Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Fiona Harper on Writing: the adventure begins...

Today, Fiona Harper continues her series on plot structure and character arc, and she's going to look at the moment when the story really gets underway in earnest - the turning point between Act One and Act Two.

Up until this point, our characters have merely been positioning themselves for the main action of the story. Let's review the phases:
  • We've found them living their ordinary life, doing things the way they've always done them. Even if they're not truly happy, they're getting by, right?
  • Then an events happens that has the potential to turn everything on its head. They may or may not realise its significance, but this event has started a cause-and-effect chain reaction that will eventually throw our main characters into the main plot of the story.
  • They (most likely) baulk at this upset to their nice little routine. It may be a momentary reluctance, or even the doubt of other characters that our hero can complete this quest. They may even have to be forced into action by upping the stakes and motivation that they have no choice but to agree.
However our protagonist has got here, they are now all standing at the same place - the doorway to an adventure that will change their lives.

Christopher Vogler (The Writer's Journey) calls this turning point a threshold, and I think that's a very apt description, for this is often the point at which the hero or heroine's nebulous plans and ideas about what they should do next suddenly come together and become crystal clear. They have a firm goal to accomplish now. It's up to them whether they step into this new situation, take this new course of action, or scurry back home and hide under the duvet.

In a romance, this is often the point at which the hero and heroine, who have been resisting being thrust together or working together for whatever reason, suddenly realise that they are going to have to cooperate with each other to achieve their respective goals. In Pretty Woman, this is the moment when Edward offers Vivian $3000 to spend the week with him. In How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days it's the moment Andi decides for sure that Ben is the lucky guy she's going to drive nuts for her magazine column.

From a character arc point of view, this is also the last point at which your character will be who they were at the beginning of the story. This adventure they are about to embark on is going to change them in a lasting way, and each step they make is going to take them further away from who they once were. No wonder they're a little apprehensive about taking that first step!

In French Kiss, the film I have been using as an example, this is the point at which Kate finally finds Charlie at his hotel in Paris. Unfortunately, he's so deep in a lip lock with his new French Goddess that he doesn't even see his jilted fiancee. Kate faints and when she comes to, her bags have been stolen. From a character point of view, Kate is now completely without any security (the thing she craves). Not only does she have no Charlie, but she also has no money, no passport, no clothes but the ones she's standing up in, and she's lost and alone in a foreign country where she doesn't speak the language. Kate was so firmly entrenched in her rut that it was only motivation of this magnitude that was going to force her forward into the adventure. She literally has no choice.

It's also the point in the film where she teams up with Luc - the French petty criminal who has hidden a vine in her bag. He wants it back, so he's going to have to help her. They pool their resources to work for a common goal.

Fiona Harper's latest release The Ballerina Bride (US title)/Dancing With Danger (UK title) is available now at Harlequin, Mills&Boon and Amazon.

Ballerina on the run!
Prima ballerina Allegra's spent her life on stage. But now there are whispers that the superstar's lost her sparkle… So when she's offered a week on a tropical island, for survival expert Finn McLeod's TV show, she leaps at it!

Finn's frankly unimpressed—how will this fragile-looking girl survive life in the wild? But for Allegra, it's not the island that's the problem, but her all-consuming crush on the unavailable Finn! Gorgeous on TV, close up he's devastating—and Allegra's hours of disciplined dance practice are useless when it comes to resisting temptation….

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