I’ve read successful stories that skimped on the darkest hour and the showdown. I’ve enjoyed books that were slow to offer Act I’s promise. But, ask a reader to miss out on the enjoyment of Act II character-developing adventures? Never.
The hard and often impossible choices characters make in Act II and throughout the story, keep us reading. We are invested in characters that grow inwardly as well as outwardly.
So, here’s a question for Act II: are the skills and allies your hero is gaining a result of simply struggling against obstacles? Or are they achieved after making difficult choices in that struggle? The former makes for a great synopsis, but the latter creates an unforgettable read.
Check for difficult choices in Act II
Often acquisitions editors stop reading at the beginning of Act II. If they have the time to write and tell you why, they’ll offer something like “the inner voice failed” or “the momentum slowed.” That often means that character development needs strengthening, and checking for hard choices is a reliable way to master that.
Act I gives us the promise of genre. Act II fulfills that promise, as the hero struggles through to the darkest hour at the end of Act Two, and on to Act III’s final showdown.
I hope you’ll have another brilliant week in your writing career.
Mel Anastasiou writes The Fairmount Manor Mysteries series, starring Mrs Stella Ryman, The Hertfordshire Pub Mysteries series, starring Spencer Stevens, and is Acquisitions Editor with Pulp Literature Press.
What Billy Wilder said of screenwriting works as well for novelists. “If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.”
A Checklist For Your Act 1
An opening paragraph or page that communicates time, place, tone, promise of genre, and a hint at the central conflict.
A harbinger of change in the hero’s life.
The theme of the whole tale early on, possibly stated by a supporting character.
Character development in the hero (and other characters), possibly while attempting to preserve the status quo.
A catalyst that will propel the hero into the adventures of Act 2.
As well, it can help to do a page count to see that Act 1 is not longer than the current plans for Act 2 or 3.
And, on to the adventures of Act 2.
I hope you’ll have another brilliant week in your writing career. Cheers to you, Mel
Mel Anastasiou writes The Fairmount Manor Mysteries series, starring Mrs Stella Ryman, The Hertfordshire Pub Mysteries series, starring Spencer Stevens, and is a founding editor with Pulp Literature Press.
Nanowrimo says, go ahead, dare to write a book that might even make you a lot of money, help others along with ourselves to get pages under our belts, and have writerly fun doing it. It makes a lot of sense to go Nanowrimo.
1. Write that book and have fun doing it.
For some of us, the fun lies in scoring high in wordcounts: there’s nothing like seeing those manuscript pages stack up. The friendly competition between like-minded authors, as well as rewards you can give yourself at the end of the day (beer, chocolate, kitten gifs … ) turns writing into a game that’s fun to play. And if it turns into a bestseller some day, those are the ultimate bonus points!
2. Hone your skill.
Like any skill, such as playing an instrument, drawing a portrait, or throwing a baseball, writing needs to be practised over and over again. Even if you’re not at the stage in your career where you have a winning novel just waiting to be born, your writing chops will sharpen simply by churning out 2000 words a day. Guaranteed, you’ll be a better writer at the end of it.
3. Help other writers live their dream.
As well, our Nanowrimo participation encourages and helps others who need some support to take steps towards writing the novel that’s been a dream for years. They love knowing that they’re not alone in what sometimes seems like a lonely profession.
The Writer’s Friend and Confidante, like any good pal, cheers you when you’re low, motivates you to write your best work yet, helps you develop a map of narrative clarity, and believes in you with every fibre of her being.
In ourConfidanteyou’ll find thirty days of inspiration, tips and exercises, timely advice for each act of your story, and images to feed your eye and make you smile when you approach every lily-pale page.
Nanowrimers, you’ll love the 30 days to keep you inspired to make it to the end. This guide is your assistant, reminding you of the dreams that set you off on your narrative journey, and offering hints, tips, exercises, and inspiration to see you through to your goal.
It’s no secret that acquisitions editors have red flags. We twitch when we see spelling errors or the wrong publishing house’s name in the cover letter.
However, as a group we do appreciate authors who write with authority, finding ways of getting time of day, setting, tone, the promise of genre, and some hint at the central conflict up front. We want to know, “What is this story about?” And, “Why should our readers care about this protagonist?”
Heroes and Villains: Not All Good or All Bad.
Alien 2’s flesh-eating monster cared about her children, and Narnia hero Digory’s vanity echoed his Uncle Andrew’s. Happily, unflawed white-hat heroes rarely sail in and out of my acquisitions in-box. The trouble is that, more often these days, I read heroes that are bad through and through. It’s pretty easy to write an all-bad hero. Balancing flaws believably, perhaps with some small sacrifice or reluctant, kind act, are a couple of ways to show narrative skill.
And, inside the acquisitions in-box, I read on.
I hope you’ll have another brilliant week in your writing career. Cheers to you. Mel
I REMEMBER NIGHTFALL, by Marosa di Giorgio, translated by Jeannine Pitas: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2017
Poetry Review by Daniel Cowper
Often my own dreams are set on a fictional island. The shores are dark rock, cluttered with docks and boardwalks. Shallow lakes and marshlands pockmark the interior, interrupted occasionally with steep hills and mountains. Sometimes the hills are only little sugarloafs you could scramble up in half an hour; sometimes they are filled with alpine flowers, and depressions shelter reservoirs of snow in summer.
I am inclined to think most of us have one such landscape inside us, which we have created unconsciously. Sharing that internal world is part of what art can offer.
An extraordinary dreamscape belonged to the Uruguayan poet Marosa di Giorgio (1932 – 2004), four of whose books of poetry have been published by Ugly Duckling Presse collectively under the title of I Remember Nightfall, with en face English translations by Dr. Jeannine Marie Pitas, a poet and scholar.
The translations themselves are fluid and supple, maintaining momentum and rhythm with simplicity of phrasing. The poet’s voice feels entirely natural and consistent throughout.
Perfect translations fit the original so naturally that the translator’s word-choices and turns of phrase feel inevitable, once compared with the original. Judged by the limited samples over which I applied that test, Dr. Pitas’ translation approaches perfection.
I Remember Nightfall is a rich and mercurial collection, and provides English speaking readers perhaps their first access to the work of di Giorgio. I regard this as an event of some significance, since the more I read of di Giorgio, the more I am persuaded that she is an essential poet.
The best poems are overwhelming in their originality and visceral power. Their narrative unfolds like an avalanche. Blessings and torments are dispensed in an agony of beauty. There is an experience of both helplessness and power.
It is not unfair to compare the astonishment with which one reads di Giorgio’s poems with the experience of first reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Both portray a specific natural order, on which the supernatural constantly impinges. This technique of apparition or visitation can lead to an excessive reliance on the element of surprise, but di Giorgio refrains from ambushing the reader. She is a poet of discovery, not jump-scares.
Much of di Giorgio’s power, especially in translation, derives from the incredibly vivid world she describes in her poems. To give you a sense of that world I will simply list the ideas in a randomly selected passage of poetry: baskets, fruit trees, mushrooms, chimeras, horses, eggs, bones, bells, the slaughter of livestock, grapevines, almonds, fire, planets, hunger, the moon, feathers, lettuce, magnolia blossoms, coconut, bonfire, boat, telegram, teacup, tablecloth, hyacinths, roses, star anise, honey, dentures, citrus fruits, squashes, tulips, the sense of being followed, vermin, escape, concealment, cattle.
The items on this list are representative. Di Giorgio’s world contains a kitchen, where food is stored and prepared; a garden, where flowers are grown; and farmland, where food is produced and livestock maintained. This kitchen, garden, and farmland provide a mental setting within which the poet may ecstatically describe domestic incidents, spiritual visitations, or the enactment of mythic parables:
The Carnival barely arrived, there in our beloved land.
The pea plants loaded with little fruits and flowers burned, and the long-antlered potato, and the pink, hairy yams; and in the air, the spiders walked, calmly…
…And the house. There were only two dwellings in that vast region. Ours and “the other”. Our family and “the other”; that was how we referred to each other.
At times we would exchange an emissary, a hare; otherwise we would say “It’s raining ‘over there.’”
But we went for years without seeing each other. The children married their own siblings at a young age. When hunger and thirst became unbearable, a family member would be surrounded, then roasted, and life would go on. …
The Native Garden is in Flames, poem 4
Frequently the poet depicts, with mingled alarm and delight, encounters with of the alien or supernatural in her essentially domestic landscape:
Everyone goes to bed. The romantic aunts rest with a hand on the pillow and their corollas open.
Then someone gets up. Are they going to commit a crime? But all we hear are moans and then everything remains at peace.
A horse comes up the road like a terrible girl, with its mane and its haunches. In the air a planet or a bat is spinning.
…And under the magnolias — who’s there?
The War of the Orchards, poem 7
It is impossible to fairly excerpt these poems, and they must be read in full to experience their effect.
Di Giorgio’s poetry has a tendency towards the naive, and an inevitable criticism of a large volume of her work is that she can be repetitive. I do not consider repetitiveness to be a major defect in a writer, as it is often the result of either perfectionism or a refusal to shilly-shally. With Di Giorgio, it seems to me to be the byproduct of the density or concentration of her inspiration.
I do not advise trying to read all of I Remember Nightfall at one sitting. I found the poems most refreshing and exciting when taken in small batches.
The four books collected in this volume (The History of Violets, Magnolia, The War of the Orchards, andThe Native Garden is in Flames) were published between 1965 and 1975, and represent the poetic production of the poet’s thirties and early forties. It would be interesting to compare these poems with the work produced in her youth and later in her life.
It is always a gift to encounter a poet of unique vision and powerful expression. I will return often to this collection, and I look forward to the release of any future translations of Di Giorgio’s work.
-Daniel Cowper, Poetry Editor, Pulp Literature Press.
Daniel’s poetry has appeared in the Literary Review of Canada, Prairie Fire, Vallum, CV2, Dalhousie Review, Freefall, the Hart House Review, and is forthcoming in Noise Anthology; his poetry chapbook, The God of Doors was a winner of Frog Hollow Press’s Second Chapbook Contest. His non-fiction has appeared in the Puritan’s Town Crier.
The big goal is worth writing down right now, and even on a daily basis. For example: I am a best-selling fantasy author. I publish one or two novels a year, and I love speaking at fantasy conferences and talking with my readers.
The Butt-Chair Goal
If you too are a fan of Steven King’s On Writing, you know that his aim is 1,000 words a day. Which means getting your butt in a chair and writing. My personal goal is 3,000 words a week to a cogent outline. That gives me two short novels a year. Your writing tip prompt is to jot down your butt-chair goal now.
The Yearly Goal
How many books written, how many books sold, where to focus new learning? Yearly goals almost necessitate charts and erasable felts. This sends us to the stationery story on a righteous mission. Because, when writers note down goals for the year, whether in general terms, as in big bright and butt-in-chair goals, the activity keeps our feet on the ground, and our heads in that creative space which designs and executes unique, exciting reads for our readerships.
I hope you’ll have another brilliant week in your writing career. Cheers Mel
Here’s a fun game—spot the theme, as stated in the first half of the first act of the novel or film, usually by a supporting character or similar. What about the moment in Spectre when Moneypenny, on the phone with Bond, tells James she can’t help him just then because she has a life, and he should get one too? Because, there may be shooting, peril, fab inventions, and mad escapes, but in my view (not the only view, obviously) the film’s theme is, It’s hard to get a life, when you’re Bond.
Your Writing Tip: Run with the Theme.
In The Wizard of Oz, look for Professor Marvel to state the theme in his conversation with the runaway Dorothy in Act 1. The theme is repeated throughout. There’s no place like home. So, for a strong line, write out the theme 3-6 different ways. You can use each of these in strong but subtle ways to draw out the theme throughout the story.
Even at the start of a new tale, it’s worth thinking about the next five stories in your body of work.
“Yes, the story I am writing exists, written in absolutely perfect fashion, some place, in the air. All I must do is find it, and copy it.” Jules Renard.
Talk about your cool self-confidence, Jules Renard. But it’s possible, even probable, that all our stories exist in Renard’s “some place,” viz. the fertile fields of our writing minds. It’s tempting to push these upcoming stories away to concentrate on the work at hand.
Visit five future tales
Without sacrificing progress on a work-in-progress, it’s worth taking a look now and then at the broader creative vista.
Your writing tip: take five
Take five minutes to list the next five tales before you. Your writing mind will benefit from this ‘heads-up’ (pun intended) on future plotting. And, in this way you remind yourself that you are not only writing, you are a writer by trade, and yours is a great future in our field.
I hope you’ll have another brilliant week in your writing career.
Some movie titles resonate over the decades, with just a single word: Greed. Superman. Heist. Memento. Charade.
One Great Word
I’ve been reading Michael Connelly’s The Crossing. I admire the way he joins the inner and outer conflicts in the single word, crossing. The outer problem is finding the point of crossing between victim and murderer. The inner problem is that hero ex-cop Bosch faces crossing a line he swore he’d never cross, in order to solve a murder mystery.
Your Writing Tip: One Word Two Ways
Find one word that describes your protagonist’s story. You get bonus points for pulling off a similar grand feat as the one above. That is, connecting the inner and outer struggle through a single word with two meanings. Moments of clarity like this may help inform an entire story and save truckloads of revision time.
I hope you’ll have another brilliant week in your writing career. Cheers Mel.
Sometimes the end of the book seems so far off that a writer starts to feel that fashions will have changed and technology moved on to a still more distant generation before we’re likely to finish it.
The End is Closer Than You Think
Still, objects in the rearview mirror, and all that. The end is nearer than you’d think, so long as you keep this writing destination in mind. The writing brain knows its business, but if an author can’t picture the final scene, the brain is likely to follow its many interests, tracking a long and winding road through the story map. And then … massive rewriting.
Start With the End in Mind
When starting a story, take a few minutes to write the end. This could be
the last word,
the last sentence,
the last paragraph,
the final scene.
Set a timer and write for 10 minutes. Remind yourself that you are the respectful and fun boss of you, and you can change it completely if you like.
I hope you’ll have another brilliant week in your writing career. Cheers Mel