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.

Posted in Fiction

Story Organization

Organizing your story can be rather daunting if you’re new to it. Not knowing the various ways in which one can go about doing this will bring on this feeling. To feel confident about story organization, learn some tricks that other authors do, then choose one or two methods that suits your style.

What I do

I start by moving from general to specific. I do quite a bit of thinking and brainstorming by rolling around various what if scenarios in my head and write down a list as I go. Many of my ideas come from real life events from my past. When I started writing the Triunix of Time, I began with a story about a relationship. It was supposed to be about a man and a woman who started out as friends and ended up falling in love. A simple plot. Right? Ha!!! At first yes. Where it ended up years later wasn’t where I started from. There is some romance in there, yes. But, it was secondary to the main story, which was something else entirely. That’s the nature of writing a book. It’s going to change as you write it.

Once I pick a scenario I’m happy with, I come up with a one line premise. This one line will sum up what your whole story is about, yet it will do this in general terms. See the example below:

  • Tora is a headstrong, career driven woman who sets out to find the truth about her parents and discovers a family secret that goes back to the Magi.

The above example is the one line premise for my novel The Triunix of Time. Once I had this down (It didn’t start out perfect. I had to rework it a few times, and so will you with yours), I expanded it to include four more sentences. So now you are moving toward being a little more specific. Once you get your one five sentence paragraph that sums up your story, take each of those five sentences and turn each of them into a paragraph so you end up with a five paragraph synopsis of what your story is about. Keep expanding on this summary until you have a long synopsis (this length is up to you). This method will take some thought. You will end up changing things around along the way until you’re happy with it. That’s just how it goes. Have fun with it. Believe it or not, when you finish writing your novel, you will condense this long synopsis until you are able to use it on the back of your book when you publish it. Below is an example of the five sentence summary that expands from the one sentence premise above:

  • Tora arrives home after a long drive from Norfolk, Virginia. Soon, she discovers a journey she must take. At the onset of this journey she comes to the knowledge that there are secrets regarding herself and her family. Add to that, she, along with Kyle and John, must defeat the Black Mamba. But, this will not be easy. Tora is the Triunifier, so without her this mission cannot be accomplished. She gets her strength from Kyle and John. Soon they are racing against the clock and must obtain possession of the pieces of the Triunix. They accomplish this, but the Black Mamba tricks them and Tora (now Nadira) merges with him.

Notice that mine is a little more than five sentences. That’s okay. You get the point. This summary paragraph and every summary/synopsis you write must move your story progressively from the beginning of the story to the end.