May 15, 2016
3 Act Structure for Beginners
You may have heard writers talk about three act structure or read about it in a book. Did it confuse you? It's really quite simple, despite what some people might say. I'm going to break it down for you and walk you through using it.
Three act structure, which I will abbreviate to TAS for this post, is the basic form of your novel. Each act correspond with the three parts of your novel- the beginning, the middle, and the end. They all include things that need to happen in it to move the story along.
TAS is vital to a well structured novel. It's also very simple to add to your story. Without it, unless you know what you're doing, you're story will end up a muddled mess.
The first part is called, obviously, act one, and corresponds with the beginning of your novel. It sets up your whole story. In act one you need to introduce the protagonist and antagonist, most of the main characters, the setting, and the problem. It includes the hook and the inciting incident.
Act two is your middle, and the biggest part. Most of the action happens in the middle, but it also must help build towards the end. The middle is where most writers have problems because you know how the story starts and ends, but face it, you don't know so much how it will get between the two. Act two most often includes the protagonist hitting they're lowest point. It's full of problems for the hero that make the goal harder to achieve.
The end is act three. Everything comes to a head and is wrapped up, sometimes nicely sometimes not. The climax is in act three; the major battle between the hero and the villain. Make sure it's a good one that satisfies your readers. It also has the conclusion.
Now that you know all this, pick up some of you're favorite books or movies and see if you can identify TAS in it. I'll use The Lightning Thief as an example (warning, spoilers for anyone who hasn't read the book).
The hook happens on page one, as Percy warns you about being a demigod and exciting questions. The inciting incident is when Mrs. Dodds attacks him. Act one ends as they prepare to start their quest. Act two is basically their quest, which is what you'll find in a lot of heroic quest stories. The climax comes as Percy races to return the lightning bolt before his time runs out. Then the wrap up can begin.
Using Three Act Structure
Now for the important part. Applying what you've learned to your novel. Get out your story notes, a pencil, and some paper and let's get started.
First, identify your story's beginning, middle, and end. What happens at each of those points? Then add a point partway between the beginning and the middle and the middle and the end. So you now have five points- the hook, or beginning, the inciting incident, the mid point, the forth point, where the hero is at their lowest, and the climax.
Next, write your outline. If it helps, write out each act, so you can make sure you have it all. Or if you're not an outline person, you can go with just the plot points.
If you were to draw this structure as a line, the line would start out straight and start to go up. Then it would really start to climb, which is called the rising action. The top of your mountain is the climax. Then it starts to go back down until you reach the resolution.
I hope this helps you in your writing process. Is there something you didn't understand, or want more help with? Let me know in the comments.