Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Taking stock.

After a long haul of writing at a breakneck pace, I've run out of steam. The scene I've had in my mind for months, the big turning point that leads to the grand finale is now written. From here, I work my way toward my ending.

But at the moment, I'm taking a pause. I'm at the crest of the hill and I'm looking around before I get back on my scooter and head down the curving road. I'm reading, thinking, imagining. I always feel as though I'm wasting my time at moments like these, but I try not to get too down on myself about it. Most of the time I can write, and I can write fast. Sometimes, though, I can't. I need to let my subconscious replenish. But there is a pattern to these pauses, I'm beginning to realize. The problem is I'm between acts.

I tend to subscribe to the three act mode of writing fiction, borrowed from the dramatic structure going all the way back to Shakespeare, and before. I use it because it works, and it gives me a framework for thinking about my story. The three act structure goes something like this:

First Act Begins- This is the hook you use to set up your main characters. 

First Act Break - Your heroes set off on their journey, also known as, "The point of no return."

Second Act - Your heroes begin their journey.

Mid Point Break - All is lost. The heroes are at their lowest, on the verge of giving up, but they pull it together and forge onward.

Second Act Break - Heroes make a decision that brings about the final challenge to vanquish the forces that hinder them.

Third Act - The Hero faces the antagonist and risks all to accomplish goal.

Ending - Hero either accomplishes goal or fails.


Always between acts I have to take a little caesura and retool my thinking. Right now I'm at the Second Act Break. All my characters are about to compromise themselves in ways that will cost them dearly. It's always my favorite point in any book I'm reading, but when I'm writing, I have to proceed with caution. 

Leading up to now, I've been giving myself the tools I'll need to write a bang up climax and a stirring resolution. Now I have to take stock of those tools, decide which to use, which ones need spiffing up, and which ones to discard. It would be wonderful if this were an entirely conscious process; then I'd have some control. But I find, at least for me, my themes are largely under the surface, working in ways I don't consciously manipulate. I've got to let them line up they way they need before I can start writing again.

Or maybe all this is rationalization. I'm writing a book I enjoy, and I'm afraid of finishing it, because then I will have to get down to the difficult work of revision, which always takes me about twice as long to do as the actual writing of the book. But I don't think this is all rationalization, because of that pattern. Always between acts, even if I don't realize I've reached the end of an act, I mysteriously run out of steam. As long as I get back to writing soon, I'm willing to accept this pause as a part of the process.


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