Thursday, October 12, 2006

Stop Talking and Kill Sauron

Now for Act Three. Act Three starts with the warrior
hero, who has been getting more proactive towards
accomplishing his goal, becoming the martyr. He has
gone through whatever transformation he needs to,
using info learned in the last Act, to drive towards a
resolution and defeat the antagonistic force thus
getting what he needs. But first, more on how Act Two

Plot Point #2 ends the second act and announces the
beginning of the third. Vogler terms this as the
hero's death and rebirth, in figurative terms. Frodo
tangles with Shelob and doesn't fare well. Sammy
saves the day and the hero now knows that everything
may have to be sacrificed to dunk the stupid ring.
Aragorn reveals himself as the King of Everything and
admits that he must march on the Black Gate in order
to save humanity.

Another thing that has to happen right before we get
to Plot Point #2 is a lull. This is the darkest hour
where all seems lost. Ringwraiths ride unchallenged
across the battlefield. Not only is Frodo dead but
the orcs of Cirith Ungol (or is it Minas Morgul?) are
going to eat him. This is usually the event that
triggers the hero's transformation. Very often a
major sidekick or perhaps the mentor will die here.

So Act Three (or the fourth part) opens with a
transformed hero who has new power and is ready to
give everything. In Love Actually, this takes
place when Hugh Grant starts knocking on doors looking
for his love interest. In Notting Hill this
takes place when Hugh Grant starts driving through the
streets looking for his love interest. This part is
called, not surprisingly, the resolution.

A resolution must resolve things. If you have a big
novel, there will be a lot of things to resolve. This
part takes up about a quarter of your length. The
important thing to remember here is that all the cards
are on the table. Everything is revealed, except in a
mystery, and no new information or characters are
uncovered. As far as plot devices go, the hero has
all the means to achieve the goal. Sauron is toast.
The Death Star is headed to the scrap yard. Somebody
is finally going to realize they love Hugh Grant.
Whatever questions you brought up to make the story
interesting, they get answered now. Good guy wins.
Bad guy loses. Lights come up and you think, "Holy
cow, did I drop a lot of popcorn."

Now, a good resolution will still leave a reader
wondering how this is all going to happen. Everyone
knows the hero will succeed in the end. Unlike real
life, fiction has a climax and an ending. But we're
not sure who's going to survive with him. You should
have plenty of sidekicks around to kill off at this
point. Most importantly, the hero needs to be the
architect of his own victory. Even if the cavalry, or
perhaps the Rohirrim, rides over the hill to save them
all it is still the hero who kept it together long
enough to beat the bad guy.

Like any structure description for writing a story,
this can be wiggled around a bit. However, you move
off of it at your peril. There is a reason this
structure describes so many memorable and commercially
successful stories. There is a reason it has been
around since Homer. It has all the beats that
resonate with a Western audience. It is comfortable
to watch. Therefore it is satisfying, allows us our
catharsis, and fills up our need to be entertained.
All stories can benefit from a structural analysis
using this form.

This sure turned out to be a long series of posts.
I've got to review them now and make sure I didn't
forget anything. I took another look at a novel I
tried to finish a couple years ago and I'm noticing
that there are several places where I didn't follow
the structure. Sure enough, those were all the places
where I felt bogged down and directionless.

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