Most who teach the craft of novel writing show you how to move your book through 3 acts:
Act I: The opening scene may take multiple chapters. At this stage the author is introducing the reader to the lead character’s world, and helping them connect empathetically via some sort of disturbance that rocks that world. This disturbance affects the lead character’s normal life, requiring them to either ignore or take on the force behind the disturbance. To make for an interesting read, their choice must thrust the character onto a path of no return.
James Scott Bell (http://www.jamesscottbell.com), in chapter 2 of Plot and Structure, talks about the disturbance and the doorway, or what we often think of as the point of no return, the plot point, or crossing the threshold. Below summarizes his main points as I understand them.
The disturbance disrupts the status quo. There must be some kind of threat or challenge which will build the reader’s immediate interest in the characters and the story. Bell reminds us of Alfred Hitchcock’s axiom: A good story is life, with the dull parts taken out. The disturbance is not the plot, as there has been no confrontation, and it is also not the doorway. The disturbance may be a phone call in the middle of the night, someone being rushed to the hospital, the boss calling the character into the office, the death of someone, the witnessing of a murder or an accident, a spouse who disappears or walks away from the marriage, a suspicious fire, and so on.
Bell refers to the point of no return as a doorway that the character is being thrust through. The disturbance creates an unavoidable situation that forces the lead character into motion, causing them to begin a journey that requires change. Once thrust through the doorway there is no way back to the status quo, and the character is now in the middle of the conflict, and with no way out. Being pushed through the doorway is THE END of ACT I and passage into ACT II.
Questions to ask yourself of ACT I:
1. What is the status quo like in the lead character’s world?
2. Have I shown their normal world vs. telling or describing?
3. What is the disturbance that disrupts the status quo?
4. What force is behind that disturbance?
5. Does the scene show the disturbance rather than describe?
6. What event forces the lead character through the doorway and into the middle of the conflict?
7. Can the lead character walk away from the plot or the center of the conflict, and go on as if nothing happened? If so, you’ve not found the doorway.
Bell offers some exercises that are very helpful in discerning the differences between the disturbance and the doorway. For example he suggests analyzing some novels or movies to identify the disturbance in the leads ordinary world, and at what point is the lead then thrust into the center of the conflict. Can the lead walk away and go back to his or her life undisturbed?
For more exercises and a greater in depth look at this topic, pick up Bell’s book from Amazon:
In my next post I’ll summarize ACT II and III. For more writing tips go to our publishing website: www.G8press.com