In the first third of the manuscript, the first act in screenwriting terms, the premise is set up for the reader. What sort of a story is it, and what is it about? Who is the heroine and what does she want more than anything? Who is the antagonist? In many ways the antagonist becomes the engine room of the story. Meeting this character provides the reader with an answer to the final important question. What is the main conflict going to be?
In the middle third of the manuscript, or second act, life is becoming progressively more difficult for my heroine, Nina. This is when an author can torture her main character, in fact it’s almost mandatory! Plans fail, alliances break down, dreams are dashed. Nina’s choices become harder and harder. She has, as the ancient Greeks would say, her long, dark night of the soul. My god, is Nina ever in a bind! But she never gives up. She remains single-mindedly determined to achieve her goal, whatever the sacrifice.
I’m about to launch into my last thirty thousand words – the final act. If I don’t provide my readers with a satisfying finish to the story, I’ll have wasted my time. But I must admit that, despite doing a lot more planning this time, I don’t know exactly how the book ends. I once watched a fascinating documentary on English crime writer Minette Walters. It followed the progress of her novel The Shape Of Snakes. Half way through this complicated psychological thriller about a twenty year old murder mystery, Minette still didn’t know who had committed the crime. Quite the panster! Apparently she writes all her books like that.
“It’s like flying by wire. You embark with nothing, just a tightrope across a chasm. It’s a much more enjoyable way to write because I have to work it out along with the reader. If I don’t know who did it until half way, the reader is going to be fairly fazed as well.” M Walters
There’s a lot of truth, for me anyway, in what she says. Plotting too carefully, can kill the interest and excitement in writing the story. It becomes a chore. So I won’t worry about my ending, not just yet. I’ll just pray for a visit from the plot fairy!