Episode 219: The 3 Act Structure

On February 18, Kasie and Rex took on the classic 3-act structure (from Aristotle!). Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

The Three-Act Plot


  • Origins of the 3-act-plot
  • Benefits of the 3-act-plot
  • How you know you’re writing a 3-act-plot
  • Helpful tools for 3-act-plot structuring
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Pexels.com

So we did a run of plot-structure shows in December – man-in-the-hole plot, Freytag’s pyramid, and more Freytag albeit the earlier climax, and finally traditional arcs. But we missed the 3-act-structure and turns out that’s the plot Rex is writing for Slaughter Shark so here it is.

Using this blog, we’ll describe the 3-act structure. Act 1: the setup. Act 2: confrontation or build. Act 3: resolution or payoff.

Also (this link):

• Act One: Get your protagonist up a tree

• Act Two: Throw rocks at him or her

• Act Three: Get them down again

Examples from this blog which also includes the 9 steps plot points list:

  1. Act 1 (Setup): Exposition
  2. Act 1 (Setup): Inciting Incident
  3. Act 1 (Setup): Plot Point One or The Point of No Return
  4. Act 2 (Confrontation): Rising Action
  5. Act 2 (Confrontation): Midpoint
  6. Act 2 (Confrontation): Plot Point Two
  7. Act 3 (Resolution): The Black Moment or Dark Night of the Soul
  8. Act 3 (Resolution): Climax
  9. Act 3 (Resolution): Denouement

Why it works (from this blog)

  • Birth/Life/Death
  • Sunrise/Day/Sunset
  • The Son/the Father/the Holy Ghost
  • Departure/Journey/Return
  • Thesis/Antithesis/Synthesis

Segment 2/3

The 3 act structure can be as involved or simple as you need it to be. Even short stories have a three-act capability. For the most involved, consider the 15-beat structure of Save the Cat!

  1. Opening image – catapult your audience into the story
  2. Theme stated – what is this story about?
  3. Set-up – includes the “old” world or the regular world, how things are before the disruption; establish place, characters, and hint at conflict
  4. Catalyst or inciting incident – disrupt the status quo, but protagonist isn’t in it quite yet
  5. Debate – will they or won’t they? What’s at stake? Should the protagonist get in this fight?
  6. Break into two – the clear choice between the protagonist’s options and the choice gets made
  7. B story – whatever subplot you have planned should commence here
  8. Fun and games – protagonist learns new tricks, advances in new skills, starts to figure stuff out
  9. Midpoint – this may be a realization, may be a complication, may be the end of the escape hatch
  10. Bad guys close in – something has happened that brings the danger closer
  11. All is lost – the inevitable moment where the protagonist realizes this is just too hard (impossible!)
  12. Dark night of the soul – protagonist has actually lost hope
  13. Break into three – character claws around looking for options and trying to salvage the mission, possibly having to overcome some deep fear or damning belief
  14. Finale – character synthesizes what they’ve learned and applies the solution to the problem
  15. Final image – leave the reader/audience seeing/feeling the theme of the story

Segment 3/4

Consider this blog that worries some people are working too hard on the 3-act structure. The writer claims tools like the 3 act structure are the result of analysis after the fact. Trying to impose them on your story may result in destroying the very organic unfolding of the story.

 So what should you do? Just write. What’s happening in the story? How is the character reacting? What decisions is he making? How is he driving the plot forward?

Take us along for the ride: your character is on a journey and we just want to be along for the ride. 

Tools can help you polish a great story and strengthen an already compelling plot, but it can’t write the story from scratch for you.

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