Last night I finished something, and I decided something.
Chapters and Parts
In a published book, you’ve got lots of divisions you can make. “Chapters” are fairly obvious and widely used; sometimes a book is divided into “Parts” or “Books”, either numbered (Book One, or Part Two) or named (Random fantasy book off the shelf – The Dragonbone Chair – part one is titled “Simon Mooncalf”) (Or Mistborn is another example). There are also scenes, which are more of a hidden division. Sometimes one scene is a chapter; sometimes a chapter contains several scenes. I’m not going to go into what a scene is, as this post is long and other people have done it better.
So far, I’ve been writing Princess scene by scene. This is good for me – it keeps me focused on what has to happen to move the plot forward, and there’s a defined beginning middle and end so I stay on track. And although many of the scenes I’ve written will be fleshed out with more description in draft 1.5, they’re still on the shortish side to be chapters in their own right (often hovering just over 1k words).
So I’ve been thinking, as I write – not with any seriousness, don’t freak out, not getting ahead of myself – just idly, about where I would break up chapters. What scene endings have that powerful punch that will keep my readers racing on through the next chapter. (Not having a lot of luck, by the way)
And then I sort of thought about my “Act” divisions.
The Four-Act Story Arc
A couple of different people pointed me toward this structure. It (or the Three-Act Story Arc, a sibling) is a staple of movie and tv script writing, and it works perfectly well for novels too. I’ll admit that most of my information is secondhand, but I hear that Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat book is a good place to start. Or there’s always the internet. Google is your friend.
I used (more or less) this beat sheet to plot Princess. The same sheet, or a very similar one, had been posted to her blog earlier, though I can’t find the original post right now. I printed it out and scribbled all over it.
Another friend of mine extolled the virtues of the Beat Sheet via email, so when I sat down to seriously plot it was firmly entrenched in my mind.
I sketched out the major points on the sheet (Inciting Incident, Decision, Midpoint, Darkest Night, the gist of the Finale), made index cards for them, spaced them out, and started filling in the rest.
The result of doing it this way is that the Acts all end with pretty powerful moments. Act One with the Decision, Act Two with Midpoint/False Hope, Act Three with Darkest Night.
Finishing Act One
Last night I finished Act One.
So first of all, WHOOHOO!!!! This is now officially the farthest I’ve gone in a novel manuscript (there was only one prior attempt, but WHATEVER). I’d like to call your attention over to the sidebar, which now reads 17,684.
That’s a bit slim, considering each act is ~25% of the book, but that number will change in subsequent drafts. Besides, Acts Two and Three are where the meat of the action takes place; I don’t mind a slightly shorter first act. You don’t want to drag the introductions on too long.
Anyway, it was finishing Act One that really hit home to me that I want the Acts to correspond to divisions of the book. I want my reader to hit the end of the act, turn the page, and be confronted by a blank page with one word on it. I want that momentary pause where they think about what’s just happened, and the title of the section will hint at what is to come.
Titling my Acts
Okay. I had decided to make my “acts” into “parts”, and I wanted them to have evocative titles that hinted at the events they contained. My first thought was “Blood” for the first part and “Exile” for the second; I thought about it; I wasn’t pleased.
“Blood” right up front? I mean, the readers will have read the back cover copy but still. I think that might be a turnoff.
“Exile” I liked better. It described Kel’s condition in that section, keeping the focus on my protagonist and her role in the story at that point. The book is about Kel’s development, after all; it makes sense that my act titles would reflect that.
So I scrapped “Blood”.
Act Four would be “Queen”; it sort of gives away the ending but I hope in a way that generates anticipation (how the hell is she going to get out of this mess??). I may revise that later; we’ll see what the alpha/beta reaction is to the Act Three/Four transition (*evil laugh*).
Act Three was hard; in the end I chose “Sacrifice”, and that’s all I’ll say about that.
Then Act One, to mirror Four, became…”Princess”.
It tickles me silly to know that the silly little keyword I’ve been using to identify this project is now actually a part of the book. At least for now!
Exactly what it says on the tin. What are your thoughts on Parts and titling in general? My choices in particular? Are chapter divisions my Great White Whale? (Yes, but that’s okay.)