Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bootcamp Wisdom SKILL #4

STORY LINE

Sorry I didn't make a post on Friday. I typically don't write very much on weekends, either. So, next time, I'll just say: Next Post...

I don't want to completely give away the "formula" that Linda Arms White uses, but she calls it the "Three-Act Structure." She used to write screen plays and has listed 5 books to study: Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger, How to Write a Movie in 21 Days by Viki King, The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler, Screenplay by Syd Field and The Screenwriter's Workbook by Syd Field.

She has harnessed the power of screenwriting and realized its strength when applied to writing picture books, or any book of fiction really. Screenwriting is set in scenes. Well, what is a picture book? A story with illustratable scenes!

The basic structure goes something like this in its simplest form:

Beginning is Act I, or the setup
Middle is Act II, or the development
Ending is Act III, or the resolution

The problem is introduced in the setup, or Act I. The beginning of the story must include what she likes to call the CATALYST. A character encounters a problem (whether active or passive, more on this in a minute) and gives us a central question. What will the character do about the problem?

A turning point (T.P. I) occurs between Act I and Act II. It is a twist in the story, something to take the plot into a new direction, and often changes the focus of the action. I had the most trouble with this at the conference. I am used to plotting out an outline of my stories as part of my prewriting. But to pinpoint one action to label the T.P. was a challenge for me. Now I'm having a hard time reading books and NOT looking for one. Of course the first reading is still for pleasure. But afterwards, while thinking about the story, I start analyzing it. During Act II, complications continue, and the conflict gets thicker.

T.P. II bridges the gap from Act II to Act III. This second turning point speeds up the action and leads into the resolution of the problem. She calls the climax the big finish, where all the loose ends are neatly tied up and the problem has been solved. Then, say no more.

I know it's a lot to take in. And if you don't really get, that's okay. It's basically another way to think about:
Someone
Wanted
But
So
Then.
If you get the chance to attend the Bootcamp in person, Linda and Laura will address this Three-Act Structure in more detail and give plenty of explanation and examples. It's worth it, even if it's just to give your brain another way to think about plot.

So, to tie in yesterday's topic of conflict with today's topic of story line, I'll try to explain what I mean by active and passive problems, which I believe I touched on yesterday (er...Thursday). When a character wants something, has a goal, a quest, or something of that nature, and then has a hard time attaining it because a problem arose, I call that an active problem. No matter what the problem is, the character still wants to reach the goal. When a character inadvertantly happens upon a problem, I like to call that a passive problem, as in my hiccup story. She wasn't specifically wanting anything in particular, but her goal was to get rid of the problem and to return to life as normal. Just something to think about when you're thinking about your characters and the problems they face.

Next topic: Children's Fiction Categories

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