• Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us!

Storytelling: Three Act Structure, and How it Works! (Act One)

Storytelling: Three Act Structure, and How it Works! (Act One)

Every good story needs a plan.

Many storytellers, authors, and screenwriters often put their ideas in an outline before committing their full word count onto a page. This comes in handy, since the direction of a story can take hundreds of different turns. Some of them organic. Others derailing.

Often times, outlining means dividing up that story into smaller sections. Depending upon the format, this can take on many different forms. A novel, for instance, has chapters. A screenplay has scenes. A theatrical performance has acts. Everything has a beginning, middle, and end.


Myth Weaver
While the three act (and five act) story structure is tried and true, and one I would have thought I would be able to have pulled more insight from, I must confess, in the many times I have let it play on the authortube, or read it in blogs and essays, I never quite get from it something I need. I dont know if that means my own story is just different, and does not match up well, or if it means I am doomed to failure for ignoring the trend, or if maybe I just dont understand how my own work fits in (and for me, I look more to the five act as I have five books).

I think it is not bad to have this if the story we are writing is one shooting for marketability, over--say--telling a story with greater meaning to the author, but I find, if I was to push myself into this format, it would not serve my story very well. I feel, in the way I write an develop my tale, that it is more of an organic creation, the has ups and downs, and is compelling because the struggle is compelling, but...maybe not. I often think, this lends itself more to movie and stage writing than prose fiction. And outside of fiction? do our lives really follow this pattern?

I guess, I would say, I am banking on their are many ways to skin a cat. I am not sure that three act story structure is the only way to get it done, or even the best way. Its just a more tried and true way.
Human minds are trained to see patterns, even if there are none. Or if they are not intended. For my current WiP, when I finished it, I realized I could actually plot it on the 3-act structure. Around the 25% mark, I had a moment in the story, which could be seen as the transition from act 1 to act 2, and around the 75% mark the same for act 2 to act 3. It's completely accidental. I just plot a series of events that need to happen in my story, with no regard to 3-act structure. However, if you want to find it, then it is there.

In my opinion, there are 2 ways you can use these kinds of structures.

The first is that you can actively use them to plot your story. You can start with 3 act structure needing 9 defining moments, or the Heroes Journey having 20 of them or whatever, and plan those moments in your story. You could even map them onto your chapters. That's a perfectly valid way of plotting a story.

The other option is to use them when you're stuck and something isn't working for your story. If you get feedback that something in your story feels wrong, or that the pacing is off, and you have no idea why, then you can hold the 3-act or 5-act or 7-act story structure or whichever one you prefer, against the tale you've written. Maybe you'll find that your act 1 is 50% of the book, or you're missing something else. Or maybe you're stuck in the middle and have no idea where you could go. Then you could grab one of these and see if they help you.