In this article, author Dawn Brookes discusses the generally accepted structure of a Three Act Novel
Many stories/novels, indeed films follow a three act building block.
In other words, there is a beginning, a middle and an end. This makes sense as the story draws the reader in, tells a story and reaches a conclusion, but what’s involved?
At this point the main characters one or two main problems are introduced. There is usually a protagonist (hero/heroine) and sometimes a side-kick or group and an antagonist who goes out of their way to make life difficult for the hero/heroine.
The beginning includes what many writers call a ‘hook’. The hook, as in a hook used for fishing with food on the end is there to draw the reader into the story and make them want to read more.
Towards the end of the first part, often referred to as Act 1, something happens to build excitement and draw the reader further into the next part of the book.
In the majority of cases, Act 1 takes up a quarter of a book. For example in a book of 80,000 words this scene would be around 20,000 words with something in the last 2,000 words that propels the reader into the Middle or Act 2. If the first section of the book is uninteresting, most readers will not persist.
Numerous or one challenge is faced by the protagonist who has to overcome the challenge, usually plural.
Often the protagonist reverses their fortunes during this part of the book only to find that things deteriorate again and reaches crisis point. The hero/heroine is flung into Act 3.
The middle (Act 2) usually makes up half the book e.g. 40,000 words of an 80,000 word novel. Like for Act 1, the tension towards the end of the Act should propel the reader towards the next scene.
Includes a climax where all obstacles/challenges are overcome resulting in a happy ending. Some books do not have a happy ending but are more unusual. Other’s end on a cliffhanger leading to the next episode but readers generally like at least a satisfactory conclusion to one part if the story is to be a trilogy or two-part plot.
The end (Act 3) usually accounts for a quarter of the whole e.g. 20,000 words in an 80,000 word novel.
When it’s broken down like this it sounds simple but obviously there’s a lot more to writing a book and each part of the story needs to flow with the previous and usually build tension/interest throughout. This is the part that’s more challenging. If the author is to prevent a reader giving up half way through, there needs to be a continuous build up of tension or plot.
Think of books that you’ve read recently that fit in with the Three Act Story and those you have picked up and failed to finish. This short article might explain why that is.