part series. Think of a play or movie divided into three acts. I am sure there are many models for drafting a novel out there, but one good way follows the pattern of a three-act play. In this first segment I will share my personal insights on Act 1. That is, I will share what should be accomplished in the first act while at the same time evaluate the novel I am working on to see how well I have met those goals.
Goals for Act 1
In the first Act of my story I am obligated to my reader to set everything up. This means I need to set the tone and pace for my book, introduce my main characters, set up a serious problem for my character(s) and perhaps offer my reader a glimpse of a villain. I need a “hook.” The hook is a strong first sentence or action to compel my reader to continue. Finally, I want to create a turning point near the end of Act to keep my reader engaged and push them on to read Act II. As you can see, there is a lot to accomplish in those first pages.
How My Novel Measures Up
I identified the first 20,000 words as Act I of my novel. Remember, the number is arbitrary, but if I can’t accomplish the goals I have set in 20,000 words, I will lose my reader’s interest.
I am in the revising stage of my book. As I am examining it Act-by-Act, I am also making note of word changes, edits, and structural changes that need to be made. I am sure all writers have their own way of doing this. What works best for me is to go into a quiet room and read my manuscript out loud.
So I sequestered myself in my office (read “daughter’s former bedroom with a table and chair in it) and read the first 20,000 words out loud. (I have thought about recording myself doing this to see if I hear even more revisions to be made, but the old cassette recorder I own no longer works. Just an idea.)
I read the first 20,000 words to see if I was meeting my goals.
Hook? I think so. If you read “How I Spent My Words,” you will recall I started the story with a two word sentence: “A lump.” My critique group liked it and I think it speaks volumes to most women.
Introduce my main characters? Yes, although one of the characters who will play a prominent role in the story only makes a cameo appearance in the first Act. Is that a problem? It could be. I may want to think about how I can add a bit of information to that section, maybe someone else in the coffee shop makes a comment about him or calls him by name.
Suggest my villain? No. As I examine my current work, my villain doesn’t enter until word 21,440. I can live with that, though I will likely tighten my story and my villain will appear a bit sooner.
Do I offer a turning point by the end of Act I? Yes. I offer a turning point along with a problem for my character to face. Although as I tighten my story, I expect this part, too, will gain strength and appear a bit earlier. So far, so good.
Where Do I Go From Here? I will spend this next week making revisions to Act I and trying to make sure to maintain the overall tone of my story is not compromised. I wanted to create a sense of "close knit family" in this first act, but I may have overworked it. I tend to overwrite sometimes so I will be looking closely at that part of the story.
Your turn- Take a look at your own writing or at a favorite book. Can you identify the Act I? I hope this helps those of you who are writing along with me. Let me know how your own writing is going. I am anxious to hear from you.