Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Three Act Plot Structure


I came across the three act plot structure about a year ago and I have to say I'm a bit of a convert. It's roots come from plays and drama, which is why there is so much crossover to screenplay writing.

Briefly:

In Act 1, we meet the main characters, find out how the world changes for the MC, and what thrusts them into a new experience.

In Act 2, we see development of the characters and what brought them there. The conflicts are brought to a breaking point and then...

In Act 3, we see the climax and then the denouement (or resolution).

Here are some links that have more info about this structure.

Wikipedia for a basic run through.
Michael Hauge takes it to a six-part structure.
Free Spirit Universe goes into more depth.
Peder Hill has another great explanation.

Hope this helps! Do you guys use a three plot structure?

Also, don't forget about visiting Laura's blog for this week's Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog on what is your favorite childhood book, and why.

50 comments:

Vicki Rocho said...

I keep this in the back of my mind, but I'm not sure I adhere to it all the time.

Paul S said...

This is an interesting post Lydia, and very timely for me because I've just done a post on my Pfeiffer blog about two films that were adapted fron stage plays (Frankie & Johnny and Prelude To A Kiss) and therefore follow the three act plot structure.
If you get chance have a look, in the meantime I'm going to have a look at your links to find out more about this.
Thanks :)

Saumya said...

I do use it and need to remember to stick to it! Thanks for posting this. I'm in the middle of editing/rewrites so this is very helpful.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I do, though not religiously. What really helps me is the stages a character can go through:
ACT 1: orphan
ACT 2: wanderer then warrior
ACT 3: martyr

C. N. Nevets said...

No, I do not use the traditional three act structure. Some of the same movement seeps into most writing regardless of structure, and I'm sure that's true with mine, as well.

In my current book, there are three acts, and they could be construed as lining up roughly with the traditional three-act structure, but the division is really for dialectic rather than theatrical purposes.

I have nothing against the structure for authors who can embrace it to good success, but in my own writing I find it constraining and artificial.

Christine Fonseca said...

I love this structure....using a similar one, I always jot down notes on this important elements BEFORE I write my first word...I know, I'm crazy!

Kristal Shaff said...

I love the diagram. I'm such a visual person. I know this structure, but seeing like this is really helpful.

Thanks for sharing!

Matthew Rush said...

It's a great guideline, but like anything creative you don't have to follow it exactly.

The Blogger Formerly Known As said...

I’m familiar with the structure. But now it’s laid out so clearly I have no excuse not to keep it in mind :) Useful post, thanks.
The enigmatic, masked blogger

Karen Lange said...

I like that! Thanks! :)

Jen Chandler said...

Hi Lydia! Thanks so much for the follow :)

I've read about the three plot structure before, but I've never seen it explained so well. Thanks for the diagram.

I tend to be a panster, though I do a bit o'plotting before hand. Nothing technical, just enough to get the juices flowing. I will keep this information on hand, though.

Cheers,
Jen

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

I am using this method now for NaNo. So far so good, but hope I will be saying that come mid Nov LOL!

Roland D. Yeomans said...

The important thing to remember is that agents and publishers use it to judge your work. If you do not follow it, the odds are against them accepting you.

Linda Kage said...

I love this diagram. Thank you for sharing.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I don't actually pay attention to it. I'm assuming I do it because it's the only structure I know. I just write the outline and it seems to work. :)

Old Kitty said...

Oooh I've not really thought of my structure as such but I can see how this diagram makes sense if I strip my wip to essential basics!! I do like the clarity of this diagram - thank you so much!!!

Take care
x

Lenny Lee! said...

hi miss lydia! i didnt ever hear of this before so its more im learning. im gonna copy it and put it in my folder. i need to think on it more so i could know if im kinda doing the in my writing or it i could need to do it. thanks for a good writing help.
...smiles from lenny

Meredith said...

I definitely use this when shaping my outline! It always helps me focus. Love that diagram!

N. R. Williams said...

I've seen many examples of plot structure, but this one is fairly simple and easy to implement.
Nancy
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

lbdiamond said...

This is a nice guideline. I should pay more attention to it, for sure. I need to mend my panster ways, LOL!

Reesha said...

All that talk about plot structure and three acts just inspired me to write two pieces of flash fiction.
So thank you for the links!
:D

Candyland said...

I love this and try to use it. I think it's one of the easiest ways to plot and even talk about it in my writing course.

Colene Murphy said...

Wow, yea! Very helpful! Thank you!

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Thanks, Lydia,
I think it's a good structure to have in mind, since it focuses a writer on the story. But if your story needs expansion, I think you should always feel free to depart from the structure and pursue what the story needs.

Rachna Chhabria said...

I have been trying to follow this for the past several months.

Carol Kilgore said...

I'm a recent convert, too. I makes so much sense and keeps me from rambling too far from the story. Thanks for posting this. Love the diagram!

Melody said...

Whoa, that was helpful! Thanks, Lydia! I'm saving this one. :)

Jai Joshi said...

Cool. This is pretty much the classic story structure and there's no doubt that it works, for books and films. I follow it.

Jai

Munk said...

Great post Lydia... it is good to know how many people out there are plotting...

Deb Salisbury said...

I'm trying to structure my current WIP on the three act system. I used the cliffhanger structure on the last one. :-)

Emy Shin said...

I've only recently really known of this structure, and am still trying to internalize it. Thank you so much for the breakdown and the links!

Holly Ruggiero said...

It’s in there (my head) but I don’t focus on it while writing.

Lo said...

This is my go to structure whenever I am feeling lost and hopeless!! Breaking a story down like that can really help me figure out where my pacing is off. Thanks for the handy links!!

Diana Mieczan said...

That is so interesting
Kisses

Ps: I am hosting a sweet GIVEAWAY today, please join in!

Carolyn Abiad said...

This popped up in a couple of places for me today...must be a sign that I should try it!

Paul C said...

I like this simplistic, yet universally integral structure.

Abby Minard said...

I did theatre for a long time, and I find my writing very similar to this 3 act structure. I remember talking about it in my creative writing classes too. It's the easiest way to organize your book, I think.

Phoenix said...

This is a very good formula to use; but it helps to also know that formulas were meant to be broken.

My adage is always: learn the rules first. Then go break them. :)

Krispy said...

Thanks for the info and links! I don't usually think too much about it, but I'm starting to pay more attention to it.

Katie Gates said...

I'm such an intuitive writer that the idea of following a formula scares me. I like to just let the narrative go where it wants to go. I imagine, in the end, I may on occasion match the formula, but I feel that if I tried to follow it, I would be compromising the right-brain magic.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Francine said...

Hi,

I was told years ago: write as though embellishing a script previously written for a play. Which, pretty much means setting scenes, what happens per scene take, each scene take being average of three-minutes when film comes out from cutting-room. So, with a book one builds a bigger scene per take!

Great way of writing.

best
F

James Deagle said...

Thank you for posting this! Even with writing that ostensibly seems to dispense the three act plot structure, the arc of tension and release shown here is usually found lurking beneath the surface.

I think it can only help a writer to internalize this type of formalized structure (i.e. learn the rules) before they go ahead and pretend to eschew it (i.e. break the rules).

The Red Angel said...

Thanks for breaking this down for us! :) Very helpful, especially during these trying NaNo times.

~TRA

http://xtheredangelx.blogspot.com

Amanda Sablan said...

I use the 3 plot structure (to an extent, anyway) even without really thinking about it. It just feels natural.

Jonene Ficklin said...

I decided to do Nano at the last minute, and having a 3 act structure helps a ton. Thanks for the link to the 6 act structure!

James Deagle said...

I just signed up for NaNo after visiting their website.

Two jobs and a volunteer newsletter editing position with a deadline in early December. I must be completely out of my tree...

:)

The Words Crafter said...

I need to copy and paste this and print it off. You always have really grounded advice, thanks!

Kiki Hamilton said...

Love the simplified version of the three act play - sometimes that's all it takes to clarify the big picture!

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Hi, Lydia, I mentioned this post on my own post today. (Nov. 11)

 
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