Posted in Writing

Story Structure in Three Acts

In an earlier post entitled Story Organization, I touched on ways I come up with story ideas and once I am satisfied with one I like, I create the story moving from general to specifics using a one line premise and expanding on that until I have a five paragraph summary of my story. In this post I’m going to open things up a bit and introduce the three act story structure. Every novel and movie is structured this way. When I learned this method, it opened my eyes to the skeletal aspects of the story itself, and I never looked at a story in a novel or a movie quite the same way again. I can’t help but notice the transitions from one act to the next. The three act structural pattern below is what I used to write my novel. Yours might be different depending on how many scenes/chapters you have and the different types of scenes you have (action/reaction).

Act I Part 1

The Setup (Backstory)
*Create stakes, backstory, and character empathy
Reaction Scene
Reaction Scene
Create Empathy Scene
First plot point (point of no return/inciting incident)
Add however many scenes you need

Act II Part 2 (Response)

Reaction to First Plot Point
Reaction to First Plot Point
Regroup and retreat
Regroup and retreat/weighs options
Doomed attempt to take action
Setup of pinch point
Pinch point
Response to pinch point
Response to pinch point
Leading up to midpoint scene
Leading up to midpoint scene
Leading up to midpoint scene

Act two is the response. Here your main character isn’t winning. They are trying everything they can to win but they keep coming up short. Here the reader is wondering when the main character is finally going to overcome the bad guy. Feel free to insert problems and obstacles here. Yes, this is a great part of the story to show your main character’s fear(s). Trial and error run a muck in this part.

Act II Part 3 (The Attack)

Midpoint scene
Plan of action
Action scene
Action scene
Action scene
Setup of 2nd pinch point
2nd pinch point
Reaction to 2nd pinch point
Action scene
Action scene
Leading up to 2nd Plot Point
Leading up to 2nd Plot Point

Okay, act two part three is the attack. Somewhere at the end of act two part two and act two part three your main character becomes fearless. What occurred in the story to allow this change in character. Make this believable or you risk losing your readers. In this part of the story your main character starts winning.

The combined nature of act two is to create that rising action that moves to a resolution. You need to create that climax by building tension. Keep in mind the character arc (growth) for your main character (That’s another blog post for a later time).

Act III Part 4 (Resolution)

Do not add new information
2nd Plot Point
Action scene
Action scene
Action scene
Resolution

Also, bear in mind that there are other characters helping your main character obtain his/her goals. In the end your main character, and others in the story as well, have a new sense of themselves. The inner growth they accomplished throughout the story has made them stronger, more confident. They now have a sense that they are able to accomplish anything. I’ll touch on character growth in a later post. For now, I hope the above outline gives you some direction of how to structure your story. Happy writing.

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