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Chapter 2: Considering Structure

The 3 Act Structure

Melissa Ford Lucken

The three-act structure is a storytelling framework commonly used in literature, plays, and films. It divides a narrative into three distinct sections, each serving a specific purpose in advancing the plot and engaging the audience. Here’s a detailed description of the three acts:

Act 1: Setup/Exposition The first act sets the stage for the story and introduces the audience to the characters, setting, and the initial conflict. Its main purpose is to engage the audience and establish a foundation for the rest of the narrative. The key elements of Act 1 include:

Introduction: The audience is introduced to the main characters, their world, and their normal lives before any major changes occur. This helps establish a connection between the audience and the characters.

Inciting Incident: A significant event or problem occurs that disrupts the normalcy of the protagonist’s life. It acts as a catalyst for the story and creates a need for action.

Goals and Motivations: The protagonist’s goals and motivations are established as a response to the inciting incident. They now have a clear objective or desire they want to achieve.

Conflict and Obstacles: The protagonist encounters conflicts and obstacles that prevent them from achieving their goals. These challenges drive the story forward and create tension.

Plot Point 1: Towards the end of Act 1, a major turning point occurs, often referred to as the first plot point. It presents a significant change or event that propels the story into Act 2.

Act 2: Confrontation/Rising Action The second act forms the bulk of the story and focuses on the protagonist’s journey as they face escalating challenges and obstacles. Act 2 deepens the conflict, develops the characters, and builds suspense. The key elements of Act 2 include:

Rising Action: The protagonist embarks on a series of attempts and encounters various obstacles, conflicts, and setbacks. Each challenge gets progressively more difficult, raising the stakes and intensifying the narrative.

Midpoint/Twist: At the midpoint of Act 2, a significant event occurs that changes the direction of the story or adds a twist. It often brings new information, raises questions, or alters the protagonist’s understanding of the conflict.

Subplots and Character Development: Act 2 allows for the development of subplots and secondary characters, providing depth to the story and adding complexity to the main conflict.

Complications and Climax Building: The challenges and conflicts the protagonist faces become more intense as Act 2 progresses. These complications build towards the climax, creating a sense of mounting tension.

Plot Point 2: Towards the end of Act 2, another major turning point, known as the second plot point, occurs. It raises the stakes even higher and sets up the final confrontation in Act 3.

Act 3: Resolution/Denouement The third act focuses on resolving the conflicts and bringing the story to a satisfying conclusion. It provides closure to the narrative and addresses the protagonist’s ultimate goal. The key elements of Act 3 include:

Climax: The climax is the most intense and crucial moment of the story. It is the point where the conflicts reach their peak, and the protagonist faces their biggest challenge. The outcome of the climax determines the resolution.

Falling Action: After the climax, the story enters a phase of falling action. The intensity subsides, and loose ends are tied up. The consequences of the climax are explored, and the narrative begins to wind down.

Resolution: The conflicts are resolved, and the protagonist achieves or fails to achieve their goal. The resolution provides a sense of closure and wraps up the major storylines.

Denouement: Also known as the conclusion, the denouement is the final part of Act 3. It allows for a brief reflection on the events that transpired and provides a sense of closure for the audience.

The three-act structure serves as a useful tool for storytellers to create a cohesive and engaging narrative, ensuring a well-paced and satisfying story arc for the audience.


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The 3 Act Structure by Melissa Ford Lucken is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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