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Complications Ensue:
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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Q. I didn't start my B-story until the top of the second act in my spec, and I'm curious what your thoughts are on just how late you can start the B-story.
The standard is that something happens in every act in every story. Usually more things happen in the A story, fewer in the B, fewest in the C; but you have to serve each story in each act.

So by that standard: top of the second act is too late to start a B story. There may be counterexamples out there, but it's not going to make you look good if you do it. The point of a spec is to show you can work creatively within the form, not that you can get away with breaking it. And while with enough genius and time, you might be able to start a story successfully in the second act, on staff you are not going to be able to do that reliably when you have only week to beat the thing out.


Thanks for the answer, I appreciate it. This situation just burns me up, because having to start the B thread earlier is going to push my first act from 14.5 pages to 18.5. All thats happened is I've substituted one problem with another, and it *reads* so well just the way it is.

Being a greenhorn sucks.

By Blogger Paul William Tenny, at 2:51 PM  

As I mentioned on your blog just now: if you don't want to mess with your structure, try to just "tease" the B story in Act One. Maybe you can split your first B story scene in two and put one half in the first Act. That's better than an over-long Act One, especially one that goes out on the B.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 2:57 PM  

Interesting, I never thought of doing that way. Splitting up the B story "beginning" would be tough the way it's written though -- over a four page span the intensity builds from minor mystery to apprehension to tense action, and concludes all in its own little container, and I'd hate to lose the moment unless I could come *right* back to it quickly. (I'd hate to, but I am not beyond just putting it aside altogether.)

Creating a new short scene that teases it sounds very attractive, but the finite amount of space just slays me. In my first spec, I tried very hard to limit each act to about 11 pages. Then right before I set about working on this new one, Bryce Zabel published a couple of his scripts from produced episodes of Dark Skies, and I saw the act lengths ranging anywhere from 9-14.5 pages. It came out to about 55 pages total I think, so I could see how you could give yourself a little wiggle room if you needed it. I was so thrilled when I landed exactly on 14.5 as a natural consequence of the story, only now to find it's actually over loaded.

I might be best served by cutting out an entire scene from act 1 to make room for this, rather than cutting and trimming little things here and there to try to shorten it. That would at the very least preserve my act out, which I loathe trying moving around, but man it feels like it would just eat the soul out of that act. It's just so pristine, moving from scene to scene, each building on the last, revealing bits of information, questions creating questions, deceit, risk taking, *real* humanistic dialog...I wonder if the reason I don't want to change it is because I'm too in love with it to see that while it may be "pretty", it's dysfunctional.

I was so enthralled by how fast and solid that first act was written (3-4 hours for 14 pages) that it just never occurred to me to slow down for this.

Thanks again for the suggestions, both here and on my site. It's a bit of a kick to see a comment from you over there.

By Blogger Paul William Tenny, at 2:01 AM  

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