I warn you from the start, there is no way I am going to be able to do this topic justice. I mean, Blake Snyder normally makes my brain explode but this particular insight of his was like instant spontaneous combustion. But I will try my best because I promised and I only break promises on Tuesdays.
In his book Save the Cat! STRIKES BACK, Snyder proposes a new way to look at the three act structure of a novel and that is what he calls the Transformation Machine. You really need to read his chapter on this topic, but it boils down to this:
Act 1: Thesis. This is the main character as they are NOW, when the novel begins. Their life isn’t perfect. Their world isn’t great. But they are who they are.
Act 2: Antithesis. This is the main character in the opposite world as seen in Act 1. For example, if the main character was unpopular, they are now popular. If they were attractive, they are now unattractive. The point is that the main character’s world has been rocked. The main character is unsettled. He doesn’t know how to live in this world.
Act 3: Synthesis. This is some combination of the worlds in Act 1 and Act 2. The world is now one the main character wants to live in and is comfortable living in. Using the above examples, maybe he is not really popular but is in the mid range of popularity.
I know what you’re thinking and it’s the same thing I thought when I first read this. So? Whatever? Does anyone have any cheesies? But think about it. REALLY think about it. When you’re done, come back and answer this: are you really rocking your main character’s world in Act 2 or are you just shaking it up a little?