Top 10 Insights into a Story's Three Act Structure
by Samantha Stone

The three-act structure for writing a story has been around since Plato's time and has been used successfully to create every story format from short stories to epic screenplays. With a few minor shifts, it can work for any genre and length of storytelling.

The basics of this structure are the events leading up to the problem, the character's reaction and how they go about solving that problem, followed by the goal or solution being reached or failure to do so.

Sounds simple, right? Good, because since this formula works and every other writer is also using it, your execution of this three-act base is what will set your storytelling – and story – apart from the others.

To use this three-act base to write your unique, compelling story, keep these top 10 insights in mind for your individual storyline needs.

1. Set-Up and Establishing Scenes

Just as a director sets a scene for a movie, you must establish your story's location and time. Within the first few paragraphs, let the reader know where they are, what time era they're in, and who is in the scene. Time of day and season may be necessary, too.

2. Who Are the Characters?

Your protagonist should be introduced early. Depending on your story, other characters may need to be here, too, but don't throw too many in too early. Show the characters needed; the rest can wait in the wings until their moments come.

3. Show Life

The first act should include a little of how life transpires before the action starts. Take the character and reader through a typical day or event. You may want to establish a norm of a few days for your protagonist so the reader will note the changes your plot throws in later.

4. Inciting Incident

This is the start of the action, the jumping-off point. This should spark your protagonist into action. They can resist or be reluctant, but they must act or react.

5. Rising Action

The second act is a series of obstacles, trials, and failures that propel your protagonist along the storyline. The events should be of increasing importance or consequence.

6. Halfway Point Setback

Now that your protagonist is underway and surmounting the hurdles your plot throws at them, it's time to disturb that progress. Movies have a 60-minute twist (you can time this; watch a movie and time the plot thickens moment). Likewise, your story should have a midway setback that raises the stakes. This should hinder but not halt your hero's progress.

7. Final Confrontation

This is the climax that the story has been building toward, the moment of truth, the ultimate altercation. Even in a romance, this must be the moment that the goal is realized or lost, the protagonist wins or loses. This is the big scene, so it should get its justice. Let your passion show for the story here and sweep the reader into the moment.

8. Resolution

Everything after the final climax should not introduce any new problems or complications. This can begin the wrapping up and closure. The big scene is over, but there are still questions to answer.

9. Denouement

In quests, this is the trek home, the tying of loose ends, the goodbyes. Not everything needs to be tied-up nicely with a pat ending, but it should have a feeling of satisfaction. This is where you as a writer want the reader to wish there was more story to read; don't give in to the temptation to write beyond the ending. Just let it end.

10. Selling the Next One

If you've written a series of novels, these last few chapters are where you sell your next book to the reader. You must leave them fascinated, wondering, and yet still satisfied enough to get them to read more of the storyline. Tease, but don't taunt. If this is a stand-alone novel, sell yourself to the reader. Make them want to read more of your work and wanting more of your imagination.

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