Three-Act Story Structure

Three-Act Story Structure

Throughout this Story Structures Series, we have learned several methods and techniques for structuring a narrative: from Randy Ingermanson’s method to the more classic Dean Koontz method.

In this article, we explain how to structure a story with the Three-Act Story Structure.

What is The Three-Act Story Structure?

It is a classic and basic method already used in Ancient Greece. The Three-Act Story Structure divides the narrative into three precise moments, with an alternation of cause-and-effect moments.

For this technique, it is essential to identify three moments: a beginning, a middle, and, obviously, an end.

1st moment of the Three-Act Story Structure

The 1st moment is the Setup. Here the writer introduces the characters, the setting of the story, and the background. It is the moment when the protagonist of the story experiences a particular situation. This issue takes him away from his comfort zone, even the home, to push him towards adventure.

2nd moment of the Three-ActStory Structure

The middle moment corresponds to the Confrontation.

A whole series of events and actions are inserted at this point. They lead up to the climax, where the action gets into the thick of the story. However, there are no easy issues to address. The harder the protagonist works to get out of situations, the more he struggles. So much that to the reader, it seems that a happy ending is impossible to achieve.

3rd moment of the Three-ActStory Structure

The Resolution.

The narrative protagonist still experiences one last struggle but finally manages to achieve a happy ending and overcome the difficulties. All’s well that ends well, in short.

The moment of Resolution, however, has its substructure that serves to highlight the happy ending:

  • High stakes: the reader must have a sense that the challenges are becoming more and more complex and that one mistake could lead the protagonist to disaster.
  • Challenges and growth: the conclusion of the challenges not only leads to the long-awaited happy ending, but also to the personal growth of the protagonist, who has learned a lot from the difficulties encountered.
  • Solution: somehow, all the difficulties that the character has managed to overcome have also led him to find the best solution to end his journey peacefully.

Example of the Three-ActStory Structure in books

You can find one first example of this methodology applied to a novel in “Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins.

In the first part, Katniss Everdeen experiences a triggering event that leads to the story’s beginning and action. In detail, it all starts when she applies to volunteer at the Hunger Games in place of her sister.

After starting the game, Katniss teams up with a younger girl named Rue. A male companion, Peeta, is also chosen with her. The two try to survive the game together. This is the half of the narrative in which more or less intense moments of action occur.

The final part of the narrative brings Katniss and Peeta to the Hunger Games’ end after passing one more final test.

Why is the Three-Act Structure mentioned in books? Because as far as movies are concerned, the structure is similar though different in length and complexity. Sequences replace the classic structure used in storytelling.

“I like theater, but theater is theater and movies are movies. They should be separate. We should talk about sequences – and there are usually at least five or six sequences rather than three acts – which are broken up into sections and scenes”

Martin Scorsese

Create your narration structure with bibisco’s novel planning software

To create the perfect structure for your story, you can use bibisco’s innovative novel planning software. These tools will allow you to rearrange your ideas and figure out based on the characters, the background of the narrative, and the ending you want to give the story, which is the most suitable structure.

Story Structure Series: The Three-Act Structure - bibisco's chapter section
bibisco’s chapter section

Conclusions

The Three-Act Story Structure is reminiscent, though more simply, of the Hero’s Journey that we have already covered extensively in this Series.

It always starts with an incipit and a root cause, to get to the middle of the story where the protagonist’s fate does not seem so obvious. The end marks the conclusion of all the difficulties with a moral lesson: the protagonist, facing the challenges, grew and learned a lot about himself.

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