Thursday, March 15, 2007

71,000 words (not counting stuff taken out)

Still chuddling along, and happy as Larry. Except last night.

Last night, I had to un-kill a character. Now, I liked this character, and wasn't exactly thrilled to kill her in the first place. But I needed a strong 'beat' to end Act Two, and that was it.

I'm glad to have this character back, even if she can be a pain in the ass sometimes, but it meant unravelling some darned good writing. One of the better scenes in the book in fact.

Them's the breaks. And the truth is, the end of Act Two should be one of the stronger scenes in the book.

Why's she back? Did I need her later? No. It's that the three act structure shifted underfoot in the process of fixing up my altest Sudoku Moment. So out that tension point had to come, which left my character alive again.

For those who don't know, most modern fiction more or less runs in three acts. The Ancient Greeks used five, I think, as do some of my favorite operas, but most books, movies and TV use three. I think of them as The Setup, The Chase, and Endgame, and each one has its own beginning, middle and end, just like it was a mini-story all its own.

Big difference is that Acts One and Two, the climax needs to be *right* at the end, and of a nature to propel the audience into the next act with enthusiasm. Act Three, the climax comes a leeeetle way back, so that we have a couple of chapters, or a few minutes of film, to wind down a bit, decompress after all those (hopefully) strong emotions. In TV, this often involves the series characters sitting around the set and having a pointless, feel-good joke before the credits roll. That little nubbin at the end is the denouement.

In Predator, everything with the commandos being deployed, exploring the jungle, being stalked a little bit (not a lot, but a few creepy sounds and the sight of the soldiers seen through some sort of IR/UV thingy), right up to the hanging corpses of the missing troops is Act One.

The story at this point is all about framing the problem. Arnold on the field? Check. Something rotten in the South American jungle? Check. The climax is the sight of those corpses hanging like trophy kills. It's the boost the ratchets up the tension and carries us into Act Two, in which We Meet the Monster.

This is The Chase. Except instead of Holmes tracking the Hound, or Bridget Jones chasing true love with the wrong man when the right one's under her nose (the movie here -- the book used Jane Austen's original, more act-y structure, and I don't want to get into that), we've got a mysterious presence (still haven't seen the Predator yet) hunting and killing a group of elite commandos.

The commandos try to fight back. They do intelligent things, gradually figuring out (at gruesome loos of life) that their enemy has weapons and technology far beyond anything they're ready for. There's so much blood and gore in this act that the climax *isn't* more gore. It's Arnold looking at some yellow drippy bits on a leaf and delivering the line, "If it bleeds, we can kill it."

And Act Three eases the tension off a bit, as Arnold and the mysterious creature prepare for what both know will be their final battle. Even sugar-hyped twelve year olds know this is the Endgame.

And the third act should be a series of climaxes. The first good sight of that Rick James-looking motherfucker, Arnold screaming his defiant challenge, the tripwires failing, the heat-vision revelation, one hell of a big fight. One right after the other, building on top of each other until the audience is on the edge of their seats. Or hopefully, anyway.

Of course, Predator also has about the shortest denouement ever. Maybe ten seconds of film with Arnold and The Girl in a helicopter headed home. But we do need that little bit...


Charles Gramlich said...

Unkilled a character? So now you're starting to think you're god, Steve? That psychotic identification grows stronger and stronger. This is fiction, you're writing eh?

Charles Gramlich said...

I like your comments about "Framing" the story. It's a good point to keep in mind for the opening.

Predator was a great movie. My Whoun characters in Cold in the Light have a bit of Predator in them

Steve Malley said...

Cheers, Charles!

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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