Questions About Content

by Victoria W.
(Chicago, IL)

Hello there,

First, let me say how glad I am that I've found your site. The information you offer has been so helpful, and (after a year of different stages of writers' block and general laziness) I'm happy to say I've completed my first chapter at a bit under 4500 words. Thank you very much! I've been writing since I knew what writing was, and I've almost always gotten good reviews. (In elementary, I wrote short stories for contests and often won prizes, and I always got high marks in English classes.) However, this is the first time I've taken on a full-length project of this sort and I've realized that I work best with some sort of feedback.

On to my question(s):
First, my book is broken into maybe 3 sections(4-5 chapters each). For now, I have 3 because the story takes place in a span of 3 years. The first year is basically an introduction, an "How I Began" section. The main character doesn't remember any part of her life before this year and it basically describes her building a new life and learning about the world around her. She knows no more about the world than the reader. But other than the amnesia, there really aren't many problems for her to deal with this first year. Everything is essentially rather perfect. Can I still make that interesting somehow?
Near the end of the first year, problems will begin to arise, but that won't be until the 3rd or 4th chapter.

Also, most of the book will be from her point of view, but there are events that will take place during that first year that she won't see, but the reader needs to. How can I incorporate those events? Like the antagonist, whom the MC doesn't know exists yet, has some stuff going on in that first year that directly affects the following two. I was thinking of temporarily switching pov to show that somewhere around the 4th or 5th chapter, before going into the 2nd year. Would that make sense or would that just confuse the reader?

I would also like to have her begin to remember things about her past...should chunks of that be made into chapters or should I somehow disperse that throughout the story? There isn't a ton to remember, but what she will remember is very important to her character...part of me wants to have it come out gradually, but I don't want it to seem like I'm forcing memories into places just to get them in there. What's a smooth way to incorporate memories into story/dialogue?

Thank you again for any help you can offer and all of the help you've already given on your site. I hope to hear from you soon.


Response: Thanks for the kind feedback.

It seems to me you have given your main character two big problems during the first act (assuming you are following a 3-act structure).

1. the problem of amnesia

2. the problem of the flashbacks (that is, I assume they are of significant events)

Plus, you have a 3rd key event: the actions of the antagonist.

In terms of dramatica, you can think a story in terms of four throughlines, one for ...

1. The Overall Story (involving most characters)
2. The Main Character
3. The Impact Character
4. The Relationship between the main and impact characters.

Act one in a 3-act structure will consist of the first big signpost event from each of these throughlines, plus all everything that leads up to the second signpost of each throughline (the second signposts will begin act 2).

So, from what you have told me, the first big event in the Main character's throughline concerns the amnesia and demonstrating her unique way of coping with it. This will establish who she is - so you can start pressuring her to change.

The antagonist's actions will probably include the first big signpost in the overall plot. This is where he gets the ball rolling in terms of his objectives.

That leaves two possibilities for the flashbacks. They could be memories that show the beginning of the Impact Character throughline - perhaps the main character's early encounters with the impact character in which the impact character demonstrates a different approach to tackling problems, setting up the inner conflict.

Alternatively, they could be memories that show the beginning of the relationship between these two characters, so that their relationship can be tested in act 2.

Of course this is conjecture. You may have something else in mind. (Another option would be for the memories to show the main character's original nature, in which case they might take up the major portion of the main character events in this act.) Either way, interspersing the memories throughout the act is probably better than doing a dump. You want to weave back and forth between the throughlines, building tension and creating suspense, until you're ready to start act 2 (the second year).

At any rate, my point is that the first act, like all the acts, should be about significant events. Anything not connected to these significant events, anything that has no bearing on the events of the second act, should probably be left out.

Make the problems begin in the first act. Otherwise, there's no point having it. Write no boring beginnings. Begin with events that are exciting or intriguing for the reader.

There's nothing wrong with changing POV if it would make no sense to have the main character witness the antagonist's actions - especially if the antagonist is also the impact character. Just be clear whenever you change points of view.

The big dilemma (for which there is no right answer) is which of the four throughlines to begin with. Starting with the overall story might mean starting in the antagonist's POV. It's typical of many prologues. Starting with the main character is more popular these days, but that's not a rule.

Best of luck.

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