I’ve written before about story structure and about how I structure my own stories, but I thought that I would talk a little bit about another useful (if a bit more complicated) way of structuring your story elements, the Three Act Structure.
In basic terms, the Three Act Structure is separated into the three main parts of a story. The beginning – or act one, the middle – or act 2 and the end – or act 3.
You can use these simple parts as a basic outline, describing what you expect to happen in those main parts of your story, but going further, and complicating matters more, you can add in the other elements which are a sort of step by step guide in a way.
So, the story structure in your three acts might look like this:
This is where you set up the story, showing the character in their normal life, going about business as usual. You should introduce your major players and their goals, explaining what is likely to happen if the goals are not achieved.
The Inciting Incident
This is the catalyst that sets off the story. An event occurs that changes your protagonist’s world in a drastic way.
The First Turning Point
This explores how the protagonist reacts to the events in the inciting incident. How do they feel? What will they do next?
Here your main characters will attempt to achieve their goals, and it’s a good idea to prevent them from doing so. Thwart them at every turn. This will create more conflict (which is always a good thing) and build tension, moving the story along.
The First Pinch Point
This is designed to put pressure on your protagonist and to highlight how powerful the bad guys are. It may be the first time the main character comes face to face with the antagonist, or maybe even someone who is associated with them.
This is the half way mark of your story. It is also where the drama picks up, and your main character experiences an emotional turning point, as the way they see the situation begins to change. Rather than letting things just happen to them, your main character decides to take action.
Here, things begin to go wrong for the protagonist because of course, they are flawed and nothing ever actually goes smoothly. They may lose battles or even loved ones here, leading them to their black or darkest moment and wondering how it all started to go downhill.
The Second Pinch Point
Your protagonist begins to learn what his flaws are here and how he may be able to fix them and that pesky antagonist shows up again to prove just how powerful he can be, ramping up the tension again.
The Second Turning Point
Here your main character begins to realise what they need to attain their goals. They start to form a plan though they are unsure of whether it will actually work.
Your antagonist is worse here than ever before, though your protagonist has a plan. Even though they’re unsure whether it will work here is where they put it into action. The stakes are higher than ever if the plan doesn’t work your main character will be defeated. In the climax, you must decide to write a happy ending with your main character achieving their goals or an unhappy ending where they will be defeated. You could even opt for a mixture.
Your characters have either won the final battle or lost. Either way, they are different people from who they were at the start, having grown and evolved over the course of the story and their world is different, having either defeated the protagonist or dealing with the consequences of having failed.
This is just one version of the Three Act Structure, one that I have been experimenting with a little bit. There are many other versions out there though most follow the same basic outline.
As always, thank you for reading if you did!