Don’t know where to start when plotting your story? Try Three Act Structure, the simple way to keep your story on track. Or maybe you're more of a plantser who needs guidelines while you’re winging it? If either of these sound like you, read on.
From its name you can probably guess this structure has three acts. In each act, there are three beats you want to include—so nine events total. Beats are turning points, or crucial moments that move the plot along. They help the reader know that the plot is progressing and make a story engaging. The Three Act Structure is taken from filmmaking techniques and is explained through the lens of protagonist vs. antagonist. If your story doesn’t have a clear antagonist, something like death, grief, or a personal challenge can serve as one. Take from this structure what works for you—writing is flexible, and that’s the fun part.
Act 1, or Setup has these three beats: Exposition, Inciting Incident, and No Turning Back. Let’s go over them.
Act 2, or Conflict will take up the largest chunk of your word count, between one half and two thirds of the book. Some plotting methods break up this act into more beats to handle this meaty section, but the three main beats are the Rising Action/Fun & Games, Midpoint, and Break Into Third.
Character: *wheezes* “Just give me a second.”
Regardless of what happened in the midpoint, your character has to keep moving forward, Reedsy calls this moment “the pep talk your character needs in order to stand up straight and get ready to meet their antagonist head on.” In the Break Into Third, your character does something that can’t be undone in reaction to the antagonist, which creates the point of no return. The ball is now rolling even quicker towards the climax.
Act 3, or the Resolution. Despite being the third act, this part of the story is not the last third of the book. Act 3 can be as short as one quarter of the book because of how quickly everything happens. Plus, you don’t want it to drag—it’s the most exciting part! The third act is when everything comes together, mostly, and has these beats: the Dark Night, Climax, and Denouement/Conclusion.
There are many ways to plot a novel; different genres have differences in plot points and pacing, and some may not have an official “Dark Night.” So, if planning your book with Three Act Structure doesn’t feel intuitive or makes it boring, don’t do it. You may not be a plotter, but I strongly recommend trying to outline your first book. A plan will save you from hard rewrites later and less cutting of the things you like. Try it once and if you don’t like it, you could be a pantser. Embrace your spontaneity! We accept writers of all writing styles. Happy writing, and outlining, from JUVEN Press :)
is a writer based in North Carolina. She attends writing classes of all kinds at UNC Chapel Hill and has a particular fondness for sharp imagery. In her free time, she drafts her own novels.
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