1. sorites
    Offline

    sorites Senior Member

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2008
    Messages:
    145
    Likes Received:
    2

    Novel: Questions about your first act....

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by sorites, May 31, 2009.

    For those of you writing novels, here are some questions:

    1. How long is your first act?

    Mine is roughly 1300 words.

    2. What did you do with your first act?

    I tried to introduce the MC--what her job is, her attitude, and a very basic physical description. I also had some dialogue in which three other people talk about the MC, and the MC overhears them.

    The setting is there, but not very detailed--you get the fact that the MC is in her trailer, the name of the town she's in, and the name of a neighboring town. That's about it. Maybe I should include more tidbits about setting. Not sure how important that is....

    That's about it. Is this at all like your novel's first act?

    Another question:

    3. How fast do you get to the dialogue in your story? Do you have dialogue on your first page? Your second?
     
  2. Unsavory
    Offline

    Unsavory Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 14, 2009
    Messages:
    311
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Eugene, OR, USA
    I don't know if I'm going to keep my first chapter, rework it as a prologue, or do away with it entirely. As such, that makes these questions difficult for me to answer definitively.

    I would say that my first 3 or 4 chapters constitute the first act. The protagonist is introduced, she faces a problem, and after struggling with her conscience, she meets her new allies and is forced into action.

    I get into dialogue immediately. The second paragraph is dialogue.
     
  3. lordofhats
    Offline

    lordofhats Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Nov 9, 2007
    Messages:
    2,023
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    The Hat Cave
    The length of my story start is usually several chapters. I spend it introducing characters and touching on conflict, and usually end it by starting the primary conflict of the story line. I usually start with dialogue.
     
  4. Gallowglass
    Offline

    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 2, 2009
    Messages:
    1,617
    Likes Received:
    88
    Location:
    Loch na Seilg, Alba
    1. About two thousand five hundred words. I have to describe items, objects, clothing, and accents that people are almost guaranteed to be unfamiliar with. Have you heard of a birlinn, clursach, basking shark fins, or plaids?

    2. Introduce the main character, the Lord of the Isles (the first one who doesn't last too long in the plot, based on the real-life Domhnall of Islay), and give hints as to why the two are meeting and where they are.

    3. Second page.
     
  5. TragicJuliet
    Offline

    TragicJuliet Senior Member

    Joined:
    May 24, 2009
    Messages:
    192
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    Arizona, US
    I guess for me, my first act would be the first 2-5 chapters, where all the main characters and main supporting characters are introduced, my protagonist has fully realized their goal, well establish the antagonist and why the 'hero' of the story can't back down. and I usually jump right into dialogue, first page. very rarely I will even START the book with a dialogue
     
  6. Dr. Doctor
    Offline

    Dr. Doctor Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2009
    Messages:
    411
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Florida
    I guess I must be weird, because the very beginning of my novel opens with a booming action/crime sequence and just spirals from there. I work characters into the action, I do not set a lot apart for them - if there is any sort of background given on a character, it is quickly inter-woven into an interaction with another character, or some kind of action.
     
  7. TragicJuliet
    Offline

    TragicJuliet Senior Member

    Joined:
    May 24, 2009
    Messages:
    192
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    Arizona, US
    I don't think that's weird. It probably catches the readers attention really well. I love action books, often find myself trying to read as fast as possible trying to "keep up" with the characters
     
  8. Dr. Doctor
    Offline

    Dr. Doctor Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2009
    Messages:
    411
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Florida
    Yeah, hah, although my book is actually not only action - by action I merely mean things going on. I don't see it as useful or mandatory in every book to donate time to setting things up. I do it within the context of the story.

    Anyway, I don't exactly know where I'd put my first act, as this book is going to be pretty long and is divided up into three sections, the first of which is about 92 pages long.
     
  9. sorites
    Offline

    sorites Senior Member

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2008
    Messages:
    145
    Likes Received:
    2
    I have to agree, I don't think it's weird. In fact, that's basically how I originally wrote page 1 of my story, but I ended up changing it because the first action event doesn't have any dialogue. I realized the first real dialogue in my story didn't occur until page 3 or 4 and I think that's too long to wait, so I altered the intro, pushed the action back a page and introduced the MC, the setting (a little bit), and ran with dialogue about halfway through page 1.

    For stories that start with a bang--in media res for those Latin speakers out there--I think you're basically starting with Act 2, but you are probably interweaving stuff from Act 1 in there as you go. You're bombarding the reader with action and sprinkling bits of character introduction, setting, etc. in as you go.
     
  10. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    i have never even thought about 'acts' in writing prose fiction, much less reduced it to any word-count formula... i just let the story tell itself at its own pace, in its own way...

    the only time i would consider the 3-act structure is in writing screenplays, where it's necessary, in most cases...

    as far as dialog goes, it will be used wherever/whenever it needs to be... again, i'd never restrict my self or my work to making rules 'n regs about such things...

    what you've described, sorites, is formulaic writing, which to me, totally negates the 'creative' part of 'creative writing'... why put such limits on yourself and your work, when you don't have to?
     
  11. lordofhats
    Offline

    lordofhats Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Nov 9, 2007
    Messages:
    2,023
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    The Hat Cave
    I usually don't think that way either but I do think my pieces can be divided three ways. I do have an opening/intro, a middle section where the story line unfolds, and then a last third where everything starts coming together.
     
  12. sorites
    Offline

    sorites Senior Member

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2008
    Messages:
    145
    Likes Received:
    2
    Out of curiosity, why do you think a 3-act structure is appropriate, even necessary, for screenplays, but "formulaic" and bad for fiction writing?

    As LoH said, a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Those are your three acts.

    Act 1 - Set the scene. Introduce the reader to the MC, the setting, etc. Build the action. Act 1 ends when the MC realizes some bad stuff is about to go down. What will the MC do? How will the MC ever resolve the conflict?

    Act 2 - The bulk of the book, like probably 90%. The action rises. The MC tries and fails, repeatedly, to resolve the conflict. Sub-plots mingle in. The story continues to build until....Bam! Climax! The final scene in Act 2 resolves the conflict. The MC finally defeats the bad guy, gets the girl, whatever.

    Act 3 - Falling action. Wrap it up. What happens after there isn't a conflict anymore? Let the reader down off the high they got from the climax. Give out medals, have a fire-side snuggle between MC and lover, whatever. The End.

    **

    In my mind, Act 1 is either short or virtually non-existent, like Dr. Doctor said of his own story. Act 2 is very long because it encompasses the "story" part of the book. It's where all the action is, where failure occurs, and where the reader really gets to empathize with the MC. Act 3 is also very short. Let the reader down, tie things up, end the story.

    I wouldn't characterize it as formulaic, though I'd agree there is a plan to follow. Having a plan is a good thing.
     
  13. Mercurial
    Offline

    Mercurial Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 16, 2009
    Messages:
    3,453
    Likes Received:
    117
    1. How long is your first act?
    Anywhere from 50-5000 words. No more than 5000, though; I like to keep it fairly succint.

    2. What did you do with your first act?
    Establish the protagonist and / or worthy adversary. Integrate scenery subtly (although this is standard throughout all of my pieces). Establish the quest my MC must face. I like to be very straightforward in my first few words.

    3. How fast do you get to the dialogue in your story? Do you have dialogue on your first page? Your second?
    It changes with each piece, but I try to keep dialogue out of my story unless it has purpose. So, until it is needed, it will not show up. This means sometimes I wont have dialogue in the first chapter at all and sometimes it will be the very first word.

    I rarely impose limits on myself as to chapter length or when dialogue is introduced; I dislike limits as writing, I consider a very fluid activity.
     
  14. lordofhats
    Offline

    lordofhats Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Nov 9, 2007
    Messages:
    2,023
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    The Hat Cave
    It's related to the plays of Ancient Greece. The Greeks typically employed a three acts of 5 scenes format (I think, I'm reciting this from memory). Of course we all know how popular the Greeks are. The 3-Acts format is used in most plays still, and is where we've developed the three book Trilogy from.

    I actually agree with Maia. Plays tend to be far more structured and formulaic than prose literature, and thinking of Prose literature in a strict 3 act format can be limiting. I tried that years ago when writing and it just never seemed to work out. Generally I find prose literature easier to write when you just write each piece of the work to it's fruition until you reach the end. Sooner or later you reach a point where all the pieces you've written just fall together into their conclusion Its a mindset thing I think. Even though novels can be broke down into three parts, thinking of them that way can limit one's ability to understand them both as a writer and reader.
     
  15. RomanticRose
    Offline

    RomanticRose Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 20, 2007
    Messages:
    491
    Likes Received:
    16
    Location:
    New Mexico
    Wow. I just write scenes in the order I need them. I don't even put chapter breaks in until the second or third editing pass.
     
  16. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    thanks, loh!... as you so often do, you explained that for me eloquently, saving me the time and trouble... hugs, m
     

Share This Page