Saturday, September 8, 2012

Week 37 - Proportioning Plot

9 Sep - 15 Sep:
It is proportion that beautifies everything, the whole universe consists of it, and music is measured by it.
English composer, Orlando Gibbons
A writer could do worse than have the sense of balance and proportion that an artist or musician does. 
So how do we know if our story is balanced or not?  When I talked about Outlining way back in Week 11, I touched on proportioning plot through the age-old technique of designing a story around Acts

This week, I'll lend more detail to that approach using the ideas contained within How to Write an Uncommonly Good Novel, Writer's Mentor Group.  In the chapter, 'Proportion in Plot'  F. M. Maupin uses a 200 page novel, divided equally into five acts of forty pages, as the framework:

Act I - (pages 1-40)
Set the story up, establish the dramatic situation, introduce the main characters, main relationships, and the main conflict, or at least the idea of it.

Act II, plus the first half of Act III - (pages 40-100)
Lead up to the crisis, that is, the turning point of the story, and put it on stage.  This is the point which steers the story to the only possible ending.  (Is this really true?)

Last half of Act III, all of Act IV and first half of Act V - (pages 100-180)
This section provides a lot of space for leading up to the climax.  The reader is not about to stop now, so this is the best place for love scenes, historical information, subplots, soliloquies and other slower-paced bits and pieces the writer wants to elaborate on.

Last half of Act V – (pages 180-200)
After the climax, the last twenty pages must tie up all the lose ends and finish the book.
Okay, so this is just one model, but it makes sense to me and I like it.  Besides, it's got me thinking about that crucial turning point ideally located half to three-quarters of the way through.

Maupin offers the following exercise for those interested in testing the model:

Exercise 73.  Take four paperclips and insert them in a novel - preferably one you're familiar with - so that they form five equal sections of text.  Check that the story is clearly set up by the first paperclip.  See how close to the middle of the book, or close to the third paperclip, the crisis is revealed.

Exercise 74.  Now check your own novel attempt against Maupin's model.

For the next few weeks, I'll be indulging in 'chill-out' posts, i.e., making it up as I go along, before settling back into pseudo-academic mode in October.


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