Thursday, March 15, 2012

Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 2


Yesterday (see Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 1) we looked at crafting a sentence that summarizes your story and which has all the elements of your story in it, only compressed. Today we are going to expand that sentence into five sentences which embody the 3-act structure of a play.

2. Expand your one sentence into a five sentence paragraph.
There are two provisos here:

2.1. Take NO MORE than an hour to do this.
2.2. Have your paragraph mirror the 3-act structure of a play.

The 3-Act Structure of a Play
Let's discuss the 3-act structure of a play. Briefly, in the first act the reader is introduced to the world of the story and the characters who populate it, especially the main character, or protagonist. In the second act, or at the very end of the first act, the protagonist encounters an obstacle they must overcome and in the third act the protagonist overcomes the obstacle and enjoys their reward.
Of course that is a stark oversimplification – for starters, there can be, and often is, more than one main character and he or she does not always overcome their obstacle. But you get the idea.

There are many excellent books on screenwriting that discuss the three act structure of a play (and it isn't always three acts). Here are two I have read and enjoyed:

Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need

The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition

There are oodles of screenwriting books on the market, but these are two that I've read and can recommend. The Writers Journey is perhaps a bit more tailored toward novel and short story writers as opposed to screenwriters.

So, let's begin! Here, again, is the sentence I put together in the first step:

The death of a wealthy English archeologist sparks talk of a curse when two other people involved with the expedition die from seemingly unrelated causes.

Here's my first attempt at expanding my sentence into a paragraph:
A wealthy English aristocrat dies of a heartattack after breaking the seal on the tomb of a long-dead Egyptian pharaoh. The aristocrat's death is quickly followed by the death of two of the men who were with him when he broke the seal: A wealthy American financier and the financier's nephew. Afraid that her son will be the next casualty, the aristocrat's wife hires a private detective to investigate the possibility that there is a curse at work and to protect her son from whatever is happening. The detective accepts the commission and he and a college travel to Egypt to investigate. As the detective arrives at the camp a renown archeologist, one who was present when the seal on the tomb was broken, dies in the most agonizing of ways. Although everyone discounts the possibility of an ancient Egyptian curse being the cause of the deaths, people seem united in their desire for the detective to find out whether the deaths are all from natural causes or whether someone among on expedition is systematically killing people. In the end, the detective uncovers the cause of the men's deaths: greed. The greed of someone who stood to inherit a great deal of money from the nephew, and sole surviving heir, of the wealthy financier.

Okay, that's nine sentences, not five, and it doesn't mirror the 3-act structure of a play.

Here's what we need:

1st sentence: Sets the stage.
2nd sentence: 1st conflict of novel
3rd sentence: 2nd conflict of novel
4th sentence: 3rd conflict of novel
5th sentence: Gives the outcome.

Let's give this another try:
I didn't do this sentence by sentence, but here are my five sentences:

1) A wealthy English aristocrat dies of a heart-attack after breaking the seal on the tomb of a long-dead Egyptian pharaoh. The aristocrat's death is quickly followed by the death of two men who were with him when the seal was broken: A wealthy American financier and the financier's nephew.

2) Afraid that her son will be the next casualty, the aristocrat's wife hires a private detective to uncover the true cause of the deaths, whether it is an ancient Egyptian curse or something more mundane. The detective accepts the commission and he and a college travel to Egypt to investigate.

3) As the detective arrives at the camp a renown archeologist, one who was present when the seal on the tomb was broken, dies in the most agonizing of ways. The man, an Egyptologist, was competing with an equally renown colleague from another institution. Could his rival have taken advantage of the situation to off his rival and blame it on the curse?

4) Although everyone discounts the possibility of an ancient Egyptian curse being the cause of the deaths, they spurn the detective's efforts to arrive at the truth. Did these men die from natural causes or from an ancient curse, or perhaps someone among on expedition is systematically killing people.

5) In the end, the detective uncovers the cause of the deaths: greed. The greed of someone who stood to inherit a great deal of money from the nephew, and sole surviving heir, of the wealthy financier. The archeologist was killed as a red herring.

Our expanded sentence is not perfect but now at least we see the skeleton of a story begin to emerge. In the next post in this series we will transform each of our five sentences – or, in our case, mini-paragraphs – into individual paragraphs, keeping in mind that each paragraph should itself reflect the three-act structure of a play.

Thanks for reading!

The Starburst Method, Part 1: Creating a one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 2: Developing our one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 3: Creating a five paragraph summary
The Starburst Method, Part 4: Developing characters
The Starburst Method, Part 5: Creating a five page summary
The Starburst Method, Part 6: Developing scenes
The Starburst Method, Part 7: The character grid
The Starburst Method, Part 8: The rough draft and narrative drive

Photo Credit

2 comments:

  1. These are some useful ideas! Thanks for also including scriptwriting...2 weeks until ScriptFrenzy! I'm familiar with, Save The Cat!, from the library. The other title looks very intriguing, and I'll have to look into it in the future.

    Your path to writing a script or novel is excellent. Start with something simple (then it's not intimidating), then keep adding a little at a time...refine it. It like sculpting a story.

    BTW, your title of your series makes me hungry for candy. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Jeffrey! Ah, I'd forgotten about ScriptFrenzy! (http://scriptfrenzy.org/eng/whatisscriptfrenzy)

    I like these methods because it breaks up the process into more manageable bits. Your analogy of sculpting is exactly right. I relate to the idea of the 80% solution and refining something on multiple passes.

    Thanks for your kind words and your comment!

    ReplyDelete

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