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Mentoring a Realm Beyond My Own

Part Three: Theme, Story Line, and Three-Act Structure

Do you remember me stating previously that Nathan’s character and world sheets had vanished? Well they remain in the depth of some dump site, but Nathan was able to rewrite most of it. Unfortunately they are not as detailed as before, but he’s off to a good start. And he can always add as he goes which is the beauty of writing.


One day last November I got a bright idea. This is a rare occurrence these days, but it did happen. Nathan needed to read a book similar to his work in progress that showed a good example of another government or way of life as J.R.R Tolkien had in Lord of the Rings. Not necessarily with other worlds, but communities with unique governing rules. I came up with The Giver by Lois Lowry. Although he was willing to study this book and it was shorter than The Lord of the Rings, time was a factor. As anyone in the school system knows, a senior has little extra time to spare. Nathan is no exception. So to keep his workload light, I suggested watching the Hunger Games DVD.  I had watched this movie a couple of years ago with one of my sons and knew this would work because it boasts 12 Districts, each having its own set of rules based on a government of fear.

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One of Nathan’s teachers overheard our conversation realizing neither of us owned a copy of the Hunger Games DVD and piped up, announcing she had the Divergent DVD. I had no idea what a divergent entailed, but was game.  We watched the movie as I took copious notes and used the examples of their Factors and the Factors’ governing rules to compare with Nathan’s worlds.

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Each world has to have a ruler and its own laws or there is nothing but chaos, unless chaos is what the writer wants. In structuring a novel, chaos is not the ally, it’s the enemy.  So to help Nathan organize his novel and truly know the depths of his story, he will need to answer these questions in the New Year to enhance his characters and his worlds:

  • Character Values – What are the core truths for the character? Family? Respect? Honor?
  • Character Ambitions – What does the character most want in life?
  • Story Goal­­ – What one concrete thing does the character believe he needs to do or have or become in order to achieve his ambition?
  • What is the Theme? – Or what is the deep meaning of the book? For example: Nathan’s theme could be something like: Peace is worth fighting for. Nathan will have to come up with this when we meet again in January.
  • What is the StoryLine? – The answer to this question is what Nathan will take with him to sell his book to agents, editors, and readers. It is the crux of his novel. And needs to be twenty-five words or less! For example, The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien’s storyline reads: A hobbit learns that destroying his magic ring is the key to saving Middle Earth from the Dark Lord. Nineteen words!
  • What is the Three-act Structure? – The three-act structure is the same method screen writers use for movies. There is Act I which is the first quarter of the book, if a football game is the analogy, where the main characters are introduced and so is the first main conflict. Then comes Act II where the middle, or 2 and 3 quarter of a football game, or half of the story, and ends each quarter with an even worse disaster. Act III takes up the last quarter and includes the climax or resolution which answers the story question: Will the character succeed or not?

We have been working out of Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy. I heard of this book at a writer’s conference last March and it has been a valuable resource to flesh out my work in progress and assist Nathan with his.  I think all levels of writers will benefit from this book. I know we have. There are many great examples of technique to make writing and selling a novel a snap.

Until next time. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.
– Ernest Hemingway


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  1. Carmen, I know from sad experience how difficult it is to recapture thoughts. Once you’ve written them down, the brilliance never is quite the same. This young man is lucky to have you for a mentor.

    1. Carmen Peone says:

      Thank you, Mary! I am still devastated, but am hoping good comes of this. Happy New Year!