Thursday, July 15, 2010

Writing to Structure

Sometimes in our stories we reach a point where we’ve discovered something that appears to allow us to move into the next act, but should we move into the next act now? Should we have already moved into the act? Should we wait? This is why it is so important to know the structure of the story and how many pages deep into the story each should occur. I won’t go into how to know which pages each structure element occurs on because the answer isn’t must be determined by the study of various successful stories and I don’t wish to bore you with details. However, there is one structural element that has both a known and an obvious location. It will serve well as our example.

The midpoint of a story is a structural element that occurs in the middle of the book and in the middle of the second act of a three act story. It is either a false success or a false failure. In my WIP, the midpoint is a false success because it is at this point that Sara finds a person she is looking for. We will find out that this person cannot do what Sara needs her to do. Sara has been looking and through that process she has found an envelope with the woman’s address on it. At this point, it would be easy to just have Sara visit the address and introduce herself, giving us the midpoint. But are we ready for the midpoint? In this case, no, because the midpoint is at page 166 and we’ve only reach page 133 in the writing. This means that Sara must spend another 33 pages looking and investigating, which is essentially what the primary action of this book is.

So, how do we solve this problem of having 33 pages to go? For one thing, we can use this space to further develop the subplots, but primarily we want to take the success of finding the address and turn it into a setback. When Sara goes to the address, we want her to discover that woman doesn’t live there anymore. It doesn’t have to be a complete failure. Sara can talk to a neighbor who will send her off to another address or to someone who should know where the woman lives now, but it will take time to resolve the setback and in the process we end up filling the 33 pages and putting the midpoint where it ought to be. Had we not been forces to fill those pages we would have introduced the midpoint too soon and things would seem too easy and the second half of the book would drag.