Writing act three
I’m about ten thousand words away from finishing my book. It’s not the actual writing which worries me – I could write that ten thousand in a week. But to write those words, I need to feel crystal clear about what’s going to happen in the last act. And I’m not quite there yet.
Many writers use a screenplay or play structure to divide their story into three acts. The first act sets up the characters, the setting and the premise. The second act continues these elements. The third act wraps everything up nicely, so that the audience can breathe a sigh of relief that everything turned out so well or wipe their eyes. (This is SO unlike the grand final of Australian Ninja Warrior where no one won and there’s no sense of a satisfactory ending!)
I’ve rewritten the first two acts of my book, and am now working on the third act. I already know my climax – the most dramatic part of the story which places the protagonist right in the middle of trouble. She’s on a rooftop balcony, late at night and she’s the only one who can save the day, and she has to face her greatest fear – and she’s only twelve. (I told you – dramatic!) But until last week, I wasn’t sure how to get my protagonist there.
Living with uncertainty is part of a writer’s lot in life but it does wear a little thin after a while. I did lots of brainstorming exercises but nothing worked. But then I talked to my writing friend and she offered a few ideas, one of which was so obviously perfect. So now I have my idea, but I need to flesh it out a little more to make it work. Fingers crossed that this is all possible within a month, my self-imposed deadline.
In the third act, everything has to count and the pace must be faster. If your reader has followed your story so far, the least you can do is give them a reason to turn the page. All the loose ends need to be tied up, and the ending must seem inevitable but not predictable. To write an ending that is satisfying and seems as if there’s no other way it could end, yet can’t be predicted by an astute reader is no mean feat.
The American writer, James Scott Bell, describes it like this in his book Plot and structure:
Because the novelist is like the plate spinners I used to watch on the old Ed Sullivan Show. These guys would have seven or eight plates spinning at the same time, sort of like a wild Act II, and then they’d have to come up with a big finish that got all the plates off safely and with a little flourish.
Your plot will have lots of plates spinning by the time you get to the end. You need to get them off safely. You need a little flourish. And you need to do it in a way that is not predictable.
Like I said, no mean feat. Wish me luck!
PS. Saturday 12th August is National Bookshop Day. You have just over two weeks to save your dollars or plan your time so you can show your local bookshop a little love!