The Lord of the Three Act Structure

It’s that time folks!

Spring break is over, and it’s high time that I posted another blog!

So, first, before I dig in to today’s topic, I want to say that it is a lovely day here in Chandler, AZ. Crisp, clear, and with the recent rain, all the greens are greener. It’s a wonderful day to people watch on campus, and for writing a blog out of doors.

Slightly off topic, this Thursday, the 22nd, if you’re in the area, there will be a New Voices Reading at Phoenix College, in the Willo Room at 6:30pm. I will be reading an excerpt of a short story, so come check it out!

Also, one last memo, the deadline for submissions to The Gila River Review is March 30th, so get those things in!


So, the topic of the hour is….. Three Act Structure!

Now, when I say act, you’re probably thinking plays or scripts, but that isn’t the only format that can benefit from this structure.

Think of your story in the most base of terms. It has a beginning (act 1), middle (act 2), and an end (act 3). See! Just by the very nature of storytelling your story is built in three act structure!

But, it can get quite a bit more in depth than just the components of the story. For instance, take into consideration that each act has goals and purposes.

Act 1 should introduce your main characters and the natural world. It should set up the story goals and the danger/conflict should be introduced. Act 1 will usually be relatively short, just a handful of chapters. It should also springboard into the next act.

Act 2 is the meat of the story. This is where the crap starts to go down and people start getting in deep trouble. Your characters will develop and face challenge after challenge in this act, before facing the climax of the story. Act 2 is a large amount of your story, and should be quite a bit larger than the other acts. It should also act as a springboard into the last act.

Act 3 is the climax. That epic last battle between the good and bad guys. There is usually some form of character epiphany, and then some sort of resolution, although plenty of stories end as soon as the conflict does.

Think of the Lord of the Rings movies. In The Fellowship of the Rings, everyone is introduced, and the goal of the story (destroying the ring) is introduced. In The Two Towers, arguably the best movie of the series, everyone is gathering resources, and facing challenges that lead up to the final one. The Return of the King is act 3. Everyone has come together for the final challenge of destroying the ring. The character epiphany is that Frodo couldn’t do it… After all that time! But, the story goal is still achieved thanks to fate and Gollum.

Now, in The Lord of the Rings, they don’t end as soon as the ring is destroyed. There’s about another 30 minutes of wrapping up every last little detail and personal history. Not my favorite ending for a movie, but it was extremely consistent with the novels, so I appreciate it.

Here are some other great examples of 3 Act Structure:

Star Wars (the original trilogy)
Mass Effect 3
Pretty much every play written by Shakespeare

So, take a look at your story and see if it doesn’t already naturally fit into the three act structure. Just fitting your story into the structure can tell you loads about where your story is going and where it really needs work.


Thanks guys,


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