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  • Karina Sokulski

Three-Act Structure...Focus Shifts but Mostly About Act III


Here we are at the end of this little series of blog posts about the Three-Act Structure. Here is just one more friendly reminder that my points in the list may be titled differently than your study of the formula because my teaching came from a screenwriter rather than a novelist, terms will differ but their purpose will not.

So thankfully we've found ourselves at the end of this little formula and only have the end of both this formula and the story to focus on. Act III is the portion of the structure customarily referred to as "The Resolution." This is where the story itself ties up and brings your audience to your story's conclusion--as its section suggests.

Main Culmination

Whether due to a clash with the antagonist/antagonizing force, or an oversight on the protagonist's part, the main character at this moment is at an all-time low. Here form-trembling fears kick in, doubt clouds the mind and hesitation take the reins. This is where the main character's resolve is tested once more before the end. The protagonist has to believe in their strength or face utter failure.

Example:

(Still sticking to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz / The Wizard of Oz) On Dorothy and company's way to the Wicked Witch's castle, a wave of flying monkeys sweep over them, and Dorothy (along with Toto) are captured and effectively separated. Without the help of her friends, Dorothy is now in the clutches of the Wicked Witch herself.

Twist in Act 3

Twist in Act 3 is similarly a point that bridges the gap between Act III's first culmination and the climax. This is another point in the formula where a shift in tension occurs once more. Following the protagonist's lowest moment, the tension shifts for both the main character and audience to realize the stakes in the story are at their highest point.

Example:

Dorothy finds herself utterly alone following Toto's escape and discovers the Wicked Witch cannot forcibly take the magic slippers from her. She then produces a quickly flowing hourglass and threatens Dorothy's life will end when the hourglass empties.

Climax

The tension of this story is at its most intense point. The main character is being challenged usually while still recovering from their lowest point. The ultimate confrontation between your protagonist and antagonist / antagonizing force happens here. Typically we see this occur in only one scene as the climax itself is one long moment of confrontation.

Example:

Dorothy's friends have daringly come to save her, and they square off against the Wicked Witch. Cackling and causing all manner of chaos for the group, the Witch proceeds to set the Scarecrow on fire, Dorothy douses her friend in water to put out the fire and accidentally manages to soak the Witch as well. All company watches the Witch melt away, and one of the guards surrender the Witch's broom.

Denouement

At last, we reach the aftermath of the story. The conflict has been resolved (whether that's your protagonist or antagonist standing in the end to see it). If this is the first book in a series of books than the direct conflicts pertaining to volume one has been solved, giving way for your reader to depart with the knowledge that the series' long-term conflict remains intact, despite the accomplishments of your main character in volume one.

Example:

The Wicked Witch's broom has been given to the Wizard, and Dorothy's friends receive the rewards they sought out for. After the Wizard once more proves what an utter disappointment he is by leaving Dorothy behind on his hot air balloon, Glinda reveals to Dorothy that she always had the power to return home. Dorothy had not been informed until this point because Glinda didn't think Dorothy would believe her.

I'll never not pose this question right back at Glinda's character.

Anyway, Dorothy taps her slippers and wakes up in Kansas, only to be greeted by her loving family.

The Three-Act Structure in a nutshell. It's not perfect nor is it mandatory to use, but it serves its purpose as tool that can be used to "learn the rules so you can break them creatively." In no way should you feel the need to adhere to these rules and stifle any liberties you wish to take when applying it to your own project. Have fun with this structure then do it in whatever way is best for your story. For your convenience, here's a link to download a worksheet (PDF) of the Three-Act Structure as it appeared in these posts: [x].

#threeactstructure #TheThreeActMethod #WritingAdvice #writingencouragement