The classical 3 act structure, as explained by many people (I first came across it in a book by Alan Alda) goes something like this:
- Chase your hero up a tree
- Throw rocks at him
- Get him down from the tree
This book does, neatly, divide into 3 acts. And I think I can safely claim that Act 1 does, indeed, chase my hero (he’s more of a Protagonist, but we’ll let that slide) up a tree. Thing is, I read too many books by people like John Barth, who like to monkey with the structure of things, so my first act is told in two parallel time streams (“Don’t cross the streams!”). This, in the opinion of those who have read this far, is not at all a bad thing; it serves to move plot along, and illustrates the characters of my present day stream without stopping to do lots of what Mark Kermode likes to call ‘Basil exposition’.
But then: Act 2 goes back over old ground by (as I think I mentioned) telling the story of the ‘past’ stream again, from the point of view of another, so far minor, character. At great length. I have a structure diagram somewhere which illustrates the problem nicely: in Act 1, the narrative skips merrily between the present and the past, with (I like to think) some neat foreshadowing and dramatic irony going on; the structure diagram looks prettily mosaiced (if such a word exists, and if it does not, it should) and has a flow. And then there’s a gigantic chunk, almost as long again as the book so far, which is all in the past. This, plainly, does not work. I did, on the third rewrite, hack this part in two, and put some present day stuff in the middle, but it’s a bit of a band-aid for a broken leg situation.
I think I know what I need to do, and it might turn out to be quite radical. The trouble is, Act 2 doesn’t have much, if any, rock-throwing in it. If anything, once it gets past the Enormous Flashback of Doom, it’s quite sweet and verges on the romantic. It also flashes back several more times, but this time with more of a purpose; it’s telling the next part of the flashback, which does complicate things for all the characters. What I need to do is to throw out Act 2 altogether, read it from beginning to end with no middle, and see what’s missing and therefore must go back in. If what goes back in also serves to complicate the situation for my protagonist, so much the better.
I’m a little scared to pick up my copy of this:
I am fairly sure that the whole Weekend Novelist approach doesn’t cover ‘junking a third of what you’ve written, and starting again’. What I am going to do, however, is to find some of the exercises in it and do them – on browsing through it, I noticed a neat little exercise about telling the story of what your main characters were doing an hour, a day, a week, and so on before the story opens. I wonder if giving that a bash might shed some light on things? Since none of that is likely to be in the finished work, I might even post the results up here.
So, I apologise – this is a bit of a ramble, because I’m putting off the task of doing some actual rewriting. I will say that I’ve re-read a good chunk of Going Back, and I still like it and want it to work, and I have had some ideas which might do the trick. Next post will have some new content – there’s a challenge for me!