The Three Act Structure
Like houses, stories also need a strong structure. Structure helps to shape our stories and make them stronger and more powerful. There are several different structures that you can follow and I will outline several of them for you over the next few weeks, starting with the Three Act Structure today. This is a popular structure first derived by Aristotle. It is commonly used in screenwriting as well as novels.
The Three Act Structure is divided into three parts called acts. The first act comprises the first quarter of your story. This is where you introduce your main characters, the story world, and story problem. Start with your hook immediately to draw your reader into your story. The inciting incident, which is the event that starts your conflict, occurs halfway into the act, followed by the turning point at the end of act one. Think the tornado that carries Dorothy to Oz.
The second act should be twice as long as the first act and is usually divided into two parts. This is where your rising action occurs and your protagonist begins dealing with obstacles set in place by the antagonist. A quarter into the second act there is the point of no return, a point where there is no going back for your protagonist. At the midpoint, there is a disaster that occurs. Think of Dorothy succumbing to the sleep-inducing poppies. However, the protagonist prevails and this leads to the False Sense of Security. It seems like all the problems will be solved and the day will be saved. That is until the final plot point of the second act where all seems to be lost. All hope is gone and there seems to be no way for the protagonist to win.
Act three is about the same length as act one. Here is where you have your climax and resolution. Everything is building up to the climax and the final confrontation between your protagonist and antagonist. They go head to head and tension is at its highest. After the climax, a quick resolution follows to tie up loose ends. Be careful not to drag this out too long.
That’s a basic overview of the Three Act Structure. Next week we’ll look at another story structure. Do you prefer the Three Act Structure? If so, why do you find it most successful? Comment below and, as always, happy writing!