Hi, Gang. Craig with you again today. It occurred to me that I’ve mentioned Three Act Structure several times on this site, but never posted anything about it before. That ends today.
This is a great way of plotting your stories, but it’s so much more than that. It will keep you on point with word count, and make sure you have a structure others can follow when they read. I use it along with my storyboards. I may slip a comment about storyboards into this series, but they aren’t required for you to take tips and tricks away.
Since there are three acts, I intend to have four posts. It makes more sense that way, and you’ll see why when we get to Act Two. Act One is 20-25% of your story. Act Two is 50% (Why the extra post), Act Three is 20-25% of your story. The third act is usually on the shorter side.
I’m floating a little on the percentages, because every tale is different. These aren’t stick-pins and you can vary to a degree. However, if you’re shooting for 100,000 words, you can see that 25K of those can make up Act One. It’s a neat way to stay on task.
Every act has a job to do, and this post is about the first act. It’s all about getting everything on the table your readers will need to enjoy the story.
One of two things happens first. It’s either the main character, or setting. Readers are going to need that PDQ. Open outside with your sunny day, or inside with your main character. Then move to the other one. Sure, there are many ways to do this, like having your character on a bus looking at the robots. That will give some setting right away while you’re in the hero’s head.
By the end of page two, we should have hints as to whether this is a Western, modern world, fantasy, or something else. She’s brushing her hair in the back of a covered wagon. Readers can figure some of it out.
This doesn’t exclude opening with the villain, or first murder. It’s the traditional approach that you can mold to a certain degree. I make index cards, but these two concepts are usually right next to each other at the beginning. (When I say hero, think main character. I’m the guy who writes all the weird stuff, so hero fits.)
Shortly after we’ve grounded our readers, the hero has to want something. It’s usually better if it isn’t related to the main struggle. Could be the barmaid down the block, or a promotion, but something. This helps establish the hero’s wound. What makes this person tick? Readers will buy in if your hero has a personal goal.
It’s okay if he makes some headway against his personal goal. This isn’t the happy ending at the end of the book. Right here is where the bottom is going to fall out. Aliens land, Mt. Vesuvius erupts, kaiju crawl from the ocean and head for Tokyo. He and the barmaid found something special, but he has to go…
Take some time here, because this will be the main struggle in your story. Readers need to understand what the big issue is. You have 25K words, don’t be afraid to use them.
This is where other characters come into the tale. Maybe you add the antagonist if you haven’t already. I wrote a series about the Character Archetypes some time ago. You can find it by using the search bar at the bottom of this page.
This is a good place for Allies, Mentors, Love interests, and others to show up.
It all has to end with a bang. We should get an eyewitness vision of whatever the central problem is. “Look, Godzilla,” etc.
You should also dedicate some time to the stakes. What does he stand to lose? What does the world stand to lose? Might go back to that fetching barmaid in some fashion. Whatever your stakes are, make them big. Make it nigh on impossible for your hero to turn back.
Interlude here: The climax of Act One can help you write your blurb. “Can Bob rescue the beautiful barmaid from the clutches of fourth-grade recorder players before she goes deaf and has to pull out of the big singing contest?”
As you assess your own Act One, ask whether you addressed: Who, What, When, and Where. How and Why can come along later. It’s useful to save those if you write mysteries or other genres.
That’s another big point. This works for all genres across all times. Don’t let my goofy ideas put you off. Maybe your romance ends with, “Look, ex husband.” Maybe it’s the second murder, and it hits closer to home.
Act One is paramount to your story. If it isn’t good, they might not read Act Two, so spend some time on it.
Next time, we’ll talk about the first half of Act Two. How about it, Gang? Do you think Three Act Structure could help with your stories? Hope so, because I’m posting them anyway.