Words by Calasade

On Friday I wrote about taking a creative writing course at coursera. The course challenges students each week with a writing exercise. This week was covering a five-act model called ABDCE.

Should you be new to this, you’re probably wondering why the letters are out of order.

For good reason.

ABDCE stands for:

Action — What starts our story. Ideally, this grabs the reader’s attention. Some stories start out with the main character thinking about something or performing a passive action. Don’t do that. Have your character DO something. Doesn’t have to be a major something. Could be as little as pacing. Pacing denotes tension, so if you’re character is contemplating, show them first pacing or drumming their fingers, thighs, whatever.

Hopefully, they’re doing something bigger than that.

(Me, I’m kind of wishing I had started Impetus a wee-bit different, but hey, we all learn as we go.)

Background — The context for the action or what led to the current situation. Newbie writers should note that background and back-story are not the same thing. Background is what immediately applies to the situation. Back-story is last week’s garbage. Write it for your own understanding then cut that shit.

And keep the background short. Heck, it doesn’t even need to be specific. You can get away with alluding as to why the current situation exists. Remember that in cases like this less is definitely more. For instance, consider The Boy Who Jumped, the free story I posted as a supplement to this. The background for why our boy is on the barn-roof is limited to a sentence or so. Anything more in depth than what’s provided would be overkill and an informational dump.

Development — Where the meat of the story exists, it’s this area wherein the characters deal with obstacles that prevent them from getting whatever it is they wish to obtain, be it singular or plural and material or intangible. Throughout this the character develops and grows. Or not. Some are stubborn dolts.

Climax — All roads lead to this destination, the key narrative twist and biggest rising action. Not to confuse matters but in another five-act model, “C” stands for conflict, which is a subset of development. In that model “C” would supersede “D” and the climax play a part in the ending.

Ending — This is the place the reader usually discovers the characters have grown and become someone else through their experiences. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve read Harry Potter. A bow to J.K. Rowling. She’s a master at this.

Some examples include the character got what they wanted, but it came with unexpected consequences. Or perhaps the character did not get what they wanted and are left bitter and jaded…or feeling fortunate. Still, maybe they didn’t learn a damn thing.

Characters should be like real people. Fallible, living in the gray area. I would think at least in regards to tales intended for adults that we’ve gotten past the point of simplicity, of the proverbial angel with the white hat vs. the stereotypical demon wearing the black topper. My arcing point is the possibilities are endless, even when working within a model. Too, writing or reading tropes is BORING.

Been there, done that kind of thing, so to my fellow writers I say this:

Challenge yourself. Challenge the reader.

True, no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of an audience, particularly an American audience  (as countless books, movies, and games — The Witcher 3 in particular — prove), but then greatness was never reached by aspiring for mediocrity, not to mention —

Damn you, Focus, you nefarious pain in my ass, making me lose sight of why I write this post. Tempting me to go on a rant about how things are getting so dumbed-down, they insult anyone with the smallest modicum of intelligence.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. The example of what I was talking about. ABDCE. Check out my submission, The Boy Who Jumped, a little ditty I hope you enjoy, and see if you can spot the action, background, development, climax, and ending. Weekly assignments are limited to a word count, so the story is short and moves fast.


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