Today’s storytelling exercise is an excerpt from my book, Story Drills, which is filled with fiction-writing exercises that impart basic techniques of storytelling. Today’s exercise is from chapter forty-five. It’s called “Three Acts.” Enjoy!
The three-act structure is one of the simplest and most effective ways to outline or analyze a story and its structure. The three acts are as follows:
In the first act, the plot and characters are established, and we learn what the central conflict is. It’s roughly 25 percent of the story, but this is a guideline, not a rule.
The second act is the longest of the three acts, usually about 50 percent of the narrative. In the second act, the story builds up to a climax in which the conflict hits a boiling point.
Finally, the third act resolves the conflict. The third act is usually about 25 percent of the story.
Choose five stories you’ve read, and break them into three-act structures by identifying the setup, conflict, and resolution for each one. Summarize each act in just a few sentences.
Create five story premises, and quickly draft three-act outlines for each one. Use a single sentence to describe each of the three acts. A couple of examples are provided below.
Act I: A natural disaster is impending.
Act II: The natural disaster claims the lives of half of Earth’s population. The other half struggles to survive.
Act III: Earth’s survivors rebuild.
Act I: A teenager from a prestigious family falls in love with someone from the wrong side of the tracks.
Act II: The couple tries to hide their relationship, but eventually they are outed.
Act III: The teenager is forced to choose between love and access to the family’s wealth and support.
Why do you suppose the three-act structure is universally applicable to almost all forms of storytelling? Would it be possible to write a story with no setup, or with the setup at the end or in the middle? What happens if the three acts are rearranged? Can any of the acts be left out of a story?
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