Hello, Write Owls! Welcome to Day 22 of Storytelling 101. Today we’re talking about acts.
Acts are a form of story structure. They divide your story up into sections called acts, and each section has a different purpose. There are several different types of act structures, the most common being the three-act structure.
Acts are divided by turning points, or points of no return. There is a significant change in the status quo, and your characters can’t go back to the way things were before. I’m going to break down the three-act structure since that’s the one I’m most familiar with and the one I use in my own writing.
Act I is the beginning. This is where you introduce your protagonist and setup your story. During the first act, you have your inciting incident. This is when the conflict is introduced. If it’s a love story, the inciting incident is when your character meets the love interest. In an adventure, it’s when the protagonist is offered the chance to go on a journey, quest, etc. Act I ends with the protagonist deciding to pursue the love interest, go on the adventure, etc. Once they’ve made this decision, the status quo changes and the stakes increase. Sometimes the inciting incident immediately goes into the life-altering decision, and sometimes there are two inciting incidents where one is the introduction to the conflict and one is the decision to do something about that conflict.
Now you’re in Act II, which is the middle. Act II begins with you fulfilling the promise you made to the reader. If it’s a love story, this is where you have a montage of bonding scenes where the two characters grow closer together. If it’s an adventure, you show your character exploring the depths of the rainforest where dangers lurk around every corner. All the while, the main conflict escalates. This is commonly referred to as the rising action.
Halfway through Act II, you hit the midpoint, which is where something happens that changes the direction of the story. The protagonist is reminded of the main conflict, and things rapidly go downhill from there. This is when all the bad things happen, and it seems like it’s impossible for the protagonist to prevail. At the end of Act II, the protagonist makes a critical decision that propels them toward the climax. Again, they can’t go back to the way things were before. It’s a point of no return.
Act III is the end of your story. This is when the climax occurs. The climax is the final battle between the protagonist and antagonist, or where the protagonist faces the source of the conflict and either wins or loses. The climax is followed by the denouement, which is the wrapping up and resolution at the end. Then you close with the finale, or final image.
The Save the Cat! beats work really well with the three-act structure.
The three-act structure is the most common story shape for films. If you want to know what a more complicated act structure looks like, Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Arc has seven acts. See if you can tell where the turning points are that indicate the separations between acts.
Acts can help you plan your story if you’re a plotter, and they can help you make sure your revisions are on track if you’re a pantser.
These are the basics of acts. If you have any questions about this topic, please leave them in the comments; and I’ll try to answer them either as a reply or in my Q&A on Saturday.
Feel free to answer these in the comments if you want to chime in!
1) How many acts does your story/story idea have?
2) Did you find all the turning points in Indiana Jones?