Monday, 26 November 2007

Story Structure: Phase 2 - New Situation

So, after the first Turning Point, Michael Haugue describes the next phase of the story as the New Situation. It’s basically the end section of act one, as the next turning point will send your characters headlong into the second act.

I see this as a kind of in between stage. Vogler’s hero’s journey concept deals with the idea nicely. If you think of old-fashioned fairy tales or myths, there is often an adventure the hero (and by this I mean protagonist, not just the main male character) must go on. Vogler calls the second act the Special World of the adventure – often the hero must journey to a new land to fulfil his quest. In modern-day tales, our protagonists may not be fighting dragons or slaying giants, but they may get pushed out of their comfort zone and find themselves in a new emotional landscape. For many romance stories, the relationship itself is the adventure, and this will be the stage of the story where they’ve met, but they haven’t quite got it together yet.

So, by now our hero has had their “call to adventure” – the trigger/inciting incident to get the story going – but they haven’t yet committed to it fully. Our protagonist may refuse the call briefly, even if it is only a few moment’s hesitation, or higher stakes may push the hero into acting when maybe he’d rather not. Sometimes preparations need to be made – the hero may need to acquire new skills to embark upon his quest.

Pretty Woman:
Edward and Vivian have met. She helps him get to his hotel and he almost goes inside and leaves her waiting for the bus – but he doesn’t. Something about her zest for life intrigues him, and he invites her inside for the night. Time after time in the next few hours she defies his expectations, and this pushes him into doing something unusual when the time comes to pack her off back to where she came from…

In a sense, the second act of this story is the length of the contract between Edward and Vivian ($3000 for one week) – this is the ‘Special World’ of this story. You couldn’t just jump from Edward picking her up in the car to immediately asking her to stay the week. Something more has to happen to push him into that unusual decision; it has to be set up.

And this is what this phase of the story is about, moving things into position so the hero and heroine can cross the threshold into the second act and get the adventure (in this case, the romance) going!

Notting Hill:
Anna gets cleaned up at William’s house and, just as she leaves, she kisses him, and he is dumbfounded. Then they play a game of cat and mouse for a while. She leaves a message; he doesn’t get it – and when he does he gets sucked into the publicity machine for her new movie.

It’s Anna who controls where the story goes at the moment. William wants to pursue the connection (of course!), but Anna is wary. At first it seems she is just going to make sure he is ‘okay’ about the kiss and then dismiss him but, after he is adorably flustered doing a fake interview, she changes her mind. Up until the end of the first act, they are dancing around each other and the audience is not sure whether a romance is going to get going or not.

You’ve Got Mail:
This is an interesting one. Kathleen has just discovered that Fox Books are opening a store in her neighbourhood and right after that, she and Joe meet in real life, without knowing that they are online sweethearts – and there’s a connection.

Norah Ephron does a marvellous job of setting up everything in this script! I see the adventure, the ‘special world’ of this story as being the fight between Kathleen’s true-hearted little store and the Fox books Goliath. And, before the battle gets going, the writers set everything up for maximum conflict.

Not only are Kathleen and Joe getting on well in cyberspace, but there’s a spark in real life too – what a pity that they’re going to become mortal enemies in a matter of days! Having them meet before the conflict gets going raises the stakes and makes the audience sigh for what they know can never be! Now, that’s good writing.

So, in this section of the story, you have to decide how your characters are going to respond to the story trigger, their call to adventure. Will they embrace it or reject it? And what needs to happen so that, when they embark on their adventure, all the necessary pieces are in place?


Ray-Anne said...

Notting Hill every time. Richard Curtis is a genius to capture all of that angst in only a few short pages.

Mel said...

Havent' seen Notting Hill, but I'm thinking it might be worth my while.

Now is this point usually in the 3rd Chapter or Chapter 4. I know it won't be the same in every book, but in a nice neat writing world is this where the call to adventure starts?

Fiona Harper said...

Yes, Richard Curtis does seem to have the knack of telling beautiful romantic stories that are funny too. I kind of think M&B Romance books are a bit like his films.

Mel, I reckon the start of the 'adventure' - act 2 often does start around chapter 3. It's not an exact science, 'cos it all depends on the story. When I was trying to get a handle on the whole three-act structure thing, I spent a lot of time analysing the romances I was reading and trying to work out where the divisions fell. Even if a writer doesn't structure a story with this in mind, it tends to happen naturally.

liz fenwick said...

As always great insight into the craft!

I've tagged you and linked you for your insight:-)

Mel said...

That's what I figured, Fiona. Structure is so tied with pacing and the rising of conflict. Also most submissions want the first three chapters. You got to learn to make that last hook so powerful that the editor has ask for the rest.