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Jessica Steiner ([personal profile] jessicasteiner) wrote2013-04-26 08:16 pm

U is for Understanding Structure #atozchallenge

I can't necessarily say that a novel has to have a particular structure, nor that it even needs a structure at all. This isn't something I've made a specific study of, but I can tell you that I tend to follow the Three Act Structure. And that's what I'm going to talk about a little bit more today.

The main thing that this structure does is to space out the most profound points of change or disasters. Now, a novel doesn't actually have to have three acts. Some novels will have two acts, and some have four. It might even be possible to have five acts. Maybe some readers will be able to point out examples. A particularly epic novel will have more such disasters, and so that determines how many acts you actually have, but generally you'll have three main acts.

The First Act

In the first act, the characters and the main problem of the story are introduced. The characters are thrust into the events of the story. A change takes place (usually as close as possible to the very beginning) from which there is no going back. They can no longer ignore the important conflict going on and must do something about it.

At the end of the first act, something takes place that is a major turning point. The work that the characters have made towards achieving their goal and making the world go back to normal is thwarted in a way that truly changes the perception of the problem itself.

The Second Act

Throughout the second act, which is the main bulk of the story, the characters strive to solve the problem they're faced with. They may still be trying to avoid facing the great sacrifices they will have to make in order to solve the problem. They generally still want to go back to the way things were, and not want to face the fact that the world has irrevocably changed. There should be multiple turning points, keeping the action moving.

Many books get heavy and bloated in the second act. It is often helpful to have another major disaster right around the middle of the book, to help hold up the middle and keep it from seeming too long.

The Third Act

In the third act, the characters are totally committed and they have made firm decisions to solve the problem. They have accepted that they only way out of the mess that's been created is forward. The story moves and builds to the climax, and the main problem is solved, though the characters' world will never be the same.

Making all this happen

Generally what I do before I start is identify the four main turning points - the one that launches the characters into the action, the two disasters at the end of acts 1 and 2, and the climax. Once I identify them, I place them as anchor points in my outline, and build the book around them.

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