Welcome to the sixth installment of Nine Exercises to Help You Draft a New Story.
Exercise #6: A Draft: Act I
Time: 20 minutes
If you've done the first five exercises, you'll already have a character with a problem and a desire, a couple of scenes, an ending, and a sketch of your plot.
If you haven't, you'll have to come up with those things now. You can use elements from a work in progress, or any other character and plot ideas that are rattling around in your head.
We're using the Billy Wilder model of plot: Get your character up a tree. Throw rocks at him. Get him down.
Today you'll get him up a tree. He has a problem, a desire (say, to solve the problem), and a plan. He embarks on the plan.
You're going to spend twenty minutes writing out all of Act I, as fast as you can. You can take more time, of course, but don't let anything stop you—plow straight through to the end of the act today. (Three hours is a good maximum to allow yourself. Beyond that, the likelihood increases that you won't make it to the end before your energy flags.) Yes, it's going to be incredibly messy and imperfect. But you may be surprised how much usable stuff you can actually lay down. In any case this is not the time to judge whether it's usable or not—it's time to write.
This passage from from John Gardner's classic The Art of Fiction describes what you're going for:
In the writing state—the state of inspiration—the fictive dream springs up fully alive: the writer forgets the words he has written on the page and sees, instead, his characters moving around their rooms, hunting through cupboards, glancing irritably through their mail, setting mousetraps, loading pistols. The dream is as alive and compelling as one’s dreams at night, and when the writer writes down on paper what he has imagined, the words, however inadequate, do not distract his mind from the fictive dream but provide him with a fix on it, so that when the dream flags he can reread what he’s written and find the dream starting up again. This and nothing else is the desperately sought and tragically fragile writer’s process: in his imagination, he sees made-up people doing things—sees them clearly—and in the act of wondering what they will do next he sees what they will do next, and all this he writes down in the best, most accurate words he can find, understanding even as he writes that he may have to find better words later . . . ”Now don't stop and worry about whether you truly are entering the dream; whether you're in "the state of inspiration." If you are then, of course, nothing will pop you out faster than worrying about it. Just try to see your "made-up people doing things." That's all.
Notice I said see them doing things—not make them do things. If they stop moving, that might be because you're trying to make them do things they don't want to. In that case, back off. Let them go where they will.
They might try to head off the edge of your map, off the edge of the known world, into monster territory. You might have to let them.
But if you can, stick to the rough outline you made yesterday.
Set your timer for twenty minutes and go. Write Act I.
Next: A Draft: Act II
|Takeo Takei, cover for King Ramu-ramu, 1926, via 50watts|