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Posts Tagged ‘3-Act Structure’

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I’m probably going to be stoned for saying this, but I hate the 3-Act structure, and sometimes wonder why we writers are so hooked on using it.

This doesn’t mean a writer is free to just type away without any structure in place, because they do… But, the 3-Act structure? Really?

Talk to any screenwriter and they will tell you how important the 3-Act (or sometimes 6-Act) structure is. Same goes for theatres, which is really where the 3-Act structure was born. However, doesn’t an ‘act’ just serve as a pre-commercial cliff-hanger? And seeing as novels don’t have commercials, do we really need to use the 3-Act structure? And I’m not alone in this reasoning. Raindance and James Bonnet agree.

Now, before you all start screaming that books have chapters, which kind of serves as a commercial break. I agree. Totally. One hundred per cent. Every chapter should end with some element of a hook to make your reader keep reading… So put down those torches. I don’t need to be burned at the stake just yet.

So before I find myself declared a witch, and tied to a piece of wood centre of a bonfire, let’s break this down.

Below is a graph of how the 3-Act structure is declared to work.

Picture1

ACT ONE = Set Up

This act serves as a platform for you to introduce your characters.

Normal World – This is where you set everything up.

Inciting Incident – Something has to happen that forces the protagonist to change their normal day-to-day routine. This is where the story starts. Now the protagonist has a goal.

Obstacle – The first obstacle (or plot point one) occurs and throws your protagonist into turmoil.

ACT TWO = Confrontation

Obstacle, Obstacle, Obstacle – Your protagonist will hit problem after problem, which inevitably stops them from reaching their goal, and gives them a fight on their hands.

Midway Point – Gives the illusion that the Protagonist is close to achieving their goal.

Darkest Moment – This is where everything goes wrong. The Protagonist is at their lowest point and is ready to throw in the towel. They can see no light at the end of the tunnel.

ACT THREE – Resolution

Big Bad Battle – The Protagonist comes back (sometimes from the dead), and ultimately has to fight the baddie for survival.

Climax – The Protagonist wins the battle, or if you’re in a Nicholas Sparks story, they die.

Conclusion – Things calm down, and normality ensues.

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Now, the reason I do not necessarily like all this 3-Act structure malarkey, is because it’s so damn confusing. The rules change depending on which website you read. Where one site adamantly spews that all your characters have to be introduced in Act One, and that the midway point actually means the lowest point; another site will report that Act Two is where you introduce the mentors and love interests, and the lowest point happens a smidgen before Act 3 begins. It’s enough to drive even the most sane writers crazy. One thing I have found that’s 90% consistent is the allowance for each Act. Act One, or the set up of you story, is usually given a quarter of your book. Act Two gets a whopping fifty per cent to fill with confrontation, and Act Three needs only a quarter to show the conclusion.

However, I DO agree that there is a formula to story writing. And I also agree that any ‘normal world’ belongs firmly at the beginning, and the conclusion’s place is most definitely at the end. That’s the way ‘life’ actually happens. The day begins like any other, then a dollop of a problem lands on your doorstep, which changes the course of your day, if only for an hour or so, and no matter how hard you try and overcome it, more problems pile up around it until you just feel like throwing in the towel. Ultimately, though, we always fight through, and win.

I’m not saying the 3-Act Structure doesn’t use this formula, because it does. I just find it too restricting, and any new writer looking to learn this craft, although getting a gist of the information, has one hell of task on their hands as the information out there is so conflicting – yes, I even found one that compares the structure to a shark.

My advice, for what it’s worth? Stick to the formula: Normal World, Inciting Incident, Obstacles, Start to win, Darkest Moment, Big Bad Battle, Climax, Conclusion, and you won’t go wrong.

So, what is the ‘traditional’ 3-Act structure you use, or do you have your own formula? Do you find the information on the website confusing? Maybe you have a site you find invaluable. Let me know below!

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plotting

You have an idea for a novel. It’s been floating around inside your head for months. It’s all you think about. You eat, sleep, and dream it. In fact, you feel like you’ve already lived it. Surely you must be ready to start writing, right?

Wrong.

Creating some two hundred plus pages of a story is no easy feat. Trust me, I know. My first novel went something like this: Get idea, open laptop, start typing. And what happened? I wrote myself into a corner on more than a couple of occasions. Sound familiar? Of course it does. That’s why, before any writing commences, we first have to plot.

I’ll be honest, I never used to be a believer of this method. And to back-up my argument, I always referred back to a Roald Dahl interview I saw (now decades ago), where he also admitted he never plotted. He just ‘kinda made it up’ as he went along. What better author to quote?

So, armed with just my laptop, off I set on my journey to write my first novel.

One thing I am a big believer in is that you have to learn my your mistakes… and boy, was this ever a learning curve for me.

Now, before I start to explain the art of plotting, let me make one thing clear. I am NOT dictating that this method is a one size fits all. As I said previously, Roald Dahl tells a different story, and if you Google ‘authors who don’t plot‘, you’ll find this quote:

“I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all of our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity or real creation aren’t compatible.” -Stephen King.

One thing I am certain about, though… For me, plotting was a life-changer.

What Is Plotting?

Plotting is your entire story from start to finish in ‘note’ form.

How Do I Plot?

There are many ways to plot your story. Some people bullet-point the entire story from beginning to end. Others split their plotting into the 3-Act structure. Regardless of the method you use, if done correctly the outcome for writing your novel should be, as Kristen Lamb puts it, like painting by numbers.”

For this post, I’ll go with how I plot.

Scenes within the 3-Act Structure

First, a quick explanation of what a 3-Act Structure is.

Act One – The Beginning Act Two – The Middle Act Three – The End

Simple, but for a more in-depth look at the 3-Act Structure, see Part Eight.

Okay, back to plotting. Now, although plotting and the 3-Act structure go hand-in-hand, we’re just going to concentrate on the plotting side of things for the time being.

First, I break each scene down into three parts that I like to call ‘Scene Structure’. These three parts involve the Character’s Goal, the Obstacle they have to overcome, and how they Resolve it.

Then, when actually plotting each scene, I work with a table. Within this table, I have four columns:

Column 1 – Chapter Number, Day, Time. Column 2 – Location, POV, Brief (Quick glance) Scene Outline. Column 3 – Scene Structure (Goal, Obstacle, Resolve). Column 4 – Scene Description.

Column 1 and 2 is purely for my own information as saves me from having to scroll back through my novel every time I need to check who did and said what, why, and when, etc.

Column 3 is my scene breakdown, which I explained less than a minute ago.

Column 4 is the all important description.

scene structure

The scenes within each Act should be as detailed as possible. Writing – *Girl works, *Girls gets attacked, *Girl survives, and *Girl is in danger, may do the job but it is the quick and lazy option and won’t help you much when the time comes to writing your novel. Instead, write in-depth scenes. Include character feelings, any dialogue you would like them to say, mannerisms – basically anything you don’t want to forget later on. By using this method, (or something similar), it enables you to easily change and alter earlier events if later events call for it, and vice-versa.

Plotting Mistakes

  • Research – With the wealth of information that is the internet, there is no excuse not to know what you are writing about. Good research equals a more realistic story.
  • Coincidences – Every character needs a valid reason to do what they do. Coincidences are convenient. Using ‘Just because’ is lazy and will annoy your reader and spoil your story.
  • Large Cast – Just as too many cooks spoil the broth, too many characters ruin the story. Asking your reader to remember every character and their cousin, from postman Pete (who appears once), to the little boy fishing by the stream, will confuse your reader and give them brain-ache. Cut those little darlings.
  • Plot Diversion – Don’t let your story drift off course and disappear into a one way street. Stick to the story. Ignore those road diversions.

So, are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you plot or do you fly by the seat of your pants? If you already plot, what kind of techniques do you use? Do you use in-depth tables and graphs, or do you bullet point simple points?

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