Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The Three Act Structure: An Introduction

Everyone’s heard of the Three Act Structure in some form or other. Whether it’s an in depth look or the kind of information you learn as a kid the basics of the three act structure are simple;
  • Beginning
  • Middle
  • End

No muss, no fuss, bada-bing, bada-boom. As you get older, read more, learn more, delve deeper into the realms of writing you learn a lot more about it. Some people have written entire books on the subject in fact, going so in depth that it can give me a headache. They’re also a popular topic for writers to, guess what, blog about! And yes, I have just apparently jumped on that band wagon. What you have to remember when I do these sorts of posts is that they’re not so much instructional, although they can be taken as such, but they’re mostly a way for me to work out how I understand a certain aspect of writing.

What Is the Three Act Structure All About?

It’s a way of structuring your story, whichever form that you want to write in, whether it’s a novel, novella, novelette or a short story. It’s essentially a way of honing down the direction your main plot line goes and remembering what you’re writing towards. You can see how the action builds and releases and builds and releases, keeping that steady flow of tension and action that keeps readers turning the page as they go.

The Three Act Structure at its simplest
Image from Wikipedia
Each Act serves a purpose, a role, in the overall story as well as having their own story in a sense. Each Act needs to be there in order for the story to flow. Each Act has its own flow of tension, gradually building and releasing as the story moves forward and hopefully pulling the reader along with it. It’s simple really, when you step back and don’t over think. Act 1, Act 2, Act 3. Beginning, middle, end. Introduction, build up, climax. But those are the broad terms, the rough one word descriptions that give you only a vague idea of what goes in each, what role each Act poses. I will admit that there are a lot of videos out there, a lot of books, a lot of blog posts, that all boil down the Three Act Structure into something that works for that particular writer. One style doesn’t work for everyone. Like everything in life and in writing, what works for one person may not work for another. But those are the basics, the minimum amount of what you need to know about the Three Act Structure if you just want the general guideline.

But Why Do You Love the Three Act Structure So Much Nicole?

For me the three act structure is wonderful. Even with just filling in the basic stuff you can get an idea of where the story is going. You can go as in depth as you like or stay very vague. Personally I like to go in depth, filling in quite a lot of detail as I go. Sometimes this backfires on me but more often than not it’s a way for me to learn a lot about the story. I use it as a guide line, a way of seeing exactly what I’m writing. It’s the road map to the story. As long as I have something down, a little plot point for each Act then I can’t really go wrong. I might go on veering tangents but I can always find my way back to the story. Especially if I team it up with the logline. Sometimes I use the Three Act Structure when I’m pantsing a story, marking off plot points that I want to include and writing towards them while I make up most of what happens off the top of my head.

A Little bit more complicated screen writing version
Also from the Wikipedia page on Structure

What About Other Structures?

There are a lot of different variations of the Three Act Structure out there, ways of looking at how to structure your three acts. Some are incredibly detailed, encouraging you to plot out 9 different points of action in each Act. Others are very basic, asking for just 3 points of action. Me, I like to use a nice round 5 points of action for each Act, 5 major plot points that have to happen in order for the story to make sense and continue moving. Other minor stuff might appear as I write that can be taken out or moved around but those five plot points have to stay there and rarely can be moved around. If the story is a house then the plot points are load baring walls. You could build without them or put them in the wrong place, but it wouldn’t be long before the walls crumbled around you and you found your bathtub in the kitchen.

And the really complicated version
From the Go Teen Writers blog

So What Next?

I was going to go into a lot more detail on this post, way more than I have already but then I noticed that what initially began as the introduction, that little bit before I began to talk about each Act properly, had turned into a post all of its own. I don’t want to be one of those bloggers that puts up wall after wall of text, I’m trying to get out of that habit. To be fair I should have guessed about how big this post was going to get when I planned it out on paper. There’s no way that I’m going to keep two sides of A4 short enough for a single blog post. So that’s where the new series comes in. Three Acts means three posts, each one about a different act. And more importantly I’m going to start writing them before I’ve even posted this one so keep an eye out for the other three over the next few days/weeks (I haven’t decided on a schedule yet) and you can see how I see the Three Act Structure and how I approach it when writing.

No comments:

Post a Comment