How to screw up Act III in a few simple moves
I was trying to be too fancy with Act III for the sequel to “Crashers.”
(First, a note: there probably are proper Writing 101 terms for the concepts I’m about to discuss but since I never took a writing class, I’m just making @#$%& up here.)
I wanted to create a False Clock. You know: “We have X hours to accomplish Y…. whew! We did it. Oh wait! There’s still Z! And we have less time than ever!”
I call that a false or second clock.
Next, I wanted the finale of the novel to involve a Maypole Character. By that I mean someone who serves as a lodestone, to draw my remaining protagonists and antagonists together. Everyone needs to move to one spot at one specific moment, and as they collide, all hell breaks loose. I had picked a character who was an initial catalyst in Act I of the book: were it not for her actions, none of the rest of the novel would have come together. Now everyone is heading her direction for an OK Corral gambit.
Right. All good and well. I’ve given you the False Clock. I’ve sent everyone spiraling toward a Maypole Character.
But I forgot a well-known tenant of the mystery/thriller genre: Establish your primary locations early on, then keep all your emotional or plot-thick scenes there.
For example: You have written a mystery set in, say, Seattle. You have shown us the Space Needle. You have taken us to Pike Place Market. You have taken us out on a harbor cruise. Then, at the end of the book, you set the final, climactic scene in Shreveport, La.? Oh, hell no. Take us back to the scenes you’ve painted so lovingly in Acts I and II; the scenes we already are emotionally attached to.
(“The Da Vinci Code” does a nice variation of this. We start in a famed and storied museum. But that’s it for museums, for us. We then are introduced to a Catholic Church in France. The action moves to a cathedral in England. From there, it moves to another cathedral in England. Finally, we learn the truth about one of the two primary stories at a tiny church in rural England. After the opening scene, all of the pivotal acts have revolved around places of worship. Finally, for the dénouement? Our hero figures out the final, key clue, and we see him kneel, in prayer, under the stars, making his own place of worship. Where? At the museum from Act I. Isn’t that elegant?)
Anyway, for my sequel, I set a False Clock to make you go “Whew…oh wait…!” Then I set up a Maypole Character the others could orbit around. Yeah, fine, good.
But I did all that in place we’d hardly visited before. It was (in film terms) a throwaway set.
How to fix it? The answer is simple. Move the Maypole Character to a setting the reader has come to know. Some place well established in the narrative.
Simple. Except it means massive rewrites to about 40 pages. Which, hell, still ain’t washing dishes for a living. Suck it up, Irish-Boy.
So, good lesson. And you ask: why wasn’t this in the first draft?
Because I’m not as smart as I think I am.