Reflections of an Unknown Writer & Three Act Structure

writing three act structure


This week I’ve been working on getting through the second draft of my pirate story. It’s going painfully slowly. Not only am I struggling to find time when I’m awake and functioning, but the draft itself is difficult. Because the first draft has so many plot-holes in it, it’s taking a lot of pulling apart and putting back together again.

I have tried to implement a regular routine for writing, but it’s been difficult. Because I have such a different schedule every day of the week – not two days are the same – it’s hard to pick a specific time and say I will write every day at that time, for an hour, or two, or however long. So, what I’m trying now is a weekly goal to hit – I’ve set it at 5000 words at the moment. I’ll see how I get on this week.

Story Structure – Three Act Structure

Writers most commonly use three act structure to outline their novels. It is comprised of, as the name suggests, three acts – almost like a more detailed version of what we all learn in early schooling – beginning, middle, and end.

First Act

This beginning act is the introduction of character and setting. It usually contains the inciting incident (the moment where the story really begins) and usually forms about the first 25% of the story. It ends with the first major plot point of the story – the moment of no return for the protagonist (or main character). She is drawn into the story, and catapulted from the normal world into a new world (not necessarily literally).

Second Act

The second act is the largest portion of the story – from the 25% mark to the 75% mark. It’s the most difficult section in this structure, and honestly it’s why I don’t use it. During this section the protagonist encounters opposition in the form of the antagonistic force (either indirectly or directly) and is most starkly represented at the midpoint.

The midpoint happens at roughly the 50% mark. Sometimes it’s a conflict with the antagonist, but almost always marks a change of focus for the protagonist. She moves from reaction to action. She begins to fight back. Which leads her to the second major plot point, and the end of the second act. This is usually either a false victory for the protagonist, or the darkest moment of her story, a moment when all seems lost (sometimes referred to as Dark Night of the Soul.)

Third Act

The third act, the final quarter of the story, begins with this dark moment. It builds up to the coming climax, the moment of final confrontation between the protagonist and the antagonist. The resolution of the story follows and all loose ends are tied up into a satisfying conclusion. 

This is the first type of story structure that I learned, and in my view it’s the default. It’s very popular among writers of all kinds, as it can be good for those who like a loose outline without too much detail weighing them down. It’s a looser road-map than some of the others.

For more information on this structure visit these resources: KM Weiland | Now Novel | Well-Storied


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