|work very much in progress|
Saturday, 23 April 2011
The Missing Third Act
In Stephen King’s 'From a Buick 8' our narrator Sandy concludes a near 400-page narrative with the observation; “It’d never make a play, would it? There’s no third act.” I had cause to remember this line and dig out my copy of 'Buick 8' to check it this week.
Here’s why I did:
On two pages of my scuffed and scruffy note-book there, I reckon I’ve got the bulk of the plot of my next project. But if you cast your eye over to the far right, and the rather ameteurish image allows you discern it, you’ll see the disappointingly empty column marked ‘Act 3’. I’ve helpfully scattered myself a few bullet points as you can see, but that’s it. As Sandy noted himself, there’s no third act.
So; what to do? I could sit patiently and let this finale sneak up on me over the next few days - hell, even weeks if it takes that long. Hang fire on the writing, keep editing the other WIP, keep chipping away at the to-be-read YA stockpile safe in the knowledge that sometime, somewhere in the stillness the third act will offer itself up.
Or I could start writing. Take the scenes however I want to take them; see what emerges as the whole thing unspools and hope that forward movement, momentum, energy carry me through. Let’s face it there’s a year’s worth of work on those two pages even as they stand. I can dream up an ending while I write, yes?
It’s the first time I’ve tried to plot this way. James Scott Bell’s much-referenced (at least amongst my Twitter gang) 'Plot and Structure' was the source of this method of planning. I’ve got acts, I've got scenes, I've got narrative strands running in parallel... We’re in prison for the first two acts – there’s Inkbarrow the spy, whose story I explored in that previous post, 'Lost Property', then there's Lacey Eppington, that old archetype the chimney-sweep-girl-dressed-as-boy-seeking-to-avenge-the-incarceration-of-her-father character. There’s a gang of prison hoodlums called the Jupiter Hand, a mysterious oriental benefactor, and Kiteman the religious zealot.
It all builds nicely to... an empty third column. Perhaps I should return to 'Buick 8' for inspiration. Sandy utters those memorable lines on page 397. The book ends just 70 pages later, King having provided the third act in some considerable style. Act three, 73 pages. Now that’s a finale.