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Part Two: Structural Analysis

Part One: Story Analysis | Part Two: Structural Analysis | Part Three: Style Analysis | The Opening

2010 © by Robert J Ray and Jack Remick

How to Read like a Writer: Part Two

Acts: Does the novel have three acts? Four acts? Five? What is an act? Acts are made up of Scenes. Scenes themselves have Structure. (see scene structure)

  1. First Encounter: In which act does the protagonist meet the antagonist? Where does the sleuth meet the killer? Where does Lover A meet Lover B?
  2. Page One and After: What’s the hook in the opening scene? The hook is what makes the reader want to know more. Name the objects in the opening scene.
  3. Plot Point One: What happens at the end of Act One to Open Act Two? What is the object in Act One that follows into Act Two and beyond?
  4. Midpoint: Is there a scene sequence at Midpoint? Can you name the scenes? What are the recurring objects at the midpoint?
  5. Plot Point Two: What action or series of actions ends Act Two? What are the recurring objects?
  6. Climax: Who clashes at the climax? Who triumphs? What are the recurring objects?
  7. End: Which characters are left at the end? What are their fates? What object makes it to the end?
  8. Subplots: Where does Subplot One start? Where does it end? What is the fate of the antagonist? What is the antagonist’s core story? Answer the same questions for Subplots Two and Three: entry, exit, fate, and core story. Suggestion: for tracking the arcs of two or more subplots, use a diagram.
  9. Secret: Which character has the big secret? What is it? Who knows the secret besides this clever character? (Example: The secret in Jane Eyre is Rochester’s crazy wife locked in the tower. Jane doesn’t know. But these characters do – Rochester, wife Bertha, Mrs. Fairfax, Grace Poole, Bertha’s brother Richard.
  10. Subtext: to identify subtext, think biology and sexual selection. Who loves whom? Who wants whom dead? Who’s pregnant? Who’s the father? For clues to subtext, study pages 36-37 in The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel.
  11. Flashback: How many flashbacks? Where is the first flashback – Act One, Act Two, or Act Three? How short is the shortest flashback? How long is the longest flashback? How much of the novel is told in flashback? (Example: Over half of The English Patient is told in flashbacks? In All the King’s Men, there are three long journeys into the past – and the dirt brought back from the past destroys characters in the present.) Hint: make your flashbacks count.
  12. Closed Circle and Intruder: A three-character scene pits two characters against one. The writer gets instant drama by cramming an intruder (Character C) into the closed circle already occupied by Characters A and B. When Jane Eyre penetrates the closed circle of Thornfield Hall, she intrudes on Rochester and his crazy wife by giving him the option of Queen Replacement: he can swap mad Bertha for sane Jane. The result: blood and fire, Thornfield burns, Rochester gets blinded. Drama.
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