Before I start, I wanted to post a link. I'm a little late joining in, but I wanted to post a link to Do the Write Thing for Nashville. If you haven't heard about it, it's a group of amazing authors getting together to help raise funds to help with the horrible flood damage in Nashville. Check it out. It's a great cause with great people.
Today I want to talk about three act structure. The diagram above shows a pretty basic format for a three act structure. I'd probably label the middle hills "try/fail" instead of "crises" but you get the general idea. I hadn't heard about this until about a year ago. I was using it, but I never really knew what it was called. We see it all the time--in plays, movies, tv shows, books. It's everywhere. Why? Because it works.
Aristotle was the one who original divided drama into the three act structure--beginning, middle, and end. As part of the three act structure, there are generally five main plot points--beginning, inciting incident, plot points one and two, and ending.
Almost boring, right? Yes, but we can apply this very simple format to nearly every form of entertainment around us. Try it some time... No, not right now, finish the post first. Sheesh--rude. :P
I've heard the three act structure described in many ways. One I think I heard on Writing Excuses, was as follows:
Act 1: Get your characters stuck in a tree.
Act 2: Throw rocks at them.
Act 3: Get them down.
I love this one. It's much more visual than the other descriptions I've read, and I'm a VERY visual person.
The question I found myself asking is, why does this format work? I think part of the reason it works so well is because it is used so widely. People go into any form of entertainment with certain expectations. Those expectations are set by everything else they have seen before. If the entertainment doesn't meet those expectations they naturally feel disappointed.
How do you feel when a plot fizzles at the climax. Or there isn't a viable resolution. When they don't have enough tension to hold your interest. If it isn't all there, we're bothered because it wasn't what we were expecting.
One aspect of this structure that I think is crucial is the try/fail cycle. If your MC overcomes their obstacles on the first try, it just doesn't work. In life, few things go perfect on the first try. Your tension is gone, your story is over and you haven't hit the half way mark yet.
Try/fail cycles are where your characters adapt and grow. Stagnant characters are boring. Give them a chance to get interesting.
How about you? Do you follow the three act structure? How many try/fail cycles do your characters have? Is there any part you struggle with?