HOW TO DEVELOP ACT 1
The first act is the most challenging. LAYLA describes her frustrations with ACT 1 from her blog, Be Not Afeard.
Act 1 can be daunting for anyone. You have a story that you want to tell, but where are the words? No where to be found, quite frankly. A few critical scenes pop up in your mind, but other than those, you have no idea where the story is headed. What do you do?
Here’s what I’ve found to work. Think about each of your main characters. Let’s say your characters are Adam, Braley, Cayla, and Daniel with Adam being your main character.
Since a novel is about the characters mostly anyway, this approach should be helpful. So we have our characters, now let’s think about the end-journey that we want each of our characters to make, individually.
1. We want Adam to slay the dragon.
2. We want Braley forgive her parents’ abandonment of her.
3. We want Cayla to overcome her indecision.
4. We want Daniel to become the rightful heir.
OK. So we have our end-goals. What is the responsibility of Act 1? Well, Act 1 is supposed to explain the conflict and show you why that conflict cannot be accomplished, to put it simply.
Think of a roller coaster. Act I would be the grinding sound of the chains right before the first drop. The clanking of the chains brings so much tension for what you know is about to come, but you can’t prevent it from happening. It’s the setup.
We have our characters, now we need to let the story structure dictate the development of that story.
Q1. Why can’t Adam slay the dragon?
A1. Because he doesn’t have the Sword of the Seven Rivers.
Act 1 will put Adam on a path to find the Sword of the Seven Rivers, which he may or may not find by the end of the Act.
Q2. Why can’t Braley understand why her parents abandoned her?
A2. Because Braley was left as an orphan and she had to fend for herself.
Now we know something about Brayley. She doesn’t want to forgive her parents for abandoning her.
Q3. Why is Cayla indecisive?
A3. Because she chose to make a decision that got her younger sister captured.
If the reader sees this in Act 1, then her indecision becomes real and experienced.
Q4. Why is Daniel not on the throne?
A4. Because his father cast him out of the kingdom at the age of ten, not wanting a weak and feeble king to rule.
These scenarios are the elements that make Act 1 the set-up. The reader must want to see how each of these characters will overcome the odds that you, the mean-old author, have placed before them.
Act 1 should end once each of these characters’ initial catalysts is on the table. So once these questions have been answered, then you can begin Act 2, which we will discuss tomorrow.