Some writers believe a story should be told in three acts. The first act being the beginning, this is where we meet the character or characters and get to know a bit about them. The second act is the middle, this is where we learn of the character or characters problem and follow their antics as they attempt to solve the problem. The third and final act, this is obviously the end where everything resolves and we go away hopefully feeling satisfied. This is the structure I usually adhere (although not usually consciously) when I write a short story.
Other writers contest that a story should always be told in five acts. Here is the structure that a five-act story would follow:
Act 1 – Exposition – Again, we meet the character or characters, we get some background information but then there is an inciting moment that sets the action into play. This inciting moment must cause a problem for our protagonist that needs a resolution.
Act 2 – Rising Action – This is where the protagonist encounters some roadblocks on the way to solving the inciting moment.
Act 3 – Climax – The turning point happens here. This is where an epic battle or tense moment occurs within the story.
Act 4 – Falling Action – The tension that occurred during the climax begins to settle and relax a bit.
Act 5 – Denouement – The conclusion or ending part of the story. Loose ends get tied up here and everyone lives happily ever after… or not!
In addition to placing importance on the structure of the acts, I have seen experts put percentages to how much of the novel each act of these structures should take up. For example, the 25 – 50 -25 model says that based on the three act novel structure, the first 25% of the novel should correlate to act 1, therefore 50% should be act 2 and the final 25% is act 3. In the five-act structure act 1 is still the first 25%, acts 2-4 are the next 50% and then act 5 is the final 25%.
How does my new novel hold up to the percentages and the structures?
I have nearly finished chapter 3 of my new novel and am about 18.000 words in. The structure of my story was something I worked out in my prewriting steps but will admit to never giving any thought about assigning percentages or the number of acts I would use.
The first chapter does involve an inciting incident which is leads readers directly into chapter 2. Chapter 2 introduces other characters and their back stories and sets up a few minor inciting incidents that the other characters will need to resolve. The end of chapter 2 leads readers nicely into chapter 3, where the characters get to know each other and reveal their goals. Those three chapters are set up chapters, the are the beginning.
Chapters 4-5 will begin to drop hints to the reader that something is not quite right in the world the characters have been placed in, this is the rising action.
Chapters 6-8 put the characters directly in the midst of the conflict and danger, this is the climax.
Chapter 9-10, the characters begin to plot to resolve their situations, this is the falling action.
Chapter 11-12 wrap things up, this is our happy ending… or is it?
If you do the math there is 25% 51.2% 23.8% structure to my five-act novel. I certainly didn’t set out to adhere to a formula but have done so unconsciously.
Does anyone else make a conscious effort to adhere to these structures in the novel planning stage or is this something that appears to just happen naturally for you as it has done for me? Does anyone try to go against the structure and create something new. Does it matter in terms of publishing?