Posted in better writing, building plot, character development, fiction, Gustav's Freytag Pyramid, how to write, Johnathan Maberry, plot, plotting, story structure, The Writer's Toolbox, writing, writing advice

The 3 Acts of Story Structure

In the recent writing workshop with Johnathan Maberry we talked a lot about the 3 acts of the story structure. This workshop made me realize once again how helpful this little tool can be when plotting out a story. Most stories can be broken down to this basic structure and it is something to use as a guide when plotting out your own story. Let’s break down the 3 acts and see what each act entails. I’ll also use an example of the Wizard of Oz to show this breakdown.

 

ACT ONE it is the introduction of characters and setting, possibly a glance at the villain and an introduction to the threat within the story.

This is where all the reader needs to become familiar with the character and become invested in the story that is unfolding. The world needs to be established

END OF ACT ONE happens when the character reaches the point of no return.  He or she is propelled or pushed forward into the story and the character’s path is set

Example: Dorthy is introduced into the story. We see that she is a young girl who is spoiled and untested. A tornado whisks her away to the strange land of Oz.

 

ACT TWO this middle act usually takes up about 50 percent of the story as the character is further developed and the stakes become clear.

This is where relationship building happens between the main character and the supporting characters, and it’s were subplots usually take place (for novels or longer short stories).

END OF ACT TWO happens when the character realizes what must be done to resolve the problem that he or she has been faced with.

Example: Once in Oz, Dorthy meets Glinda. She tells Dorthy what must be done to go home and Dorthy sets out on her mission to find the Wizard of Oz.

 

ACT THREE is when the character finds the resolution to the problem.

This is where the character rises above everything in his or her path to be the story’s champion.

END OF ACT THREE happens once the character resolves the main issue of the story either for the good or bad.

Example: Dorthy defeats the wicked witch and finds the Wizard of Oz.

 

Now it’s true that the 3 act applies mostly to screen plays, but it can also be applied to most stories as well. Sometimes the acts are expanded to create more than three, and sometimes the first act is combined with the second act in stories, but using the three acts can help to show the skeleton of a story. It’s a good simple way to make sure a story is on the right track to creating a coherent and dynamic piece of work. If you haven’t already, can you break down your current piece of work and find the 3 acts of its structure?

There are also those who argue that a 3 act structure can’t show all the elements of a story that it really takes a 5 act structure. This type of structure just breaks down the story even further with exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and the denoucement or resolution. You can read more about in a post that I wrote a while ago about Freytag’s 5 act structure.

 

Posted in basics of plot, building plot, Gustav's Freytag Pyramid, how to write, learning to write, plot, plot diagram, plot template, plotting, strong plot, The Writer's Toolbox, writing, writing advice, writing better

A Breakdown of Plot Diagrams

Download PDF file here.

Plot diagram is also called the structure of the story. It is the main outline of what is going on and everything else exists solely to support that structure. There are a couple of different types of plot structure that can be found but the basic one consists of Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.

Exposition sets up the story and lets the stakes become known.

Rising Action is the problem and/or conflict the character attempts to resolve.

Climax is where the story is at its worst.

Falling Action is where the character begins to solve the problem.

Resolution brings the story to a close in some manner.

Download PDF file here. 

Exposition, Rising Action, and Climax (or beginning, middle and end) is what is called the 3 acts of a story, each plays an important part to the story.

I took the Cinderella story and broke it down into the five stages to make it even more understandable.

There is also another plot diagram that some use called Gustav Freytag’s Pyramid. This has the same 5 elements as above but adds two more for a more complete understanding of plot (this is mostly done in literature). It adds Inciting Incident and Denouement. Your 5 acts would be Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action and Denouement.

What is Denouement?

A denouement (pronounced day-noo-maun) is the part of the story just before the conclusion and after the climax. It is the winding down of a story. Where in the book the “Hobbit” Bilbo would be on his way home. The denouement is the resolution or outcome of a story. The winding down of a story is referred to as the falling action, which comes immediately after the climax. –Wiki.Answers.com

What is the difference between Denouement and Resolution? The Resolution happens when the character solves the main problem/conflict or someone solves it for him or her. The Denouement is the very ending. At this point, any remaining secrets, questions or mysteries which remain after the resolution are solved by the characters or explained by the author. Sometimes the author leaves us to think about the THEME or future possibilities for the characters.

Gustav Freytag’s Pyramid

Want to know more about plot and how to build it in your story?  Checkout my blog post to find more out about my free ebook on The Building Blocks of Plot.

What about plot for nonfiction? Does nonfiction even have plot? Check out my blog post Does Nonfiction Have Plot to find out!