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If on a winter's night a traveler

If on a winter's night a traveler

by Italo Calvino

Analysis: Three-Act Plot Analysis

For a three-act plot analysis, put on your screenwriter’s hat. Moviemakers know the formula well: at the end of Act One, the main character is drawn in completely to a conflict. During Act Two, she is farthest away from her goals. At the end of Act Three, the story is resolved.

Act I

You realize that "you" are the main character of this book (which is weird); then you go to the bookstore to look for If on a winter's night a traveler (which you are reading), and find out there's a problem with the book's printing. You go back to the store and meet an attractive young woman who has encountered the same problem. Now you're seduced both by the story you've started reading and by the woman, who just so happens to give you her phone number. Just tell us you didn't introduce yourself to her as Unnamed Reader.

Act II

You go through a series of adventures, finally deciding to visit the publisher who seems to be responsible for all the confusion around the books you've been reading. There, you encounter the letters of a man named Ermes Marana, a publishing prankster who seems dedicated to spreading the exact kind of confusion you've been suffering from. You also read the diary of a famous detective fiction writer, and before you know it, you're halfway around the globe and implicated in an international book conspiracy. In the meantime, your unfinished readings are piling up faster than English class homework.


You retreat to a library that is supposed to contain all of the books you've started reading. But you find out that the library can't locate any of them. How's that for service? A bunch of other readers start to wax poetic on the nature of reading, and you say you don't care about the stuff they're saying; you're just a regular dude who wants a clear story with a satisfying end. In this scene, you find out the true meaning of the titles of all your books and suddenly decide to marry Ludmilla. Then just like that, you're lying next to her in bed, and are finally able to finish If on a winter's night a traveler. Phew.

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