My minor in college was film, so I took a few screenwriting classes and learned somewhat extensively about the 3-act structure. You might be thinking, “wait, that sounds like it’s just for screenwriting. Stop this blog post!”. But NO. This basic structure is found in almost ALL storytelling for as long as we’ve been telling and writing stories! If you’re a beginning writer, this is one of the most important things you must learn before you begin. For most of us, this structure is almost unconsciously part of everything we write. If you looking for what the problem might be in your newest manuscript, you could start by analyzing the structure.
Act I: Setup
Act II: Confrontation
Act III: Resolution
Simple? This basic 3-act structure can be applied to almost every story, film, novel, or play out there. If you try to stray from it too much, your readers or viewers would most likely be pissed off and disappointed.
Act I should be spent setting up the characters and the situation your characters are in. It’s basically your introduction. The “inciting incident” should take place within Act I. This is the moment where there is a change in the main character’s everyday routine, which is usually challenging and always new.
Act II is often the longest segment of the story, which is often referred to as the rising action. The stakes in the story should increase significantly. Your character is developed mostly in the second act, so we are able to see who they are and how they will deal with the challenges in the third act.
Act III includes the climax and the resolution of the story. This is when the tension builds to it’s highest point before everything is eventually resolved. Obviously a resolution could be good or bad for the main character, but it’s necessary for the story and for the satisfaction of your readers.
If you really want to study and understand how this structure works, I suggest you watch Star Wars. The story is very straightforward and completely follows the 3-act structure. If you feel like you’re having pacing problems in your own story, this structure will probably help you out. It’s a tried and true formula that has lasted for a very long time.