Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Third Act

I've been putting in some large chunks of time with Conventional Demon these last few days. The goal is to figure out what is missing, because something is. Hence, the extensive scene-tracking spreadsheet.

First I started with Robert McKee's Story, and by checking the story value (the universal qualities of human experience that may shift from positive to negative or vice versa) of each scene, I figured out which scenes were simply filler and which needed to be strengthened. To clarify, each scene should have a shift in story value, such as love to hate, freedom to slavery, truth to lie, hope to despair. If a scene stays at the same story value from the beginning to the end, it's a wasted scene. Pay attention next time you're watching a movie or reading a book: every scene should shift the mood from one extreme to another along a certain specific story value.

Then, I tried to map the stages of the journey according to the wonderful rules of Christopher Vogler in The Writer's Journey. Whether you're conscious of it or not, almost every good movie you see and book you read follows this specific "hero's journey," from Pulp Fiction to The Full Monty to Sense and Sensibility to Carrie. Everything was going great until I got to the Ordeal phase, which should come about halfway through the book as the first major climax (though not THE climax). Only, for me it was THE climax at the end.

Several hours later, and using up all the rest of my notebook on notes and ideas and I came to a depressing/joyous conclusion: CD is missing the third act.

Every story typically has three acts, and the entire last act was missing! I won't go into all the details why and how, but it definitely wasn't there. How depressing, right, that I completely missed this fact in the dozens of times I've read it? But how wonderful that I figured out what's wrong! I've got some serious work ahead of me, but at least I now have a chart to guide me!


GreenStart said...

So - if CD is missing the third act, do you then need to make the book longer, or peel something out to add more? I know a couple of really decent plays that are only two acts...

Rebecca Chastain said...

Definitely make it longer, and fortunately, I know just the way to do it, and I know it'll be better for it. At two acts, there wasn't enough story, but it was a good three-fourths of a story.