The Three Acts of a Novel

Some of you are writers yourselves and have been curious about my journey as a writer. Naked and Hungry, my first completed novel, was preceded by years of reading and dissecting short stories. This work paid off in the end because I later learned to write them. And I still love writing short stories. They can be drafted in the space of a weekend, edited by the next and finished within two weeks. Some writers can do it faster, of course, but this is my way. First piece of advice: Read short stories!

Short stories are mini-novels. Just like a novel, they are structured in three acts: the setup, the development and the climax, followed by a brief “denouement” which isn’t really an act but a scene where all the loose endings are resolved.

Now, the differences. Unless you’re incredibly prolific like successful commercial writers, novels take much longer to produce. They require enormous amounts of patience and the willingness to put the work aside without resolving all of your loose ends. Argh! This is very difficult for me, because I like to shut down my computer knowing that every writing goal has been crossed off the list. Sorry, Type A’ers (and this is my tendency.) Novel writing belongs in the Type B world! It’s a journey that’s as full of obstacles as rewards, and you must teach yourself to love the difficult times as much as those times when the words simply seem to flow on their own.

Now firmly into my second book, a sequel to Naked and Hungry that is tentatively titled Born Again, Dead Again, I am experiencing this pleasurable turmoil all over again. Although I wrote the synopsis over a year ago, I’m finding myself pulled in slightly different directions. And I’m reminding myself that it’s okay to do this, to let recent events inform my writing and to let the story flow naturally. While adhering, of course, to the three-act structure. Argh! There is the paradox!

Although I could ramble all day, I’d rather leave you with a Final Piece of Advice: Read Write A Book in A Month by Victoria Schmidt. This book not only explains the 3-act process better than any other (literally laying bare the winning formula of books like Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula) but also gives practical and inspirational advice throughout. Although it took me much longer than one month to write Naked and Hungry, my pace definitely increased once I stumbled upon Schmidt’s book. And had I read it first, oh, the time I could have saved.

Technical points aside, the Type A’ers among you will love this quote from the book, which is attributed to Peter F. Drucker: “What you have to do and the way you have to do it are incredibly simple. Whether you are willing to do it is another matter.”


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