The Three-Act Structure? Oh. Finally Got It

I have a bad, lifelong, habit of automatically rejecting anything that I can’t understand immediately without having to work at comprehension. Very bad habit. Whatever it is that doesn’t ring immediate bells has to look as if it might be very, very interesting, or unpleasantly necessary, for me to take a second and even a third look.

So the subject of structure in fiction keeps coming up, and I keep trying to figure out why I should bother trying to understand it when structure seems to come to me pretty naturally. That might be my ego talking, of course, but everything I read about structure and the debates over how many acts a book should have, and why the three-act structure is the most natural, seem terribly abstract and unrelated to the reality of getting a story put together.

But in the midst of pondering the development of A Well-Educated Boy the other day, it hit me. Boy quite naturally and all too obviously, uses the three-act structure. So two things happened. First, I was sort of confirmed in my belief that I tend to find the appropriate structures for my books without having to give it much thought. Second, I could see how being consciously aware of the structure might be helpful as I develop the story.

Going beyond Boy as I thought about this new perspective on structure, my mind jumped to a novel I started on NaNoWriMo many eons ago and never finished. I would like very much to finish it, and I’ve struggled with it off and on over the past few years, only to end up frustrated. The problem has always been how to structure it, and intuition has failed me with this one. It has two protagonists whose stories converge and separate several times. How the heck do I tell two separate stories in the same book? I know it can be done because I’ve read book where it’s been done very well. So that’s something I’m going to have to look into in some depth. I’m not going to let myself get off-track to pursue it right now, but I can now see that a serious examination of structure might help me finish the darn thing — someday.

On another note, I plan to post another chapter of A Perfect Slave this week — maybe tomorrow.

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4 thoughts on “The Three-Act Structure? Oh. Finally Got It

  1. Sorry I accused you of being a pantser if you aren’t! I don’t think outlining and having structure are exactly the same thing; I don’t outline traditionally.

    First I create the necessary bits (from my Dramatic file), and then I make sure every bit goes somewhere. Some of the scenes are easy – they get major Dramatica-inspired events, in a particular sequence. Then I make more scenes in between to get from one major point to another – and plunk the minor bits somewhere. And the bits are merely what my subconscious spits out when forced to try to process the interesting concepts and come up with a way to do that – in the story.

    I think it’s the opposition between the concepts and the story in my head that fills the text boxes with something approximating words. I really don’t know how it works in the whole, but the individual pieces seem to make sense. I’m sounding more and more incoherent about it, so I’ll quit.

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