Revising: Act I
In the last post on revising, I summarized each scene on an index card and organized all of the cards into five groups—Act I, Act II-first part, Center point, Act II-second part, Act III.
What determines what goes into each act? One consideration is simply page count. The first act should take up the first quarter of the book, the second act takes up the middle half of the book, and the third act covers the last quarter. But that’s actually the least important consideration. At this point, it’s simply a rough guide. There are certain things that need to happen in each act.
Act I events.
1. The introduction of the main character in her normal world. This should be an inciting incident which gets the story rolling. For Day of Infamy, I show Ava Rome in the act of performing a background check on a man who is up for a government security job. She goes to question a neighbor and learns that the man she is checking on and his wife have been having problems. She visits the wife and discovers that she has been abused. She takes steps to remove the wife to safety, but before it can happen, the husband comes home and a violent confrontation ensues.
2. The call to adventure. In classic stories, the hero is presented with a challenge or a problem to undertake. The problem is something that causes disruption in the normal world. In most detective stories, the call to adventure comes in the form of a client seeking the detective’s services. In Day of Infamy, the initial call comes from the grandfather of Ava’s best friend Annie. He hires Ava to find out how his best friend died in a concentration camp in California during World War II. The disruption happens when the grandfather reveals that he is not Annie’s grandfather as she believed, but that her true grandfather is the man who died in the camp.
3. Refusal of the call. Often, the hero will refuse the challenge when first offered or will express reluctance. Ava is hesitant at first because the case is cold. Most witnesses and clues have long since disappeared. She also expresses concern that she might uncover information that would cause her friend Annie distress. Finally, she puts off the investigation because she has another case, that of the abused woman she rescued, which she gives higher priority.
4. Meeting a mentor. The mentor is someone who can provide the hero with expertise, information, guidance, and sometimes even a gift such as a weapon of tool to use in the adventure. Ava has several mentors in the story. Moon Ito is a tough guy who often provides backup and, in this case, finds a weapon for her. A man with whom she is having an affair has some information for her, but more importantly, introduces her to someone who can not only translate a diary from that era, which might hold clues, but can give more background information on the era.
5. Confronting threshold guardians. The threshold guardians are often agents or lackeys of the bad guy, though they could also take the form of officials or other individuals who want to impede the hero’s progress. In Day of Infamy, one of the guardians is the man who is accused of abusing his wife at the beginning of the story. He returns with personal attacks against Ava. Other guardians are members of the company he works for, who attempt to intimidate her into giving up her mission.
6. Crossing the threshold, going through the door. Act I ends when the hero crosses the threshold into Act II. This is like a door to the world of adventure. She leaves the normal world and embarks on the path she has been called to. It is a one-way door. Once she has passed through, it slams shut and she can’t go back. Two things occur. One, Ava commits to the adventure. She confirms to herself and others that she will not be stopped before she solves the crime. Two, the reader now knows the story question that drives the story.
While these events are unfolding we see Ava in her home, her office, and other settings of her normal world. We meet friends, lovers, associates, and enemies. We see some actions of the villain in the story, although most of his actions are carried out by his henchmen. We also see clues that she will need in going forward, which she might not recognize yet. We also get some hints at weaknesses she will need to overcome if she is to be successful.
The task at hand then, is to go through the scene cards and make sure that there are scenes for each of the events listed. Some of the events, such as meeting the mentor and confronting the threshold guardians require multiple scenes. Ava confronts multiple threshold guardians on multiple occasions. She meets three mentors, each more than once. The cards needed to be rearranged into the proper sequence, and some cards needed to be brought from other acts.
After identifying the scenes that needed to be in the second act and putting them in order, it was easy to determine what scenes needed to be written to complete Act I. Fortunately, there were not many of those. There were however, some cards left over. A few of these would go into Act II where they were better suited, but some needed to be deleted.
The scenes that needed to be deleted were mostly the result of what I call “seeds.” These were story elements—plot points, background info, subplots, possibly characters—that I wrote in the first draft with the possibility that they might grow into an important part of the story, but which ended up going nowhere.
With the shape of Act I determined, I had everything I needed to write the second draft of Act I.
Next, the first half of Act II.
I highly recommend The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers (2nd Edition), by Christopher Vogler, 1998, Michael Weiss Productions: Studio City, CA
You can now purchase The Rules, an Ava Rome novella For free on Kindle today until August 20. Get it now. It’s a great eclipse read.