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 1- 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 1happens 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 2-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 2happens 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 3- 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 3happens 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 it’s 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.
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