Somehow theories evolve, and then get cast into stone. This is certainly true in the realm of creative writing, where certain dogmas gain such respectability that they become immoveable text book items. These are the “precepts” or the “principles” which are taught as unassailable facts.
But in the days of yore, when story telling was first invented, there weren’t any rules. Cave people would sit round their fires and entertain each other by telling stories, which I am sure, have survived to this day. One famous story, which has been retold thousands of times, is the tale about being chased by a wild animal, turning the tables on it, and then bringing it home for dinner. But notice, this is actually a three act play! Something that teachers of scriptwriting have taught since the dawn of the cinema. So I can only conclude from this that some, or most of the rules in writing, have a fairly ancient origin. And if they have, isn’t it about time we modernised them at bit?
Take the “classical” three act story structure, for example. Now in screen writing, each act is supposed to have between 25 to 50 pages, and the middle or second act, is supposed to be longer than the first and third acts.
Film producers have used this three-act-pattern to analyze films, and determine how they were put together in the first place. But while this may be one way of assessing a finished script, it’s not a tool which is particularly helpful to screenwriters. Also, the fact that a story has a beginning, a middle and an end is obvious, surely? This is a caveman principle, and it’s too darn simple! The real problem we have, is how to structure our tale so that it takes into account all the variables which occur along the story’s pathway. Applying the three acts principles is like trying to fit thirty sardines in a tin which can only hold ten!
Writers frequently get lost when they come to the second act. Very often they lose direction, and they forget about what the character’s are actually feeling and doing, because they are too focussed on plot! But this misdirection of the mind can kill any screenplay or novel dead!
So why not have, say nine acts? Or 15? You as the writer can chose the number! But you have to bear in mind one principle, (and you can challenge me on this later if you want to), but let each act represent a minute story increment which demonstrates how your character is changing. As he changes, so does his viewpoint and reactions to the stimuli around him. As he changes, so does his way of dealing with the hazards you confront him with.
So forget plot. Focus on what the audience wants. They want to see how the story is effecting the characters on the microcosm of their thoughts and emotions. They relish the puzzlement on the face of the woman who discovers that her pearl necklace is gone. And they badly want to know what that character is going through, inside! So your work as a writer is to focus on that inner plane of being, not just the thoughts, not just the actions but the primary emotions which are driving the characters. And these elements are emergent. That’s the thing to bear in mind.
In a nutshell, you have to put so much pressure on your characters, that a profound change in their lives is imminent! And this is an entirely involutary process. The characters don’t really want to change, they just want to stay in their comfort zone. So you have to be tough with them. But you need to also show this incrementally, degree by degree, over thirty or fifty acts if necessary! Three acts structures are too broad and don’t really help the writer to pin his story down! That’s my theory anyway, (and I’m sticking to it).
“Terry? Is that you?” a voice said excitedly down the phone. “It’s me, Terry.”
Terry pulled a face. “Sorry? Did you say your name was Terry?”
“Yes, Terry McTrain, I’m you, phoning from the future!” said the voice.
Read The Pyewiz and the Amazing Mobile Phone — the first in the series “Tales From Across the Solar System” — to find out what happens when Terry and Will, travel to the other side of the solar system to try to stop their world from being destroyed. They are pitted against the Pyewiz, the cunning pirate wizard who abducts Terry’s twin brother as a child.
Against a background of the Pyewiz’s obsession with chess, which looms large in the moonscape of Pluto’s Charon, the boys take on the ancient pirate, who has substituted ships for chess pieces, in a seabattle without an ocean, on the very edge of the solar system.
When the story starts, it’s just another ordinary day in the life of Terry McTrain, schoolboy and unpaid ‘drudge’ in his parent’s guesthouse. It’s not all bad, after all, he’s got his own ‘recording studio’ in the basement, and he and his friend Will can have a ‘jamming session’ whenever they have time. But the sudden arrival of a dislikeable and distinctly weird guest, sets the boys off balance.
Terry thinks it very odd when this ‘guest’, a strange-looking lady with sunglasses, starts picking on his dad. In fact he seems to know her from the past and they appear to have some unfinished business together. Terry just can’t understand it. And just as things really start to go wrong, they get even worse when an amazing event takes place in the garden shed.
Somehow, breaking all the laws of known physics, a Japanese chef calling himself Soupie, materializes in the garden shed and tells the two boys an astonishing and rather frightening story.
Terry learns that he is an Indigo child, blessed with strange innate powers. He is also told that he has a bitter enemy in the person of the Pyewiz, the pirate-wizard and chess player extraordinaire who lives on Charon, near Pluto. What’s more he has a twin brother, Barry, imprisoned by the Pyewiz on that far off planet with little chance of being rescued. In a moment of terrible truth, the boys realise that they are the only people in the universe who can save Terry’s twin.
With Soupie’s encouragement, the boys take it upon themselves to do what they can to thwart the pirate and rescue Barry from his clutches. And it is from this point on that Terry and Will, lose all contact with reality and find themselves launched on an adventure of solar system proportions!
It’s a quest which leads Terry to his soul mate, Kia, and discover some remarkable things about himself. He finds that he has special powers, which momentarily come to his aid during his showdown with the Pyewiz. But before this happens, Terry is cruelly forced by the Pyewiz to duel with his own twin brother Barry, who is confused about his true allegiances. After all, the Pyewiz had adopted and reared Barry as his own nephew, and fully expects him to take his side. Terry can see that Barry is the victim in all this who can be forgiven for defending his ‘uncle’. But Barry is in for a wake up call. And so is Terry when he discovers that he truly is an Indigo Child!
The Pyewiz and the Amazing Mobile Phone will be followed in the series “Tales From Across the Solar System” by the second book, The Pyewiz and the Sons of Terrafirma, which continues Will and Terry’s fight against one of the solar system’s worst foes!
Definition: according to the revised edition of the Book of Hours, The Pyewiz is,
a scoundrel, a devil, a demon, the worst possible person you could meet, a rotter, a crook, a liar, worst than Blackbeard, a trickster, a person not to be trusted, a rotten so-and-so, a manipulator, a drunkard, a no good cheating gambler, a dirty stopout, a person to be avoided, a man of extremely poor character, an advocate of corruption, a snake in the grass, unfair, someone who is ecomonical with the truth, self obsessed, a fruit cake, a loud mouth, authoritarian, spiritually bankrupt, bossy, a sod, and last by not least
a bit of a loveable rogue,
(o r so he reckons!)
Herbert Howard Jones was born in London in 1955, and has dabbled in the arts for as long as he can remember. He has held a number of jobs in different fields, including in illustration, and as a porter at the BBC.
He wrote the The Pyewiz and the Amazing Mobile Phone over a two year period, and based the main character on a tradesman he met who came to remove some rubbish.
The man reminded the author of a pirate, and had two helpmates with him called Terry and Will. These became the other two characters in the book which was written for young adults.
Jones other interests include art, and music and he is presently building a self-help health website, integrating techniques of self-hypnosis and herb supplementation.
You can visit his website at www.science-fiction-fantasy.com.