Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Day 16: Spicing Up Your Story

If you've written your Act I well you have safely brought your reader through the first few pages and chapters of your novel without hitting any low points.  Now comes Act II where you're no longer introducing characters (at least not as many as in Act I) and you've already presented the drama of the inciting incident, so how to keep the story moving along and avoid the dreaded Act II drag?  Victoria Lynn Schimdt's Book In a Month has a few suggestions for you:

1.  Remember Motivation.  In Act I your character was metaphorically sitting in a boat with no paddles.  She had her goals and ideas, but with the inciting incident knocking her about she really spent most of her time floating in whatever direction she was pushed.  Now it's Act II and your character is ready to get her paddle on!  Enough of inactivity, its time to push back.  But hold on... what is it your character is pushing for?  Is it the same goal she had at the beginning of the novel, or have her desires evolved with the story problem?  

Fill out the  Character Motivators worksheet (scroll down to page 261) to help you identify not only your character's goals for the overall story, but for each scene as well.  Remember though, that she cannot accomplish her goal until the termination of the story.  She may gain one or two small victories along the way but the purpose of the story is to watch the character learn with every failure until she has gained whatever knowledge she needs to defeat the antagonist.

2.  Find Your Big Three.  "Every story should have [a minimum of] three big events to keep things interesting for the reader.  These events can be as dramatic or lighthearted as you want them to be... [but they] aren't 'turning points,' or at least they don't have to be" (Schmidt, BIAM pg. 131).  Remember that although these events are primarily for keeping the story interesting they must still be relevant.  Do they advance the plot in some way, do they reveal more about your characters, do they compel the readers to feel a particular emotion?  If not, what relevant purpose are they serving?

To help guide you as you think over the three events you want in your story check out the Plot Snapshot worksheet (scroll down to page 262).

3.  Decide on Cliffhangers.  Cliffhangers are a fantastic way to prevent your Act II from beginning to drag while simultaneously keeping the readers turning pages to find the resolution.  A few classic cliffhangers listed by Schmidt are:
  • the ticking clock - dire consequences come if the hero doesn't accomplish a goal by a certain time
  • the hasty decision - a character is about to make a major decision without being aware of all the facts (obviously in this scenario the reader will either need all of the facts or must at least strongly suspect a truth which the hero is oblivious to)
  • the interruption - the hero is about to discover something new but is delayed by something or someone.  (Avoid using ringing phones and tea kettles as these are too cliche).
  • the unexpected problem - things seem to be working well for the hero; he seems about to achieve his goal when a sudden problem arises and keeps the reader wondering if he will ever reach his goal
Knowing when to use cliffhangers takes practice and study; watch television shows or read your favorite books to see how others employ their proper use.  Pay particular attention to the timing of the cliffhanger's resolution.  Delaying it too long will become frustrating for your readers, while resolving it too quickly means cutting short the reader's anticipation.  Fill in the Cliffhanger Brainstorm worksheet (scroll down to page 264) to come up with the proper places to insert a cliffhanger in your story.

4.  Take the Time to Brainstorm.  When working on Act II you may be bogged down by a lack of creativity as you're attempting to rush through to get to the end of your story.  Though brainstorming does take a bit of time away from actual writing you may generate ideas that can fill your Act II with more action than you'd previously realized was possible.  The following brainstorming worksheets can help you add depth to your plot, characters, and settings and help you avoid a fluff and filler middle to your story:
What are some techniques you use to keep you motivated and to keep your story rolling along during Act II?

MY DAY 15:  One of the ideas I really failed to capitalize on during my 30 Day Challenge was babysitting.  How hard is it to ask someone to watch your kids for a couple of hours and promise to do the same for them once you've finished the month?  Apparently for me it was too hard because I never did it.  I did, however, have a good friend volunteer to watch my boys for a morning and I was very happy with the progress I made.  Once again, being accountable was my biggest motivator.  I certainly didn't want that friend to come back and ask how far I got, only to answer that I spent my time Facebook stalking or napping.  So I suggest you all get yourselves some friends with kids and prepare to baby-swap. :)

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