Week two was all about story structure. It discussed Aristotle’s three-act structure (that of a beginning, middle and end) and Horace’s five-act structure, which was further explained as:
- A: Action
- B: Background
- D: Development
- C: Climax
- E: Ending
My understanding of the five-act structure
A scene *should* (and I use this term loosely as it would depend on the overall structure) start with a moment of Action. It doesn’t have to be Hollywood/All guns blazing, but something should be happening. Background information compliments action – and no, this is not an excuse to info dump – background provides context to enhance the story. It should blend seamlessly (in my opinion) so not to jolt the reader from the story. The last thing you want to do is leave your characters hanging around twiddling their fingers while you delve into numerous aspects of their pre-novel life.
Development explores elements such as a character’s motivations or weaknesses while incorporating conflict (rising action) with a view to preventing them from reaching their end goal. Climax is the biggest moment of rising action. It is the scene your foreshadowing, character building and scene setting have lead to. The moment when your character is left with a dilemma so dire, so challenging, that the reader is (figuratively) sitting on the edge of their seat. The conclusion is dealt with by the Ending, in which you can tie up any loose threads, even if your story continues in another book there should be some resolution to satisfy the reader.
Structure and outlines
Next on the agenda of this lesson was the subject of structure and outlining, neither of which I do when writing. To be honest, my brain sort of switched off when the word ‘planning’ was mentioned. I’m what is known within the writing circles I keep as a ‘pantser’ (as opposed to a planner). If I get an inkling of an idea I have to start writing, I don’t have time to sit and plot it out because I’m too busy committing what I have to paper in story form.
I’m not the only one. The ‘pantser versus planner’ is a common thread in the writing forums and groups I frequent, especially around Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) times.
Here is a great blog post on the subject by R.R.Virdi – Plotting without a plan – in which he discusses pantsing to a ball of string.
Last but not least – The Assignment
The assignment for week two was to incorporate the five-act structure technique into a short scene of 100-200 words which included a trip to the doctor’s:
Peter ascended the steps at a careful pace. Holding the rail tight, he took one step at a time. He had broken his arm falling from a slide several years before and had never overcome the fear of it happening again.
Heart thundering, he climbed another step, but stumbled, nearly losing his balance. Egged on by his friends waiting below, he made it to the top—eventually.
Once there, his courage abandoned him. He could neither return down the stairs nor take the quicker route, so he sat there, doing nothing.
In the end, Matthew climbed up and gave him a hefty shove. Peter descended the slide with a high-pitched scream. He bounced down it, cracking his elbow against the metal. When he reached the bottom, he ran home, bawling his eyes out.
His mother drove her distraught son to the doctors, ringing for an emergency appointment en route. By the time Peter was seen the numbness and pain had lessened. After a quick examination, the doctor gave Peter a prescription – to keep his arms tucked in close when descending a slide, because ‘a knocked funny bone could be a painful thing indeed.’