On the Fourth Act

The most basic structure for a story is the three-act rising-action-to-climax. They teach it in high school. It works because it hits the beats that conform to emotional expectations that people have.

But it’s not the only structure that can be.

I mentioned earlier this week when I finally got Chapter XII finished that it was time for the fourth act. I also called it the denouement, which isn’t entirely accurate. Denouements are short. But this fourth act will have a falling action kind of effect.

But it will also contain action. An act implies action, something significant. And even though a major moment occurred, perhaps a central moment, there’s more for the character to absorb.

Really, there’s something of a fifth act/epilogue in the last chapter. It’s like a Shakespeare play.

Writer’s Block, Resistance, and the Grind

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

-Jack London

Sword2So I finally finished Chapter 11 of The Sword over the weekend. For a transitional chapter, this one took forever. I’m not sure if the culprit that dragged it out over so many weeks was a loss of confidence in my own abilities, being distracted by other life business, or just an inability to bridge the gap from where I was in the novel and where I needed to get to.

One thing that’s definitely happening is I’m already seeing things I’m gonna want to fix in editing. Some characters are hanging in the background and not very clearly defined. I’m uncertain if my protagonist isn’t wandering a bit. So I might have been pausing to take stock.

It’s hard to say. Writing a novel is something like having an argument with imaginary friends. You may have ideas about what they ought to be, but they start insisting to be what they really are, and you have to negotiate the way to display that.

In any case, one thing I’ve never found particularly useful are the various Tips and Tricks to Beat Writer’s Block. I’m not saying others won’t find them useful, but to me they just feel like make-work. The technique I find most useful is as follows:

  1. Put butt in seat.
  2. Put fingers on keyboard.
  3. Let whatever comes out suck. You can fix it or toss it later if you want to.

Stephen Pressfield writes about Resistance in The War of Art, which he describes as anything, any thought or habit, that conspires to prevent you from completing what you have taken on. And thinking of Writer’s Block, or lack of confidence, or the Critical Eye, as forms of Resistance, is useful in terms of putting the task of Finishing above all else.

Which means that Resistance happens, and it’s okay. You will deal with it from time to time. Just keep going. Just mash the keys. Just finish. Grind it out

Chapter 12 is a Big Deal. I’m feeling good about beginning it.



Writing Principles Derived From Musici

via A Writer’s Path:

There are three points:

  1. Avoid Repetition – In the substance of your writing, words used, plot occurences, etc. Sometimes repetition is useful, but you have to know how much you’re doing it.
  2. Avoid Monotony – how is this different from “Repetition”? Here the author refers to rhythm, i.e. what do your sentences “sound” like? A variation between short, staccato bursts and riverine flow is the recommended idea. I’m a fan of of that approach myself.
  3. Know the Expectations You’re Creating – This basically means “write for your reader”. What are you signalling to the reader in terms of where story and character are going? You need to know these things to fulfill them (or to violate them, if that’s what you’re planning on).

Those are your takeaways, but Read the Whole Thing

The Sword Update

Here’s where we are on my Civil War novel.

  • I just finished Chapter 7 of a planned 15.
  • Chapters are averaging somewhere between 4,000-5,000 words (rough estimate). This will put me at about 70,000 words, reasonable size for a novel.
  • If I finish in the next six weeks or so, I can let it lie fallow for a bit before editing it and then figuring out how to publish it.
  • At present time, I want to try traditional publishing, then if that doesn’t work, perhaps a Kickstarter.
  • I have a new working-cover. It kind of looks like a flag:Sword2

It’s been a while since I updated on this, but I’ve been working on it – especially since I finished Void. I’m toying with offering a chapter on Tablo to see what people think. Then again, I might not.

I’ve also been toying with the idea of trying to make material available completely available from this website, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post…

If You Want to Write a Story, Write a Story…

Good post at The Green Study:

My writing tip #234: Don’t read books on writing while trying to write a novel. First of all, it usually sheds bad light on whatever you are writing and secondly, it can make you overly ambitious.

I agree. What you need when you’re working on something is Inspiration. It doesn’t come bottled, but in my experience, it comes in paperback form. So what you should be reading is what will make you want to write.

The cusp of the post is the writer giving herself permission to write the novel she’s writing, rather than the epoch-shaking political work she feels like she’s supposed to be working on.

I also agree. Writing is art, and art is more important than poltics. As I have above my Twitter feed: Politics is now; Art is forever.

I’m going through something similary with Last Tomorrow. I’m torn between wanting to polish its rough corners and letting it be the little postabpocalyptic homage to Mask of the Red Death that it is. It’s a novella. I’m not going to turn it into a novel. I’ve got an actual novel I’m working on, plus shorts for the next issue of Unnamed Journal. But I want it to be the best it can be.

And how do I know which way is right? I won’t until its over.

This is why writers drink.

Vlad the Impaler and Cue-ing Your Readers

Good Post at madgeniusclub about making sure your readers are getting the cues you’re giving them, and more importantly, not reading cues that you don’t intend to be there:

You need to be aware that if you’ve got a strong mystery plot, you should be putting in the cues for the red herrings and the real culprit and all the other little goodies mystery authors tease their readers with. Similarly, if your epic fantasy does not have a strong romance subplot, take the time to make sure you aren’t throwing romance cues at your readers. That will just make the more romance-oriented ones unhappy. It could well make the non-romance readers unhappy too, because these cues are deeply embedded in our culture.

This may raise the hackles of those who want to bust out or overturn the tropes or expectations of genre, but you can’t do those things unless you know what the tropes are and how they are used.

The author, Kate Paulk, is one I’ve read before. Her Impaler starts out as a historically-grounded Vlad II-as-a-Vampire story, and then goes someplace completely unexpected with it. It confounds your expectations in a good way. When I read it, I kept thinking the story could not possibly be going where it is, and I felt a little confused, but I kept reading. The characters were sufficiently developed, and sufficiently interesting, that I wanted to know what was next even as I found myself wondering why the trope I had expected was not arriving. Plus, a great closing line. If you like a good broody vampire prince tale, you should check it out (click the link to buy on Amazon).