Conversations: Summary of the Three Act Structure of a Novel

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.

Happy Writing!

Susie May

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!

Don’t be Fooled, Part Four: Fooled Me Twice

Ever heard the old saying, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me?” You’d think we would learn from our mistakes but those I coach report they seem to go around the same mistakes over and over again like they are on an emotional carrousel. I’ve done it myself more times than I care to admit.

If we continue to make the same mistakes over and over again, it can be damaging to our emotional health in many ways. Here are a few:

1)    We conclude we are in some way incapable. If we continue to fall into the same hole, it has a way of telling us we were meant to be in the hole.

2)    We learn to accept living in the hole. When history—even mistake history—repeats itself, over time we accept it as truth and conclude we have no options or control over it.

3)    We stop trying to get out of the hole. When we decide it’s our plight to be in the hole, we stop expending our energy to climb out of the hole and settle in for a lifetime of living in the hole. It becomes our culture. Our way of life.

Being doomed to living our life in the hole we keep falling into could not be farther from the truth. We have complete control over whether we settle for life in the emotional foxhole, or moving forward in the direction you want to go. Put these tips to work in your life and take back your life.

Know you were not meant to exist in the hole. God created you as entrepreneur of your emotional career. You get to create your own emotional destiny. That’s the way God planned it. Don’t settle for working on the production line in the emotional factory when you could be running your own emotional empire. You call the shots.

Accept the fact that you will make mistakes. Unless you are not a human being, making mistakes comes with the territory. You’ll make tons of them, but here’s the thing that will take you off the merry-go-round. Stop! Take time to assess your mistake and what caused it. Then put that on your to-not-do list. Avoid that in the future. Unless you put the mistake and its cause in the forefront of your mind, you will mindlessly wander back into the hole.

Always carry a shovel. A shovel is one of the most important things you can own. It’s one of the most versatile tools in the shed, and having one gives you all sorts of choices. That’s true with your emotions as well. You always need to carry an emotional shovel with you. What is that? Depends on you. My emotional shovel is actually a kit containing motivational quotes, motivational books, my journal and my Bible… and my car keys for that ride in the country that always digs me out of the emotional mulligrubs.

Don’t be fooled by mistakes. They are a result of what you did, not a result of who you are. Don’t confuse the two. Live life learning from your mistakes and finding ways to keep moving forward and around the landmines that will keep you in an emotional hole. Remember that you are completely in control. Do what’s best for you.

What are some of the mistakes you keep repeating? What can you do to change that today? I’d love to hear from you. Email me at


Dr. Reba J. Hoffman, Member Care CoachReba J. Hoffman is the MBT Member Care Coach. She has a PhD in clinical counseling and is the founder and president of New Hope Institute of Counseling. Reba uses her gift of encouragement to help writers overcome negative emotions so they can live their dream of being a writer. Her works appear in publications such as Running for the Woman’s Soul by Road Runner Sports and The Good Fight by Donna Hicken. She is the author of My Book Therapy’s Dare to Dream, a Writer’s Journal. Contact her at

Featured Fiction Friday with James L. Rubart

The Frasier Entries are in! Now all we can do is sit down, cuddle up with our bags of popcorn, and wait for the results. In the meantime though, My Book Therapy will spend Fridays introducing you to the work of our all-powerful judges.

This week we are pleased to introduce you to James L. Rubart and his new book: The Chair.

Q: Tell us about your Book.

A: If someone gave you a chair and said it was made by Jesus Christ, would you believe them? 

When an elderly lady shows up in Corin Roscoe’s antiques store and gives him a chair she claims was crafted by Jesus, he scoffs. But when a young boy is miraculously healed two days after sitting in the chair, he stops laughing and starts wondering . . . could this chair heal the person whose life Corin destroyed twelve years ago? 

As word spreads of the boy’s healing, a mega-church pastor is determined to manipulate Corin into turning over the chair. And that mysterious woman who gave him the piece flits in and out of his life like a shadow, insinuating it’s Corin’s destiny to guard the chair above everything else. But why? 

Desperate, he turns to the one person he can trust, a college history professor who knows more about the legend of the chair than he’ll reveal. Corin’s life shatters as he searches for the truth about the artifact and the unexplained phenomena surrounding it. What’s more, he’s not the only one willing do almost anything to possess the power seemingly connected to the chair.

Q: What is one piece of writing advice you could give to the MBT Audience?

A: Your manuscript isn’t competing against other aspiring authors. It’s competing against published authors. So your story can’t be 90% of the way there. It has to be 98% of the way there. In other words, work on your craft, work on your craft, and work on it some more. I know it’s tough, but keep going!

Q: What review or responses have you gotten to The Chair?

The Chair is a 2012 Christy Award Nominee, RT Book Reviews gave it four and a 1/2 Stars, Christian Retailing Magazine made it their Top Pick in Sept ’11. This is one of my favorite letters I’ve received from a fan:

Hi Jim,

I just finished “The Chair”.  I loved the message of healing and of restoration.  What a gift you have of writing.  Of delivering the message that’s obviously in your heart to challenge others to live the life that God has intended them to.  I couldn’t help but post on my facebook page the information about your book

Carol Robertson


James grew up in Pacific Northwest, Seattle and Spokane. He attended the University of Washington (Go Dawgs!) and since ’94 has been the owner of an ad agency/marketing firm. His favorite memories include jumping off cliffs with his boys, long walks & talks with his wife, and going deep with friends.


Villainous Antagonists: Tips, Tricks and Hints

This week on our fast Maass notes review, we’re going to look at the antagonist.

What is an antagonist? The opposite of protagonist. (Yeah, thanks, Rach, big help!)

Antagonist is the villain. The opposite of the hero. The trouble maker, the one who pulls against the protagonist to keep her from achieving her goal and dream.

Some famous antagonist you might remember:

  • Darth Vadar
  • Lex Luthor
  • Kryptonite
  • The terrorist in Die Hard
  • Biff in Back to the Future

In Sweet Caroline, the diner, The Frogmore Café, was the antagonist. A broken down diner the heroine inherited. She could’ve cared less about the building, but the people who came with it tugged on her heart.

In Dining with Joy, her secret – that she can’t cook – is like the antagonist. But she also had a personal villain, Wenda Divine, who was trying to expose the secret!

In The Wedding Dress, society, personified in Emily’s fiance, is the antagonist.

So, you see, there are lots of ways to show the antagonist. Any where you see a “good” verses “evil” clash, you have an antagonist. Any where you see a road block to the protagonist’s goals, you have an antagonist.

Here’s my fast notes from the Maass class.


May not have an overt villain, but who gets in my protagonists way. Who slows down or impedes my protag the most. Who throws doubt or questions my protagonist. Who causes them concern. Self doubt or worry.

Working against protagonist. Even a friendly character can do this.

Romantic story – heroes ex-fiance. Tired Cliché.

Outside person working actively against protag.

Tight focus on hero and heroine. Can write from hero’s POV.

What they are experiencing with each other?

Only spending time with hero and heroine? They are each other’s antagonists.

“The woman is infuriating, impossible, can’t stand her, but she’s hot.”

“Darn hero – world would be so much better off without guys like him. Stands for everything I hate. But he’s hot.”

(RH: But if you do this, you MUST show why the hero and heroine belong together!)

What is antagonist defining quality?

Antagonist most wants what? Yearning, dream, goal. Where would he like to go? What to achieve or experience. Avoid?

“If I am the antagonist, how would I describe what I want?”

What does he believe in? “Himself. Do it on your own or it won’t happen. People will let you down. Depend not on others.”

If the world ran the way my antagonist wanted it to run, how would it be better? People were self sufficient. What was good about them? How were things better?

Who supports my antagonists. Make his case stronger. Among the great thinkers and writers, who supports his POV.

What support can antag find in the Bible for his beliefs?

Moment in story when protag recognizes that antag is right and accepts it. “Yes, things would be better. He’s correct.”

“Ever know a truth that you now know to be false, or at least too simple.”

“Ever a teenager?”

Judge someone to find out you were wrong or it wasn’t as simple as you thought.

Ever think you know how God wants things to be but they just aren’t true or working out?

Through the eyes of the antagonist, the protagonist questions her beliefs and life.

Antag has more to do. Need see the antagonist moving through the story. They appear, go away, then reappear. What are they doing all that time? All working on something. Write out what antagonist is doing. 4-5 pages of outline.

Hidden antagonist: See them via clues.

“Enemies can start out as friends and lovers.”

“Enemy understands you better than anyone else. Say things that hurt, but are true. Antagonist can be right.”

Make them three dimensional. No more convenient antagonists. Make them scary. OR loving, then scary!

“What is the biggest thing that will help the antagonist?”

“Who will antagonist win over?”

“What about the protag that antag did not except? Respects? Admires?”

“What is the biggest way antagonist is changed by protag? What do they do differently?”

“Protag and antag relationships must be developed. Must be dynamic, changing and interesting. How do they effect and change each other? Interact? Surprise each of them?”

“How does protag see the antag differently at the end of the story?”

Series of questions:

  1. Chronology of events that comprise the story, which beginning moment best demonstrates what protag wants or wants to avoid? When do we know what they want. When can we see it.
  2. What is the moment in chronology of events, toward the beginning, the protag’s sense of security is torn down. What is the last moment, before that when sense of security goes. A moment, down to the minute when she knows, life is not going to be the same.
  3. Where is she exactly that takes the sense of security away. Things will never be the same again.
    “Standing the my apartment, on the phone, ask, “What’s wrong.” Knew she was going to dump me.”
  4. Can one of these moments be page one? How close to these events can we open the story. Standing these looking at something.
  5. Where does the story open? So many page ones, start setting the scene. We need action and conflict. Things changing. Character coming into crisis. We need to know how character arrived, got there, but that’s not where the story starts.


Don’t take the safe way. TOO MANY SAFE MANUSCRIPTS

Now, go make your antagonist stronger, better, real!


Rachel Hauck, My Book Therapy, The Craft and Coaching Community for NovelistsBest-selling, award-winning author Rachel Hauck loves a great story. She excels in seeing the deeper layers of a story. With a love for teaching and mentoring, Rachel comes alongside writers to help them craft their novel. A worship leader, board member of ACFW and popular writing teacher, Rachel is the author of over 15 novels. She lives in Florida with her husband and her dog, Lola. Contact her at: