The Three Act Structure




Stories are told in three parts (a part is called an act), the beginning, the middle, and the end. In other words, act 1, act 2 and act 3. Each part serves a specific and important role in telling the story. The beginning introduces the main characters in their daily environment and sets them on course of the adventure or problem. The middle explores the options, deepen the characters and set all the elements up in just the right place for the finale. The finale is where the fireworks happen, the deepest depths and the highest high, the grand battle and resolution.

Act 1 (First Quarter)

Word count in a novel: approx. 25000 words

Here you introduce the ordinary world and ordinary lives of the characters to your readers. It is the status quo (things as they are), the state of the world before change had to happen. You introduce the main characters and the story-world. By showing this, you can contrast the effect of change against it later. At the end of the first act, you introduce the change.

The backdrop, is the context for change that marks the beginning of a story consists of two parts. The first part is the status quo. The second part is the weak point that make change possible.

Problem 1: major disaster

Act 2 (Second and Third Quarter)

Word count in a novel: approx. 5000 words

All the pawns are put into place and the characters are deepened.The characters explore the conflict they face and the options they have. There is trial and error in their methods, and that’s OK. They are exploring, and with them, so are your readers.

Problem 2: Worse disaster

Act 3 (Fourth Quarter)

Word count in a novel: approx. 25000 words

The fireworks happen in act 3. This is when all the story lines come together and the final confrontation takes place. After which, there is a resolution of some kind. The questions that have driven your readers through the novel, must now be answered.

Problem 3: the worst disaster

Final problem / confrontation: not to be confused with problem 3!

Resolution: answer to all questions