Using the Three-Act Structure in Your Story

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Give this classic storytelling format a try and see where your creativity takes you. Many of our favorite books follow a similar path. First, an old world is invoked or a new one created. Characters are introduced along with their relationships and surroundings. Something metaphorically explodes, setting events into motion, and we begin to understand the story’s purpose. Second, the characters respond and take action.

They learn new things as we learn more about them. Power rises, and the stakes get higher as the story takes another definitive turn. At long last, decisions and conditions consolidate into a last conflict. The peak follows, then, at that point, the story slows down to its decision. This “three-act structure” has assisted endless scholars with creating strong books. It can
do likewise for you.

Learn about the Three-Act Format

According to MasterClass, the three-act structure has been inspiring writers and captivating readers for millennia. It traces back to Aristotle, who theorized about story beats in Poetics. He argued that stories are a chain of cause-and-effect actions, with each action leading to the next until the story reaches its end. Over time, the three-act structure has evolved to include standard terminology.

The First Act (Setup)

Exposition: We meet the key characters and begin to understand how they relate to each other and their world. We also get to know the broader time, place, and situation in which they live and interact.
Inciting Incident and Turning Point: Something impactful happens that engages the main
character(s) and draws them into a conflict from which they cannot retreat.

Dramatic Questions: The first act often leaves more questions than answers.
What are the true implications of the inciting incident? How will the main characters react? Will they succeed in their efforts? And more.

The Second Act (Confrontation)

Rising Action: The characters make choices and move to solve the conflict, though they may struggle and make things worse. Setback and Midpoint: The characters fall short, and circumstances become darker, forcing them to acquire new skills, confidence, experience,
realizations, allies, etc. This typically happens about midway through the book.
A Second Turning Point into Crisis: Something momentous occurs, looking bad for the protagonist(s), whose success seems increasingly unlikely as the climax approaches.

The Third Act (Resolution)

Pre-Climax: The stage is set for the ultimate showdown between protagonists and obstacles, and the stakes are pushed to the extreme.


This is the story’s dramatic peak, where characters wrestle to overcome their
greatest challenges and dig deep, using all that they have learned and
acquired. The ultimate outcome of their struggle is decided.


Loose ends are tied up, plot lines resolved, and the final
unanswered dramatic questions are addressed. Get Writing

Try applying the three-act structure to all sorts of writing:

Character-Driven Fiction: Even if your book’s core events happen almost entirely within the heads of one or more characters, a three-act structure can still apply. Conflicts, turning points, and climaxes need not be external or even noticeable to the outside world; in the hands of the right writer, even the subtlest internal shifts can move readers.

Children’s Stories: Though the format may seem simple, kids’ books can still benefit from
a strong storytelling arc that takes them through exposition, development, climax, and conclusion.

Historical Fiction: While everyone already knows the broad strokes of historical events, you can still weave an impactful three-act story around known facts.

Use the three-Act Structure To Lift You Up, Not Hold You Back

The goal of the three-act structure, and any template for creative writing, is to help you craft an amazing story that speaks your truth as the author. While the three-act structure is a powerful tool, it’s just that – a tool to be used as much or as little as you find helpful. Explore, experiment, and have fun.

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