The Three-Act System

banread19Before you can begin outlining your story, you must know your characters. This character worksheet is helpful in getting to know them and will help you keep details straight as you write and edit:

Character Worksheet:

  •         Name:
  •         Age:
  •         Physical description:
  •         Spouse/partner name:
  •         Children:
  •         Occupation (are they happy or hate it?):
  •         Parent’s names:
  •         Brothers/sisters names (birth order tells a lot):
  •         Earliest memory (what imprinted this kid, what shaped them, leading to their outlook on life):
  •         Most embarrassing moment (vulnerability):
  •         Proudest moment (what makes them feel good, leads them to another moment where they feel that good):
  •         Secret dream or wish (what they really want, what motivates them):
  •         Favorite thing (or least favorite thing):
  •         Things in their wallet or purse (what they consider valuable):

Aside from this standard information, the most important part of your character is understanding their flaw, which is an emotional shortcoming the protagonist will overcome if you’re writing a happy ever after. During crisis, the flaw will overcome your character. During epiphany, the character will overcome their flaw. (This will make more sense after I go through the three Acts).

There are three basic parts to a book: the beginning, the middle, and the end. Act 1 is the beginning, Act 2 is the middle, and Act 3 is the end.

The information provided below was gathered from the online class: ’Write Fiction Like a Pro.’ It was the best class I’ve taken since plant physiology. What? Don’t look at me like that! I’m a botany nerd. 😉


The Three Act System Explained

[Source unknown]

[Source: unknown]

Act 1:

  •         Hook: Introduce main character and their flaw. It puts the story in motion.
  •         Backstory: Introduces other characters. The protagonist’s flaw creates dramatic tension and propels the story.
  •         Trigger: An intense event that attacks your protagonist’s flaw and sends your character into crisis.

Act 2:

  •         Crisis: The flaw overcomes the character (internal and emotional failure). The emotions of crisis carry through the struggle and are resolved in the epiphany, after a long struggle. You can write backward or forward from the crisis, it is the key checkpoint in the outline.
  •         Struggle: Protagonist will spend more than half the book in struggle, which is a reaction to the crisis. Plot takes over, making up a series of plot complications that propel the struggle forward, providing obstacles for the protagonist so they don’t resolve their problems too soon. The antagonist needs to appear to be winning to keep suspense and dramatic tension.
  •         Epiphany: Your protagonist’s emotional realization that their flaw is preventing him or her from resolving the dilemma. The character overcomes their flaw and they are empowered to change.

Act 3:

  •         Plan: The protagonist is ready to fix their dilemma (which the reader has been waiting for).
  •         Climax: The protagonist faces the problem, the battle against the antagonist is won, and the reader is deeply satisfied. It’s very exciting (either physically or for the emotional growth).
  •         Ending: The dilemma is resolved and everyone experiences catharsis. Inner and outer conflicts are resolved, showing the reader the benefits of the protagonist’s self-discovery. Celebration. If the reader feels right about the outcome, you’ve succeeded.

Now that you know about the three acts, think of your favorite book or movie. Got one in mind? Good. Think of the protagonist’s flaw and crisis and you’ll understand why the story ended the way it did. Next, I want you to think of a book you hated and try to figure out why. For me, it’s when there’s no epiphany. No catharsis. In other words, I hate tragedies. Stories where the characters don’t grow, where their flaw overcomes them and nothing changes. I love happy ever after romances because I like to believe people can change for love.

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