I hear people talking about three act structure when writing, and I think about my long-term project Watching. I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing something wrong. It’s not in three acts. To break it into three acts would be a mistake, because it just doesn’t work.
And then I realised, just a couple of days ago, that that’s not a bad thing. Just because it doesn’t fit 3-act structure, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. The important thing to remember is what structure it is in.
Five-act structure, typically used in tragedies. Hamlet is a five-act play. The Duchess of Malfi is a five-act play. These are both things I’ve been studying, and while working on them I’ve realised how many parallels I can draw between them and Watching. It makes sense, really, since I’ve always described it as a ‘tragedy’. It has the tragic hero (Alex). And it has a ‘climax’ in the middle, before things get even worse – something I wasn’t sure I was allowed to do.
But I am. Shakespeare did, so I can.
Realising this when I’m on the brink of replotting the book to accommodate some major focus changes (who is this story really about? What’s the main plot here?) was a revelation. I now knew that I needed to work the story around five headers:
Act 1 — Exposition. We meet the dramatis personae, and time and place are established. We learn about the antecedents of the story. Attention is directed toward the germ of conflict and dramatic tensions.
Act 2 — Complications. The course of action becomes more complicated, the “tying of knots” takes place. Interests clash, intrigues are spawned, events accelerate in a definite direction. Tension mounts, and momentum builds up.
Act 3 — The Climax of Action. The development of conflict reaches its high point, the Hero stands at the crossroads, leading to victory or defeat, crashing or soaring.
Act 4 — Falling Action. Reversals. The consequences of Act 3 play out, momentum slows, and tension is heightened by false hopes/fears. If it’s a tragedy, it looks like the Hero can be saved. If not, then it looks like all may be lost.
Act 5 — Catastrophe. The conflict is resolved, whether through a catastrophe, the downfall of the hero, or through his victory and transfiguration.
Because of this, I knew I had a starting point for the plotting. I wasn’t going in there blind, or trying to force it to work to guidelines that clearly didn’t fit. With Weapons of Chaos, which I wrote in the first section of NaNoWriMo, I knew that I had a beginning, a middle, and an end section. Yes, the end was long. Yes, the middle was longer. The beginning was short. Nevertheless, it was easy enough to fit it into that structure.
But Watching? It just doesn’t work.
Talking of NaNoWriMo, I’ve been struggling with my current project, because I ran out of outline (not having been expecting to write this this month, I didn’t bother to finish my outline… and came to the end of it very quickly once I started writing). I no longer have any idea where it’s going. I don’t even have a concrete ending in mind, which is never advisable. Actually, I don’t really have any ending. So I’m writing blindly, with no end point to focus on.
For this reason, I’ve decided to stop this project and set it aside until a later date, when perhaps I know what I’m doing. That might be in a week, a month, or a year (it’s already rested for ten months since its first conception). Maybe never. And it’s a shame, because I was so in love with this story.
Maybe it’s because I already wrote one novel this month, but I don’t think it’s worth pushing through and forcing myself to write this one. Not right now. I don’t know enough about this genre (crime/mystery) to write it. I don’t read it, as a general rule. I’m bad at adult characters, and everyone in this book is adult, so I’m struggling with that. I’m not old enough or experienced enough to write this book.
And I know, I always say it doesn’t matter how old you are, because you can always write. But sometimes you can’t.
Not this one. I can’t do it.
So I’ve decided to put it aside, as I said, which was a hard decision, and use this month to work on the rewrite of Watching. Which will be major. More major than anything before, even the crazy eighth draft that behaved ridiculously like a first draft and several unexpected things happened, because then I allowed myself to follow the general pattern of chapters and things.
This time I’m changing the focus.
This time it’s about Alex. Everything and everyone else is a subplot. Some pretty major ones, yes, but he’s the main characters, and his is the same story. Alex is the tragic hero, and for once I’m going to treat him like one.
This means Alex’s story itself needs to be changed slightly. It means that other people’s positions – especially where and when they enter – will have to be changed. It means it’s going to be full of crappy writing because it will, effectively, be a new novel. And I think that’s okay. I want it to be the best it can be, and if it takes destroying it and starting again to make that happen, so be it.
Apologies to Charley and Pheris who read the most recent version (which I thought would be the ‘last’, ahahaha) and Cathryn who did so much work with me. It’s all going to go out of the window now. A new novel with the same concept it is.
Ouch. I have a feeling I’ll be killing several of my darlings now.
This is going to be painful.