The Three Act Structure


For the Scribblers' Conference.

This is something else I learned in my Novel in a Year class.
Basically, you have three acts and three disasters, along with a whole bunch of other awesome stuff. The above picture shows you the Three Act Structure combined with the Hero's Journey and the Character Arc (never heard of that, but it's pretty self-explanatory). You could figure out the Three Act Structure just by that picture, but here are a few other points (that correspond with the Hero's Journey) to help.

Act One

Act One is the first quarter of your book. Yes, I know it's odd that there are four quarters and three acts (at least that's what I thought), but writers and math don't mix, I guess.
Inciting Incident:
This happens after you introduce your character and his/her world. Make it happen fast. First chapter kind of fast. (I think. That's what I was supposed to do for school, at least.)
What is it? The inciting incident is when something happens to set the story in motion. It involves the main character. It doesn't have to be something bad. You're just disrupting it and making something change. I'm pretty sure my teacher put it this way: it could be someone dying or it could be someone getting pregnant. Whatever you want, I guess.
The First Disaster:
(This is also called "Plot Point #1" in many places.) It happens at the end of Act One. So a bit before or at a quarter of the way through the book. At the VERY end of Act One, you're character makes his/her choice that there's no going back from. To help you gain your bearings, this is "Crossing the Threshold" in the Hero's Journey.
What is it? A disaster. Obviously. It's something that isn't going to be resolved until the end of the book. You turn your main character's world upside down and then expect them to keep going. According to Randy Ingermanson, it's okay for the first disaster to be caused by external things and not caused by your main character.

Act Two

Act Two consists of the next two quarters of your book. This is also where things get messy and confusing for me. I've heard two different things about this act. So first I'll tell you what my teacher taught me and my classmates, and then I'll tell you what I've heard while doing research for this post and other stuffs.
The Midpoint:
What me teacher (and others) say: the midpoint of the book—also the midpoint of Act Two—is "the threat of death." This isn't a major disaster (or otherwise called a major plot point).
What is it? This threat of death doesn't have to be physical. It can be, but it can also be relational or emotional or career-related or whatever.
The Second Disaster:
(Also called "Plot Point #2" in many places.) What my teacher (and others) say: this can happen from anywhere a bit before the midpoint of the book to right before three-quarters of the way through the book. Yes. Lots of room there.
What Randy Ingermanson (and others) say: The second disaster happens halfway through Act Two—not as far as three quarters of the way through. This is in place of the "threat of death."
What is it? Mr. Ingermanson says that the second disaster should be caused by the main character trying to "fix things." The first disaster happens, things don't get better, so your main character tries again (and fails) to resolve the conflict.

Act Three
The last quarter of your book.
The Third Disaster:
(Also know as the climax.) Mr. Ingermanson has the climax at the end of Act Two, but according to my teacher and what she said her editor said, the resolution can't take up a quarter of the book. That would make it to long. So, the climax is going to hang out in Act Three with the resolution. At least for this post.
It's the climax, so things get...climactic.
What is it? Your main character has tried to fix the first disaster, which resulted in the second disaster. Then he/she tried to fix that mess, and look! Climax time! This is when your main character must battle and defeat the villain (or, if it's a series, you kinda-sorta defeat the villain. But if you completely defeat the villain in the first book, what are the rest of the books going to be about?) This is the black moment. Your main character is at his/her lowest. He/she thinks that if she can't defeat the villain, he/she will never recover.
The Resolution:
This should only be one or two chapters long. The disasters and conflict have been resolved. Everything is slowing down. Your characters actually have a chance to breathe. This is the "Return of the Elixir" for the Hero's Journey. Goals have been accomplished and lessons have been learned.
The end!

DISCLAIMER: (because I'm terribly insecure.)
I'm seventeen. I'm not published. Okay, I am, on here and on Figment, but not really published. You could say I'm inexperienced. Very inexperienced. I'm still in the learning process. The Hero's Journey was created by some awesome guy named Joseph Campell. My teacher taught me this, and then I used the notes from her class and came up with these explanations of the 12 steps. I've probably misinterpreted at least a few things. So Google this and ask actual published writers about it and DO YOUR RESEARCH.
Bekah Joan
geez. i have gone over and over and over this post, but writing it in one sitting has slightly damaged my brain, i think. i do apologize terribly for anything that's worded wrongly or anything. ughhh i need foooooood. <--haha wow sorry. but seriously it's seven o'clock (yeah i know not that late) and i haven't had dinner and i'm hungry. bye.


  1. oh my gosh,you always do such an amazing job. I could never do this,my brain would be crushed.

    1. Thank youuuu :) And yeah, mine basically was. :P


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