Architecting the Narrative

At a recent, local science-fiction convention (please see “Stephen Bolt in the Flesh” for a before and after write up of the event) I was on a panel about story structure.  As that panel turned out a little differently than I had expected, it seemed that a blog entry would be a good place to expound on the subject.  So here it goes…

When architecting the narrative, there are many variations out there that one can follow, yet each story tends to have one item in common.  Or, more accurately, three items in common. They all have a beginning, a middle, and an ending.  Yes, that is a very simplified way of putting it, so let’s delve a bit deeper, shall we?

Speaking from my own craft of writing, I present my works each in three Acts, these representing that magical beginning, middle, and end.  I like to take it a step further though, by dividing each act into three Parts that represent those elements within each Act. Let’s take a further study of this regarding my forthcoming novel, Seeds…keeping in mind that this novel is the first in a series…and I won’t reveal anything of a spoiler nature 8^)

Act One is an introduction to the story, the characters, and the world they occupy.  It sets the reader up for Acts Two and Three, yet has plenty occurring within itself and has conflicts and resolutions of its own, with many more to carry you through the work.  In Act One you get the plot of the novel, but there are no “reveals” as I feel it is imperative, just like when in an erotic encounter, to lead a reader on with teases, then give satisfaction much later in the work.

Act Two is where the story and characters really develop.  The reader meets a number of new characters, many of which will remain through the rest of the novel, others to return in the subsequent novels.  In Act Two the reader learns more about the pasts of the three main characters and developments of the revolution they wish to join.  They also learn of the ultimate quest of the novel: to visit the enigmatic Engineer and take a test to prove their worth to the revolutionaries.  There are a number of character liaisons (i.e. sexual encounters) in Act Two, and the reader gets much deeper into the characters thoughts and emotions.  We also see the paths the main characters wish to forge for themselves.

Act Three is where it all comes together.  The characters continue their journey and ultimately end up having their test.  That is where the reader learns even more about the characters and their backgrounds, and gets to see them actively confronting their personal demons.  The end of this Act leads the reader into the next novel in the series, Flowers.

Now, please mind that not each of the novels will follow this formula exactly.  Yes, they will all have three Acts, and each of those will have three Parts.  These Acts will form the beginning, middle, and end of the novels; however, they will not follow the exact course they did in Seeds. Why?  Well, they are different novels, and considering that Seeds is the first in the series, it serves in itself as the introductory novel to the series.  In Flowers, each Act can be seen more independently than in Seeds, and also more so than you will see in the third novel, Thorns.

One other element worthy of note, is the “twist.”  There is an Asian (Chinese, Korean, and Japanese) structure called “Kishotenketsu” that follows the same basic three part structure, but between the second and third portions of the story, a twist is inserted to make the narrative that much more juicy.  Personally, I love twists, be they lemon or lime.

Ciao, for now,
Stephen~

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