Writing Romance: Crossing into Act Two

Welcome, Campers.
Last month we approached the turning point that launches our duo into Act Two.

By the end of Act One, your characters will likely have stated - either in their heads or actually out loud - that they want nothing to do with the other, nothing to do with a relationship with the other. No way, no how. But the final plot point of this act will not give them that choice. It will make it impossible for them to walk away. Not until. . . So at the end of this piece, your hero and heroine are completely “up a tree” with no way of escape.

In Hero’s Journey language, we’ve established the ordinary world of our hero and heroine. We’ve sent them a call to adventure when they meet each other. They’ve said NO NO NO - the Refusal. And sometimes they’ve met with a mentor or friend that has nudged them into the adventure.

And, at the end of Act One, they’ve begrudgingly Crossed the Threshold.

According to Jami Gold's Beat Sheet - which we’ve been following as a loose outline - in Act Two, “the protagonists react to the new desire, but suffer from one step forward and two steps back.”

As you can see in this beat sheet, Act Two is sandwiched between Pinch Point 1 and Pinch Point 2. Act Two is usually half the book and divided in half itself with an important Midpoint.

Up until that Midpoint, the hero and heroine are confronted by “tests, allies, and enemies.”  And up until that Midpoint, the hero and heroine are still trying to live their lives with their old pre-romance ways. They may give lip-service to working together, might even try to work together. But when the rubber meets the road, they’re working alone. In a way, they’re trying to get back to their ordinary world unscathed. Have they got a surprise coming.

An Ordeal at the Midpoint will force them to admit that the road they’re on doesn’t go back to that ordinary world. Something big has changed and they move forward through more challenges, learning to approach life differently: together. Sometimes this moment is capped with The Kiss.

At the end of Act Two comes another turning point. This one will drive a huge obstacle right through their relationship. Often, it leads to a breakup. And then it’s on to the last quarter of the book in Act Three.

Next month, we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of getting your couple to that Midpoint.

Your homework: get out those romance movies. See if you can map the story with the information you have right now.

Oh, and BiC-HoK - Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard.  (And Merry Christmas)

My NaNoWriMo 2017 Roadmap

After spending nine months on a first draft and another year and a half on revisions, I resolved to make my next book a more streamlined process. That’s why I’m spending October of this year on research, outlining, and pre-writing, and I hope to use NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) to write my rough draft. As November approaches, I thought I’d share the roadmap I’ll be using.

This is an in-depth outline adapted from the books Writing the Intimate Character by Jordan Rosenfeld and Writing Deep Scenes by Jordan Rosenfeld and Martha Alderson. It’s just one of countless outlining methods available. I’ve studied several, and they all boil down to pretty much the same thing—but for some reason, this one clicked the most with me. It breaks your novel into four parts, each taking roughly 25% of the total word count:

  1. Beginning
  2. Emerging Middle
  3. Deeper Middle
  4. End

It also focuses on four “energetic markers,” which can be thought of as key scenes or turning points:

  1. Point of No Return
  2. Rededication
  3. Dark Night of the Soul
  4. Triumph

The Beginning introduces the main character in her normal world. It sets up the central story conflict, as well as the protagonist’s flaw or wound—in other words, how she will need to change over the course of the story. The Beginning ends with the first energetic marker, the Point of No Return, a critical juncture where our heroine decides or is forced to plunge into the new world of the middle. She can no longer return to her old world and status quo. She may be physically trapped in a new world or situation, or she may make a promise or commitment that she can’t renege on.

When she emerges from the Point of No Return, the protagonist is thrust into the new and mysterious world of the Emerging Middle. Here, the action is controlled by antagonists and obstacles. Our heroine faces many setbacks, but is still winning in this stage. Her shadow side begins to reveal itself, both to the reader and to the character herself. She must begin to face her flaws and wounds, which will eventually force her to change. The Emerging Middle ends at the midpoint, a.k.a. the second energetic marker, the Rededication. This is where the main character is forced to reevaluate her progress toward her goal, and either recommit to that goal or identify a new one.

After the Rededication, the protagonist enters the Deeper Middle. This place is even more mysterious and challenging than the Emerging Middle, and our heroine is no longer winning—instead, the antagonists take the lead. The mindset and techniques that served the main character well in her old world no longer work, and she is forced to change her plan of attack. She faces greater setbacks and higher stakes than in the Emerging Middle, and her emotional outlook becomes increasingly bleak. Then, just when she thinks she’s about to reach her goal, she loses everything at the Dark Night of the Soul. This energetic marker turns the story in a new direction. It also awakens the main character to her flaws, strips away her old self, and gives her what she needs to succeed in the upcoming climax.

The protagonist enters the last quarter of the novel, the End, by formulating a plan and gathering resources. These include external resources (information, allies, tools, supplies, etc.) and internal resources (bracing herself emotionally for what’s to come). She no longer hesitates or second-guesses herself—she knows exactly what she must do and why, if not how to do it, and she moves toward her goal with courage and determination. This leads to the final energetic marker, the Triumph, a.k.a. the climax of your story. The Triumph is the heroine’s final confrontation with both the external antagonist and her own internal flaws. In order to succeed at the Triumph, she must come to terms with her shadow side and complete her character transformation. She is now fully united with her new self-awareness, understanding of the world, and sense of responsibility. The Triumph is followed by a brief resolution or denouement, which wraps up any last plot threads and provides a glimpse of the transformed protagonist in her new world.

What I like about this approach is that it’s a roadmap, not a formula. It helps me find the bones of my story before I start writing, while giving me the flexibility to discover the rest as I write. It also forces me to keep in mind both central story threads, action and character arc, and how they work in tandem. I’m looking forward to trying it out in November. If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, good luck, and I’ll see you there!

The Beat Sheet

As I thought about this series, I realized in retrospect that I wanted a plan.  And I wanted something for you readers to be able to follow along.  And I wanted it to be totally available.  AHA - a Beat Sheet.

If you don’t know what beat sheets are, here’s the short description:  The “beat sheet” is a way to sequence your story, using bullets instead of whole sentences or paragraphs. Very quickly, though, those bullets becomes sentences and paragraphs. And when that happens, you have an outline on your hands.  (From Storyfix.com)  You’ll find a lot of talk about beats and beat sheets in the screenwriting world.  I won’t get into it here, but it’s certainly something to check out if it sounds like gibberish to you.  I often use beat sheets to do some preliminary plot work once my character work is well in hand.

Jamie Gold is the queen of beat sheets online.  She has made a variety of them in Excel format so you can fill in your page goal and it will calculate where all your beats should come.  Obviously, this is a tool.  Don’t get stressed about having to follow it exactly.  Jamie even has one for romance.  Good information in the entire post.

Here’s why I’m sending you there.  It occurred to me as I was looking at this beat sheet that I may have jumped the gun last month with Boy Meets Girl.  Yes, Boy Meets Girl should happen in Act One, but there should probably be some preliminary scenes before that happens.  Note:  In the “olden days” of Romance, the requirement was that hero and heroine meet in the first pages of the book.  I don’t think that’s the hard and fast rule anymore.  But if the line you’re targeting wants it - give it to them.  You’ll have to weave the other preliminary stuff in as you do so or shortly after.

Alright.  So here’s why I’m making a U-turn – it’s only temporary.  It’s not because I’m requiring - or even suggesting - that you have to use this beat sheet.  But I will be using it as a guideline for this series of article.  It’s all about me 🙂

Last month we talked about Boy Meets Girl.  That event usually happens as the Inciting Incident in your plot outline.  Before that happens, you may want to introduce your reader to one or both characters and set up the romance by showing what your character is lacking - or what he (she) thinks he’s lacking.  In the opening scenes of the story, you’ll want to create empathy.  Showing what the character is lacking/longing for is a way to do that.

As an aside here, most of the time, the goal that the characters go into the story with is what they WANT but not what they NEED.  Over the course of the story, you’ll bring them through a character arc from what they thought they wanted at the beginning of the story to what they actually NEED.

In the spirit of taking that step back, I’d like to talk about WANT and NEED before we go further.  So that’s what I’ll tackle next month.

Hope you’ll forgive the blip!

Cheers, Jax