Story Structure: The second and thrid of three acts

Ary Scheffer: The Temptation of Christ, 1854
Image via Wikipedia

Okay, after running through all this material, I realize I have no freakin’ clue what I’m doing.  I’ve messed up Devil’s Blood so bad that it is in-de-constructable.

No worries.  I’ll start over!

In the meantime, so as not to leave you hanging, I’ll summarize what I know about the second and third acts of a story.

In the last post, I talked about the hook, backstory and trigger making up Act 1.  These three elements of the first act will get your reader invested in your story, introduces your main character and the reason they are doing what they are doing, and then you plunge them into a triggering event that leads to…

Act 2

Act 2 encompasses an emotional crisis that your protagonist suffers due to the trigger.  The trigger is basically the result of their flaw.  I’ll go ahead and use Devil’s Blood as an example, but we’ll be on shaky ground.  In Devil’s Blood, Andreas escorts Donna and Marcela out of Baga.  They are on their way to Barcelona and safety when they are ambushed.  Marcela is kidnapped and Andreas is forced to witness the violent rape and murder of Donna.  If that doesn’t elicit an emotional response from everybody and anybody, then I’m not sure what will, and it certainly elicits a response from Andreas.  He is shocked to his core.

But wait, how did Andreas’ flaw (which flaw?) trigger the crisis?

In my case, Andreas gave up the search for Lorena.  He turned round with his tail between his legs after he and Pedro almost got killed at the Marques’ castle, and he used Donna and Marcela as he excuse to get out-of-town.  If he hadn’t done that, then Donna and Marcela wouldn’t have been in a vulnerable position to get ambushed by the serial killer and his posse.  So, in this way, Andreas’ lack of courage, his flaw lead to the triggering event that leads to his inner crisis.

At least, that’s the idea.  Hopefully, that’ll come out in the re-write.

Anyway, this is the part that pushes your protagonist to an emotional limit so that they realize they have to do something.  In my case, Andreas vows to save the kidnapped Marcela.

But, just because he knows he has to save Marcela, he may not know how nor has he overcome his personal character flaw so that he could figure it out.  And that leads to the second section of Act 2 – the struggle.  In this section, you pile on the obstacles and make it as hard as possible for your protagonist to reach his/her goal.

And this is where my story falls apart in Devil’s Blood, precisely because this act relies so heavily on the protagonist’s character flaw and since I didn’t clearly define a character flaw for Andreas, the focus of my novel waffles.  Yeah, I piled it on.  I made it harder and harder for Andreas to reach Marcela, but there’s no focus.  They are just random events that make it physically hard for him to find them, but not emotionally or personally hard for him.

Because I didn’t have that focus on just one of Andreas’ flaws, it made it really hard for me to end this act with an epiphany.  The epiphany is the result of events your protagonist struggles against in Act 2 and should lead her or him to realize their own inner flaw, overcome that flaw and move on to…

Act 3

Now that your protagonist has realized their inner flaw, they can do whatever it was that they couldn’t do before and had struggled against in Act 2.  Once they have their epiphany, then she/he can make a plan on how to reach their goal.

Since your protagonist is not hampered by their flaw, they are able to carry out the plan and that leads to the climax of your story.  This is the part we’ve all been waiting for, and is where the protagonist confronts the antagonist and beats the crap out of ’em.

Well, that’s what happens in Devil’s Blood, but it could be far less violent in yours.  Basically, the idea is that your protagonist, who has now grown and is no longer handicapped by, say, lack of confidence, stubbornness, cowardice, or prejudice, can now triumph over the antagonist who is still wallowing in their own flaw (in my case: vainglory/pride).

Once the climax happens, the end of the third act is, well, the ending.   It seems obvious, but apparently not all authors are aware that they have to resolve all the stray plot and story conflicts, thus allowing the reader some catharsis.  The quicker you do this, the better.  Nobody wants to hang around after the fat lady has sung.

Great!  I’m glad I got that all out of my system!

There are heaps more involved in story structure, but those are the basic building blocks.  I could go on and on, re-iterating stuff on characterization, setting, plot, story, symbols, metaphors, scene and sequels, and all sorts of stuff I know nil about.  But I won’t.  That’s because I have a series to write and I am a little behind.  I may disappear for a while, but rest assured that I am working away in the forge.

Hasta luego, baby.

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