Writing Can Be Murder

April 15, 2010

3 or 4 Act Structure?

Filed under: Uncategorized — love2wryte @ 7:44 pm

No pics this week. I’ve been too busy writing.

I just finished the first act of my latest novel.

Which brings me to the subject of today’s post: Do you believe/follow/practice 3 or 4 act structure? (or do you not give it any thought at all?)

Me? I’m a plot gal. I may not know what my heroine’s favorite breakfast is, or what color the hero’s eyes are, but I know my turning points and climax before I sit down to write. (These are subject to change during the actual writing, but they serve as my guideposts along the way.)

There was a time when I believed in 3 act structure…beginning, middle and end…just like we learned in the fourth grade. The problem with three acts, at least for me, is that I kept getting all muddled and bogged down in the second act. It felt ENDLESS.

Because it was. In 3 Act Structure the middle act is approximately 50% of the book (with the first and third acts being about 25% each…yeah, I know, it’s not an exact science and there are exceptions to every rule, and blah, blah, blah, but I’m ballparking here).

Which is why I’ve embraced four act structure (each act being approximately 25% of the story).

Understanding what needs to occur in the second act to get to the midpoint (which is a big dramatic moment that changes the direction of the rest of the book) is clearer when I’m focused on only 1/4 of the book.

In turn, dealing with the consequences/fallout of the midpoint scene and getting to the end of act three drives the story forward instead of leaving me flailing around going “where am I?”. Knowing that I’m working toward reaching the turning point which will ultimately set things in motion to reach the climax helps me to stay focused.

The fourth act is just a matter of climax and resolution. (which sounds really simple, but you should see how busy my charts get).

SO now you tell me, 3 Acts, 4 Acts, , Six Acts (I’ve tried that…sorta works for me) or 9 acts? Or No Acts?



  1. I’m embarrassed to admit that I had never even heard of Act structuring until I took a seminar at ThrillerFest last summer. But it made a lot of sense to me and I applied what I learned when I was revising my novel.

    For the new WIP, I’m thinking about using a 3 Act structure. You know how much I struggle with plot, AND I’m an organic writer, so I’m hoping this will help me focus. I’ll probably aim for a 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 split initially… but who knows what will change in revisions?

    Great post, Jen!

    Comment by Jenny — April 16, 2010 @ 1:42 am | Reply

  2. The four-act structure definitely keeps me more focused and feeling more like I’m running a sprint relay than a marathon. Thanks for making me think about it again. Great post!

    Comment by Cyndi — April 16, 2010 @ 5:16 pm | Reply

  3. Jenny — No need to be embarrassed. What works for you, works for you. I was just curious about what others do.

    Cyndi — Glad I can help!

    Comment by love2wryte — April 19, 2010 @ 4:56 am | Reply

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