At a certain point in your education, probably very early on, you will have been taught that all stories have a beginning, middle and end. Being 5 or 6 you probably won’t have responded with, ‘no shit Sherlock’ but I would forgive you if you did because it’s pretty obvious. Kids do get carried away when telling a story but we all instinctively know that a story must start somewhere, something must happen in the middle and the story must come to a close.
For those of us who have a few more years on them the ‘beginning, middle, end’ structure is called a ‘three-act’ structure.
Act One: 25% of your story and where your characters and their life-altering problem is introduced. We get a sense of what their life is like and we see the first step on their journey.
Act Two: 50% of your story and where the protagonist battles with the problem that has been introduced to their life. There’ll be ups, there’ll be downs. It’s a real roller-coaster. For every success there seems to be two failures.
Act Three: 25% of your story and where things come to a head. Your characters reach the climax of the story, the lessons they’ve learnt in Act One and Act Two help them to succeed and then they coast down to the resolution.
This is more comprehensive than the ‘beginning, middle and end’ version we’re given as kids but still leaves us hanging, because how do you know what stuff to put into Act One, Two and Three? Diagrams you can find will often show a graph with a gentle incline over Act One, a serrated-knife of an incline over Act Two and then an incline up to the climax, followed by a gentle decline to the resolution. But that doesn’t give you much guidance.
Let me give you a bit more detail.
Act One: First 25%
Hook: Something to grab the reader and draw them into the story right from page one.
Inciting Incident: Something major happens which shakes everything up. Without this incident, everything would carry on as is.
Key Event: A point in which the protagonist could still turn away from the changes that are about to effect their life.
Plot Point 1: Ends Act One. The point where everything changes. The protagonist is strapped into their seat and there’s no getting off the ride.
Act Two: Middle, 50%
First Half of Act Two: The protagonist is knocked around by the change in their life. Everything seems to be going against them. The more they try to put things right, the more they lose traction.
Mid-point/Plot Point Two: Something terrible happens which shakes the protagonist up. They see that they’re approaching things the wrong way and their sense of purpose is renewed.
Second Half of Act Two: Things are clearer now. The protagonist has purpose, maybe a plan. But they’re still trying to have the best of both worlds.
Plot Point Three: Ends Act Two. The point where everything looks lost and hopeless. You wonder how the protagonist will ever come back from this.
Act Three: Last 25%
Renewal: Something or someone renews the protagonists sense of purpose and they start working towards a goal.
Climax: The big event. This is fireworks. This is where the major conflict takes place, where everything the protagonist has been working towards comes together.
Resolution: How things are tidied up after the climax, bringing the protagonist (and audience) back to earth and a new world.
There is more to it than this but I’ll save that for another day. If you’re looking for more information and better explanations then hit the link below. This site is one of the best and I find it endlessly helpful.
In the mean time, tell me what you know about story structure. Is this new to you? Do you have any tips to add?