Shadows by Gaslight
Present the “normal world” of your novel—before everything goes haywire.
The end of Act I should be a “point of no return.” Usually something is taken away from your protagonist, and they can never go back to the way things were.
They have no choice but to continue into Act II.
In the beginning of Act II, we get to explore the “new world” of the story. We meet its characters, as the hero is put through greater and greater challenges, until…
Something drastic happens, to change the course of the hero’s journey. Where before things felt like “rising action”, now it feels like “spiraling out of control”. The challenges seem insurmountable, and the hero is beat down, again and again.
The resolution of the story and its subplots. The climax is the scene or sequence in which the main tensions of the story are brought to their most intense point and the dramatic question answered, leaving the protagonist and other characters with a new sense of who they really are.
If you had to choose a short scene to establish what “the world” is like before your story starts, this is it.
Make it stand out, because first impressions matter. They set the tone and mood and scope, and hook the audience (or reader).
If it’s a vast epic, the opening image should be grand. If it’s a small intricate family drama, the opening images are small and subdued.
It might not be clear at first, but your story should have a theme.
Make sure you’ve mentioned it by the time you are ~2300 words in.
You can think of the theme as an argument, that the rest of the movie has to prove.
Remember that a theme is there to guide you as a story writer, and provide a strong undercurrent to your story. It’s not a restriction, it’s a fountain for your imagination. If you ever get stuck, go back to your theme and you will find your answer there.
By the first 4500 words (or 5500 at most), you need to have set up your story.
If you think of your story as a cannon shot, by page 4500 the cannon needs to be loaded, aimed, and ready to be fired.
Again, with the cannon analogy: Your cannon is aimed in words 1-4500, it needs to actually fire by word count 5500.
Here again, the size and scope of the catalyst event must match the size of your story. If it’s a small drama, it could be a phone call announcing a death in the family, or it could be a breakup.
If it’s a sprawling epic, it should be something grander. The outbreak of war, or the destruction of a planet.
If your hero starts moving towards his goal immediately, it’ll seem as though he’s just reacting to what happens around him.
No one wants to see a hero react, they want to see him or her act.
That’s what the debate section is for. This is where the hero shows that he/she knows that it’ll be a long road, but consciously decides to act.
Once the hero decides to act, it’s time to step through a membrane, and enter the world of Act II.
For example, in Star Wars, the catalyst is Luke’s parents being killed, but the Act II event occurs when they board Han’s ship, and the journey begins.
The reader has been through a lot of turmoil to get to this point. Introduce a secondary story to give them a rest.
This B story usually involves a romance, or a new friendship, or some other relationship with a character from the “new world” of Act II.
It also serves two useful tools for you as a writer:
This is where the B Story starts, but it runs throughout the rest of the movie.
This is where you get to have fun (yes, even in a serious drama).
With your logline, you asked a question: “What would happen if __?”
This is where you answer that question.
You’ve set up your story, your characters, and propelled them along in their journey. This is where you get to explore what happens.
If there was a teaser for your movie, most scenes will come from this section.
Your cannonball has reached it’s peak. The fun and games are over. There’s no better way to put this, than: “Shit just got serious!”
The midpoint is where the stakes are raised.
If people are to die in your story, this is where the first character dies. If it’s a smaller drama, a bombshell is dropped here.
Something important has to happen at the midpoint.
Things get progressively worse… the challenges are getting harder, while the hero is getting more downtrodden.
Don’t hold back, or feel sorry for your hero. Give ‘em hell.
.. until it seems there’s no hope. This is the darkest part of the screenplay, where the hero realizes how bad things are. If there’s no death in your story, you might give a “whiff of death” here (even in comedies).
How does your character feel about the darkness around him/her?
Even if it’s brief, this moment is critical. The hero is not only beaten, but he/she knows it. Your hero must admit defeat, and must learn humility.
Only then can your hero…
Find the solution!
Because of everything that’s happened so far, and with the help of B story characters, the hero finds his last best effort to find a solution.
The idea for the solution is at hand.
Wrap it up.
The climax must be the result of the entire chain of events leading up to this point. A chain that should be linked by the words “therefore” or “but”… it’s not enough for Y to follow X, Y must happen because of X.
Your climax is the result of
Dispatch all the bad guys (literal or figurative), in ascending order. At the end, a new world is born.
Not only must the hero suceed, but he/she must change the world.
The opening image is your “before” shot, this is the “after”.
The world must have changed, and the difference between the opening image and the closing is the proof of this change.
Sweeping overview of the continent, focusing down on Viletta, Jehenna and the Eastern mountains before into Marina’s palace dinner fiasco, triggered when she is handed a bauble to open by an ambassador she doesn’t recognise - it’s The Vagabond.
Anyone can be a hero
By this point, Marina, Jared and The Don will be outside Jehenna ready to rendezvous with the Sumersworn
Viletta declares war on Jehenna, Marina declared a Witch, the Don declared missing, hoped dead. Jared urges them to go to the Summersworn to fight the Lich.
Marina wants to go back into Jehenna to rescue her parents, and no-one is on board with this. She sneaks off and tries to make her way back into the city, the others have to go and rescue her. Her parents have been taken hostage by Balthazar (High Inquisitor) and interrogated over her whereabouts. Jared promises her that the Inquisition will pay for this, but they need the help of the Summersworn, attempts to sneak out of Jehenna prove difficult, so they run all guns blazing at the docks, board an airship and leave, pursued by Jehennans on foot.
Fleeing briefly into death, Marina and company sail quietly away into the beyond in search of the Summersworn, the Lich, the Wyldfae etc.
Child fails his manhood test (maybe he does this earlier) and is forcibly expelled from his tribe.
Marina and company travel to the Summersworn and meet him in the Northern Forests. He tells them that the Lich is attempting to be free once more, and that he will succeed unless MAGUFFIN is brought to him. He’s interested in theparty that brought the Necromancer maguffin to Marina in the embassy.
The Don reveals his history to Marina.