First, let me just wish everyone Happy Holidays. As the year winds down, I'm finding it more and more important to get a solid grasp on my next project, so as to be able to really make some headway into it in early 2009. When I met with my manager a few weeks ago, I pitched him four ideas I had, and we collectively settled on one as my next project. I've been working on it "in my head" (read: not actually writing) since then, and finally started putting those thoughts down in random order, usually in short bursts of a few cryptic sentences at a time.
The idea, which I won't give away, is a pretty big one. It's not what you would call conventional, per se. There's a lot going on and a major shift in focus and a real whammy of a twist at the end of Act One. For that reason especially, it's been a little tough figuring out where the act breaks should come into play. Now don't get me wrong, a lot of writers successfully work outside the confines of three-act structure. The sequence method - I don't know a whole lot about this approach, but in short, it involves breaking your script into eight sections, each of which is treated as a short three-act sequence, with two sections being in acts one and three and four in act two - seems to be gaining in popularity. But the truth of it is that I haven't tried sequencing yet, and three-act structure is both familiar to me and something that works. If I can make the script work in that context, I'm going to try that first.
Have you ever had an idea that you realize is pretty convoluted and difficult, yet at the same time, you can step back from it and see it as a really basic, simple idea? That's sort of where I am now. (I know I just said it was big and with a major twist, but if i can just figure out how to incorporate them, the rest ought to fall into place very quickly.) My approach has usually been to find my "tent pole scenes," the scenes that hold up the script. There are five of these: the inciting incident on page 10, the twist or push at the end of Act One, the midpoint of act two when the protagonist is either encouraged or beaten down, the end of Act Two that catapults us toward the end, and the final climax/resolution.
I've always found the writing to come easiest when I can nail down those five scenes. From that point on, the outlining and writing is sort of like taking a road trip. You know where you're starting and what landmarks you have to hit along the way. How you choose to go from A to B in between those five sites is up to you, and ultimately one route will prevail above all the others. (Unless, of course, you decide that those five sites do not make sense to go to, and you redraw the map completely.) My big goal for the next few days is to mark those five scenes down on my outline (map). If I can get the story to fit in there, I'll be good as gravy. Smooth driving ahead.
Do you use the Five Tent Pole Scene Approach?