So a week on, and by now you know which one of the following categories you fall into:
1. You are ahead of the curve
2. You are on (or barely on) the curve
3. You are behind the curve
For those in category 1, the biggest enemy is complacency. The first quarter of a novel is generally the easiest to write, so if you find yourself with a bit of wind in your sails, make sure you harness every bit of it in anticipation of slowing down in the future – because you will. For those in category 2, you’re doing well and all you need is to repeat the effort of the last week over the remainder of the month. For those in category 3, it is important that you do not lose heart. Yes, you’re competing against many people in this competition, but your biggest battle is with yourself. Remember that we promised ourselves last week that we will love the process no matter how it goes? This is a good time to remember it, and if you can, see if you can carve out an extra half-hour or so from your schedule.
Now with that behind us, I want to get you to start thinking of what you’re writing. I know that NaNo is all about writing feverishly without letting your conscious mind get in the way of the subconscious – and that’s an admirable goal – but it also pays to devote a certain amount of time every day towards thinking about the structure of your novel. One way – though definitely not the only way – is to think of your novel as comprising three acts. The three-act structure is thought of as the oldest technique of storytelling no matter what the medium, so while I respect the rebel in you, I would suggest you try it out before discarding it as useless.
So if I have to summarize the three acts in one paragraph, it would be this way. In Act 1, your main character is depicted in his normal world living his normal life. A disturbance occurs, and the character is reluctant to tackle it head on. But circumstances conspire such that the character is left with no choice. At the end of Act 1, he makes the choice which ‘changes everything’. Now there’s no going back, and he gets pushed into Act 2, in which the character and his hurdles get into a tightly locked combat and exchange blows. At the end of Act 2, there is another event which ‘changes everything’ and the character gets pushed into Act 3, in which he hurtles towards the climax – by which point your character would return to his original world but after undergoing some fundamental change.
In terms of proportion, Act 1 generally comprises the first quarter of the book. The middle half is Act 2 and the last quarter is Act 3.
Now, since you’ve finished the first quarter of your novel, perhaps it is time for you to sit back and think (very quickly!) whether you’ve got all the Act 1 requirements down pat. If you have, great. If you haven’t, make a note of it so that you can fix it in your second draft. As a quick reference, here’s what you should have by now:
1. A protagonist
2. An antagonist (even if the antagonist is non-human or non-living)
3. A disturbance that stirs the protagonist out of his world
4. An incident that ‘changes everything’, which forces the antagonist out against the antagonist
5. Secondary characters that will help your protagonist in his quest. (Think Dumbledore, Sam, Gandalf, Hermione, Ron.)
In our next post, we’ll talk about Act 2. Until then, don’t let those typing fingers rest!
Sharath Komarraju is a mystery and fantasy author based in Bangalore, India. His first novel, ‘Murder in Amaravati’, was longlisted for the 2013 Commonwealth Book Prize. Now, as he awaits the release of his third novel, ‘The Winds of Hastinapur’, due out in November 2013, he’s busy thrashing out a manuscript that doesn’t yet know what it wants to become when it grows up.
He spends most of a typical day locked up in a room talking to himself. He blogs about the writing life at http://sharathkomarraju.com/