Monday, December 29, 2008

Act III and the Controlling Idea

In the world of story, Act III is the biggie. Readers are willing to reserve judgment in Acts I & II, to some extent anyway, because they know Act III is still to come, and may (should) assuage their doubts and bring a satisfying resolution to their tension. But if the third Act doesn't deliver, the whole story collapses under the weight of its own ambiguity.

So I'm working on Act III of The Pearlsong Refounding trilogy. The third book. The biggie. And I've been treading carefully, looking deeply, studying the lay of the land (literally and figuratively). Who's going to die? Who's going to show their true colors at last? Who's going to surprise us all--me included?

And most important, what's the Controlling Idea for the story? In storyspeak, the Controlling Idea is a simple statement that captures the essential truth of a story. The Controlling Idea becomes a guide that shapes everything that happens (or fails to happen) in the narrative.

Some writers believe you can't discern exactly what the Controlling Idea is until after you've written the final climactic scene of Act III. That scene, they say, reveals it.

Maybe so.

But I have a pretty good sense of what the controlling idea is about, even if I don't yet know exactly what the final climax of the book will be. Here's a hint--but just a hint--wrapped up in these lyrics from Switchfoot that awaken something so deep in me I don't have words to name it.

Let the wars begin
Let my strength wear thin
Let my fingers crack
Let my world fall apart
Train the monkeys on my back to fight
Let it start tonight

--Switchfoot, "Let Your Love Be Strong"

Stay tuned...

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