The Three Act Structure

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Whether it’s a novel or a memoir, one of the most important things a writer needs to understand is the ‘three act structure’. In fact, most structure related mistakes can be avoided by knowing and adhering to these three simple stages. Editor Jessica Morrell tackles the three act structure in her book ‘Thanks but this isn’t for us’.

“It’s really fairly simple,” Jessica starts. “A story needs a beginning, a middle and an end. The three acts are the setup, complications and the resolution. While there are no set number of pages that define each act… about one one-quarter of the story is act one, act two requires about half the pages, and act three about one-quarter of the pages.”

Act 1: The beginning

“The first act has a lot to accomplish,” states Jessica. “It introduces the world of your story, it must hook readers, and it begins the external conflict.” Taking up roughly the first third of the story, act one introduces the ‘inciting incident’ which is an event (generally for worse) that throws the protagonist off kilter. This act ends when the protagonist accepts the challenge.

Act 2: The middle/body

“The middle of the story is not a transition between the opening and ending,” states Jessica. “It is the heart of the story where the most complications take place and it creates anticipation for the climax.” Act 2 delves deeper into the story world. Things get harder for the protagonist as they find themselves continuously ‘tested’ by the story’s conflict. Stakes rise as does the protagonist’s motivation to accomplish the end goal. “This act ends with a crisis that plunges the protagonist into the ‘Dark Night if the Soul’” states Jessica. It’s a dire situation from which there is no turning back.

Act 3: The End

“After your protagonist has survived the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, he must face the biggest obstacle,” states Jessica. “He must win the race, chase down the criminal, or confront the villain. This is where your protagonist ventures into the deepest, darkest, most dangerous place where he would rather not go.” This is where the final showdown happens – whether the protagonist is faced with death or the loss of their one true love or stopping the bomb that is set to go off in twenty seconds. It is always the part of the story where everything the protagonist has gone through previously has logically led to this point. You can also slip in an unexpected twist that the reader didn’t see coming if you like. “The ending (also) answers story problems or questions and ties up most of the subplots if they haven’t been resolved previously, along with any loose ends.”

And that’s it! The three act structure is a simple concept, but one worth knowing as it actually does make a big difference on your writing.

Happy writing!



Source: Thanks but this isn’t for us by Jessica Morrell.


3 thoughts on “The Three Act Structure

  1. Pingback: The Hero’s Journey | Writers in the Mist

  2. Pingback: Interested in a Free Revision Workshop? | COW PASTURE CHRONICLES

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