“I think I just need to sum up.” Sally sat on the deck of the coffee shop, staring out at the lake, the waves frothy along the shore as it coughs up the debris of winter. A spring fragrance seasons the air, and from the earth around the deck, irises brave the crisp Minnesota air. Any warmer, and we might be out here in our shirtsleeves, so anxious we are for summer.
I sit down, lift my face to the sun. “Sum away.”
“I just want to make sure I have the Three Acts correct. I know we discussed them all, and then I dove right into my synopsis, but I just need to make sure I understand the overall flow of story structure.”
“I’m all ears.”
“Okay, in Act 1, our character walks onto the page fully formed, with a dark moment in his past that has created a greatest fear, a wound and a lie. He has a greatest dream, based on something happy in his past he wishes he could attain, but something is holding him back from this. He also has a goal, or something tangible, measurable and specific that he wants. This is called Home World, and where I start the story – “
“Unless you start with the Inciting Incident,” I say. “And then insert Home World next.”
“Right. The Inciting Incident is the unexpected event in his world that causes him to have to make a decision and go on the figurative journey that is the point of the rest of the book. The result of the Inciting Incident is something called the Great Debate, where he has to look at all the reasons why he should go on the journey, versus the ones holding him back, and then he makes a decision move forward into the journey, often called the Noble Quest.”
“This is the end of Act 1, and into the beginning of Act 2. Act 1 comprises the first 15 percent of my novel.”
“Yes.” I lean down, roll up the cuffs of my jeans. My ankles, at least will get tan.
“Act Two is what you call the Fun and Games. It’s where my hero grows emotionally and discovers the lies and hears the truth that lead up to the epiphany. But not before he has his Black Moment. Act Two is comprised of the character first launching out on his Noble Quest, and what he wants, and failing. Then he has to decide whether he wants it enough, and go forward into a series of tests or training that will equip him to try again for what he wants. During this time, he will have triumphs or disappointments and conflict to push the story forward, all of which enhances the Black Moment that is looming at the end of Act 2. Act 2 cumulates in the Black Moment Event, which is his greatest fears coming true.”
I roll up my shirtsleeves, glance over at her and nod.
“Act 3 begins with the Black Moment Effect, which is part of the inner journey and is the Lie feeling True. The hero feels a death of his dreams, yet in this moment, he has his epiphany as the truth hits him and he is set free. He is now able to do something that he couldn’t do at the beginning of the book. This is often called the Final Battle – the proof of the character change. The hero is tested even as he faces his biggest challenge, but finds victory in the end by clinging to the truth. Act 3 ends with a glimpse of the new home world, and the perfect ending. Act 3 is about 15-20% of the novel.”
I grin at her, warm all the way through. “Well done. Now what you want to do is look at that synopsis you’ve written and draw lines in it to designate these Acts. You’ll be able to see if you have your pacing correct and if you have all the elements you need for the overall structure of your novel. And, you’ll want to do this for every POV character who has a journey in your story.”
She leans back and lifts her face to the heat of the day. “Sure is beautiful today, isn’t it?”
“Indeed,” I say. “But don’t get too comfortable. Next week we start talking about scenes.”
She waves me away with her hand. “Just let me enjoy the day.”
Truth: Figuring out the Three Acts of your novel helps you see it in a nutshell and helps you understand if you have a compelling story. It then gives you confidence that you can write a great story.
Dare: Do you have all three Acts outlined for your novel? If not, build the key ingredients before you start your novel. Even if you change the plot or the scenes as you write, you can still stay on track with the big pieces.
P.S. I have a new book out! Check out Baroness – the story of two women coming of age in the Roaring Twenties! (It’s in a two-pack at Sam’s club with Heiress, Book #1!)
P.P.S Would you like to get FREE one-time 24 hour access pass to the MBT Advanced Team Member Locker Room and discover what all the buzz is about? Click here, and we’ll also invite you to Thursday Night’s Open House!