Each of us who’ve studied our craft knows that cornerstone of writing wisdom: the Three Act Structure. Beginning, middle and end; introduce characters; present the problem; bring about the solution. All great stories from the Iliad to The Shining exhibit this tri-part structure. Clearly it’s a natural, almost organic, approach that speaks to our whole species. With every manuscript I edit I am mindful of the tri-part structure so why do I sometimes feel it’s a bit like paint by numbers? Does life work in three acts?
I’d just had one of those Slice of Life moments and started an email to share it with a friend. It was as I started to compose the narrative that those two questions came top of mind. I began at the beginning.
It all starts when my mouse crapped out just as I’m nearly finished with a manuscript due that day. I can deal with the little wheel freezing, but not with the loss of that critical left click. I rush to the nearest Staples. It’s still early and the parking lot is mostly empty. I have no idea what compelled me to pull nose to nose with the only other vehicle in front of the store, but that’s what I did.
I get out of my car and a sharp flash dazzles me. That’s weird. What in a deserted asphalt lot could sparkle like that? I pause to study the car I’d nosed up to. An old Toyota, faded and none too clean. Non-descript brown paint that hasn’t seen wax anytime this decade. Several dents and dings. The windows are dull with a layer of dust – all except the windshield. This is polished to a high shine. I peer closer. The frantic rush for a new mouse fades.
Every inch of the deep dash is covered in a mash up of paper; tax forms overlap insurance forms, spreadsheets fan out over hand written notes, an article torn from a magazine lays atop the Dear Sir of business correspondence, a shopping list peeks out from under the dog-eared sheets of some report. A fresh to-do list, in lurid purple ink, covers one arm of a carelessly discarded tiara, the rhinestones sparkling merrily in the morning sun. Propped at a furious angle on the slope of the steering wheel lay another tiara as though it had been tossed down on the papers in a fit pique. And there, on the passenger side, sat a third bejeweled diadem.
I step closer. I smile. Then I laugh. I’d parked nose to nose with The Very Busy Princess. Whose car is this? I want to shake hands with the woman (I know it’s a woman) who created this tableau with more narratives than GWTW. I want to say thanks. The day no longer feels so chaotic.
I am the only customer in Staples – she’s not here – and I have that deadline so clutching my new mouse I rush back to find my car alone in the parking lot. The story is over.
Is this a story in three acts? Subconsciously I’d veered that way and I could make a case that yes, there is a beginning a middle and an end. Introduce character: me – check. Present problem: where is reflection coming from – check. Bring about solution: the rhinestones – check. I’ve got three acts but it’s not very compelling. There isn’t a resolution – a payoff maybe, because the Busy Princess car made me happy. Then I realized that while the three Act Structure is essential to good story telling it isn’t a useful approach to creating a story.
Thinking about the incident led to creating scenarios around the car, the message, the artist. Any genre came to mind: Steam Punk, such travelling tableaux are the mark of an underground society and this artist is fleeing the robot guards of the Imperial League of Order. Fantasy: she is a fairy queen who has cast aside her crown and the red tape of court to pursue her hockey star lover – but will she accept immortality? Thriller: a young girl is kidnapped by a neurotic accountant and leaves his gifts to her in plain sight as a trail of crumbs for her rescuers.
Create any such story and then divide the action into as many parts as you need for a good arc and structure the narrative with a beginning a middle and an end and you’ve got a sound story. The three-act structure isn’t the driver for story creation – in fact it’s counterproductive – but it’s the ideal structure to hang that story on.
With a BA in Anthropology and English I pursued a career in advertising and writing and segued into developmental editing. It was a great choice for me. I love the process of creating and am privileged to be part of that process for so many great voices — voices both seasoned and new.
I’ve worked on nearly 400 books over 20 years, books by noted authors published by New York houses including Penguin, Kensington, Pentacle and Zebra as well as with Indie bestsellers and Amazon dynamos. From Air Force manuals and marketing materials to memoirs, thrillers, sci fi and romance, my services range from copyediting to developmental coaching.
Having worked in advertising and marketing, I am always cognizant of the marketplace in which the author’s work will be seen. I coach for content and style with that knowledge in mind in order to maximize sales and/or educational potential. My objective is to help the author’s material stand out from an ever more crowded and competitive field.
Sometimes I wish for a fleshy toggle switch just to concentrate. A switch to turn on the, “What ifs,” or off to allow me to listen to a conversation without having a character make a sidebar comment, with a dimmer to shut out the annoying static from everyday life. On the other hand, where would a writer be without those voices banging around, attempting to push a story out of them?
Most writers I know have characters talking to them. Not just giving an occasional shout, but full arguments that can shove a manuscript into unplotted waters. What would happen if they went silent? I shudder the thought.
My characters made themselves present in those geeky years attending a new high school, trying to fit into any group, but not. Of course, telling anyone about them could have brought dire consequences. Someone would have had me committed to a padded cell on the sunny side of a psych ward, so the thoughts went into a journal. The voices got louder, I listened, my writing voice strengthened, and those ideas became plots.
From where did these constant distractions come, and why me? Isn’t there enough going on in my life for one of me knocking around in my mind? Oh my gosh…my characters just gasped collectively.
I smile before giving a mental nudge. “Hey, just kidding guys.”
Although I still wish for a fleshy toggle switch, I cannot imagine a life without writing or my constant companions pushing my boundaries by asking, “What if.”
Have a creative New Year, and as always, Happy Writing,
I’m thrilled to be the Featured Author this month, and thought I’d use my regular monthly post to share some of my Historical Romance backlist. Warning: Blatant self-promotion.
My first published historical romance, Rogue’s Hostage, starts in Western Pennsylvania where I grew up, and ends in old Quebec, a favorite destination I traveled to with my DH. It’s also my first historical romance novel, the one that wouldn’t leave me until I’d finally sold it. It took me three years to research and write the book, and nine years to sell it. But Jacques and Mara just would not let me rest until their book saw the light of day! Fortunately, I sold it to Amber Quill Press in 2002. It garnered 4 1/2 Stars plus a Top Pick in Romantic Times and was nominated for a Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best Small Press Romance, 2003, as well as taking second place in the Historical Category of the 2002 Lories Contest. I reissued it in 2013.
In 1758 the Pennsylvania frontier is wild, primitive and dangerous, where safety often lies at the end of a gun. Mara Dupré’s life crumbles when a French and Indian war party attacks her cabin, kills her husband, and takes her captive. Marching through the wilderness strengthens her resolve to flee, but she doesn’t count on her captor teaching her the meaning of courage and the tempting call of desire.
French lieutenant Jacques Corbeau’s desire for his captive threatens what little honor he has left. But when Mara desperately offers herself to him in exchange for her freedom, he finds the strength to refuse and reclaims his lost self-respect. As the shadows of his past catch up to him, Jacques realizes that Mara, despite the odds, is the one true key to reclaiming his soul and banishing his past misdeeds forever.
Rogue’s Hostage is availabe from
Lady Elinor Ashworth always longed for adventure, but when she runs away from her abusive aunt, she finds more than she bargained for. Elinor fears her aunt who is irrational and dangerous, threatening Elinor and anyone she associates with. When she encounters an inquisitive gentleman, she accepts his help, but fearing for his safety, hides her identity by pretending to be a seamstress. She resists his every attempt to draw her out, all the while fighting her attraction to him.
There are too many women in barrister Stephen Chaplin’s life, but he has never been able to turn his back on a damsel in distress. The younger son of a baronet is a ‘rescuer’ of troubled females, an unusual vocation fueled guilt over his failure to save the woman he loved from her brutal husband. He cannot help falling in love with his secretive seamstress, but to his dismay, the truth of her background reveals Stephen as the ineligible party.
I love the Regency subgenre, but for the longest time thought I couldn’t summon the voice. When I discovered that I could do so, I happily wrote a reverse Cinderella story set in one of my favorite cities in the whole world: London. In 2003, and again in 2015, I had the opportunity to visit London and see some of the places where Lady Elinor and her hero Stephen Chaplin lived and loved. I’m hoping to add some sequels to Elinor and Stephen’s story, though when I’ll find the time, I do not know!
Lady Elinor’s Escape is available from
And writing as Lyndi Lamont:
How To Woo… A Reluctant Bride, Steamy Victorian Romance.
A marriage contract, nothing more…until darkly handsome Evan Channing and demure Lydia Blatchford meet. Yet the rules are simple for an arrangement such as theirs. There should be no misunderstanding, no illusions of anything more. But the rules are about to change…
Lydia wants the kind of love and romance she reads about in books. Fortunately, she hasn’t specified which book, and Evan has a copy of Richard Burton’s new translation of the Kama Sutra, with its ancient wisdom on love and courtship. He sets out to win his high-born bride, blending seductive promises with exotic lessons in love-making.
Lydia is prepared to tolerate this man she’s been sold to, but his scorching kisses send her pulses racing. Can an arranged marriage lead to love?
Disclaimer: This is a short 30 page romantic short story with bonus material** It is not a full-length novel. Contains scenes of Victorians breaking society’s rules, marital sex and ancient wisdom from the Kama Sutra.
How To Woo… A Reluctant Bride, is part of the USA Today Bestselling Romance Super Bundle II: Second Chances bundle, which allows me to make the claim of being a USAT bestselling author. (I said there would be blatant self-promotion.) Available from
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