How To Plan Your Novel Using The Three-Act Structure

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Writing a novel is hard, especially if you’ve never done it before. You’ve spent hours researching, building your world and becoming an expert on your characters. Now you’re ready for the next step: planning (also known as plotting).

While some people like to write organically (letting the story take you in whatever direction feels right), having a detailed outline can help make the novel-writing process a lot less daunting and overwhelming. But how exactly do you plan a novel?

Essentially, there is no right or wrong way to outline your novel. Each story is different and needs to be told in a different way.

However, if you need a bit more guidance on how to plot out the next bestseller you know you have inside you, the three-act structure might be for you.

Defining The Three-Act Structure

The three-act structure is a popular screenwriting technique that revolves around constantly creating set-ups, conflicts and resolutions. With this structure, a novel is divided into three acts: a beginning, a middle and an end.

There are many versions of the three-act structure. In some, the middle is the same size as the beginning and end put together.

However, when you’re first starting out, it’s much easier to plan each act to be the same length. In this version of the three-act structure, each act is divided into nine chapters for 27 chapters in total. The nine chapters in each act are also split into three blocks of three chapters each.

This version creates a fast-paced novel that invites readers to keep turning your pages. If you’re still unconvinced, for an example Suzanne Collins’ bestselling young adult Hunger Games trilogy follows this structure almost perfectly.

Throughout this article, we’ll take a look at what each section of the three-act structure involves, using examples from The Hunger Games to demonstrate each element. (SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read or seen The Hunger Games and don’t want key plot points spoiled, read on at your own risk!)

Act One (set-up)

The first act is used to introduce the reader to the world your characters live in and to set up the coming conflict.

Block One – Introduce Hero in Ordinary World

  • Chapter 1: Introduction (set up)
  • Chapter 2: Inciting incident (conflict)
  • Chapter 3: Immediate reaction (resolution)

In the first chapter, you need to set up your hero in their ordinary world. Introduce us to your characters and the relationships and conflicts between them. In The Hunger Games, the first chapter introduces the dystopian world and the Reaping.

The inciting incident in Chapter Two is the event or decision that sets your hero along the path of your narrative. The inciting incident is really important – without it, your story would not occur. The inciting incident in The Hunger Games is Katniss volunteering herself for the Hunger Games to save her sister; if Katniss didn’t volunteer, the rest of the novel would not have happened.

In the third chapter, the hero reacts to the inciting incident. The immediate reaction in The Hunger Games is when Katniss’ family and friends come to say goodbye to her before she leaves for the Games.

Block Two – Problem Disrupts Hero’s Life

  • Chapter 4: Reaction (set-up)
  • Chapter 5: Action (conflict)
  • Chapter 6: Consequence (resolution)

Chapter Four is where the hero reacts to and reflects on the long-term impacts of the inciting incident. In Chapter Four, Katniss reflects on the impact her death would have on her community, especially her mother and sister. Katniss also starts to discuss strategy with Haymitch, her mentor.

As a result of their reflection, the hero decides to take action and do something to change their situation in Chapter Five. In The Hunger Games, Katniss takes her first step towards winning the Games in the parade of tributes. Her fiery dress and attitude win over the crowd.

Chapter Six details the immediate consequences of the action the hero took in Chapter Five. In The Hunger Games, Katniss discusses the success of the parade with Haymitch. She also reflects on her past and the difficulty of rebellion.

Block Three – Hero’s Life Changes Direction

  • Chapter 7: Pressure (set-up)
  • Chapter 8: Pinch (conflict)
  • Chapter 9: Push (resolution)

The hero’s life has changed as a result of the action they took in Chapter Five, and this creates a lot of pressure and stress in Chapter Seven. The pressure is obvious in Chapter Seven of The Hunger Games. Here, Katniss has her demonstration where she shows the Gamemakers her archery skills by shooting an arrow towards them in frustration.

In Chapter Eight, the first pinch – or plot twist – occurs. A good plot twist is something completely unexpected for the reader. The first pinch in The Hunger Games is Katniss receiving a score of 11, something completely unexpected.

As a result of the pinch, the hero is pushed into a new world in Chapter Nine. The majority of this chapter in The Hunger Games centres around the television interviews with Caesar, the last formality before the tributes are sent into the Games. Here, Peeta declares his love for Katniss.

Act Two (conflict)

The second act is full of conflict. Character development is crucial in the second act; the hero at the end of Act One does not yet have the tools (whether those tools be emotional, physical or literal items the hero must retrieve) to succeed in the third act, so Act Two is all about the journey.

Block Four – Hero Explores New World

  • Chapter 10: New world (set-up)
  • Chapter 11: Fun and games (event/conflict)
  • Chapter 12: Old world contrast (resolution)

Chapter 10 allows you to introduce the reader to the new world. What has changed, and how does the hero feel about it? In Chapter 10, Katniss finally enters the Hunger Games.

In Chapter 11, the hero can take a break and have a little fun. Maybe they have a date with their new lover, or maybe they do something they’ve never done before. Here, Katniss travels through the arena looking for water, and while she is still in an intense environment, she has a bit of a break.

Chapter 12 is time for the hero to compare their current world to how things were at the novel’s beginning. After realising Peeta has teamed up with her enemies, Katniss reflects on their relationship and compares this Peeta to the person she was friends with.

Block Five – Crisis of New World

  • Chapter 13: Build-up (set-up)
  • Chapter 14: Midpoint (conflict)
  • Chapter 15: Reversal (resolution)

The fifth block is all about the midpoint, or the main crisis or conflict of your novel.

Chapter 13 is the build-up to the midpoint and Chapter 14 is the midpoint itself. A good midpoint will dramatically change the hero or impact their life in a negative way. In The Hunger Games, Katniss is pushed towards the Career tributes in Chapter 13, and escapes from them after Peeta saves her in Chapter 14.

Chapter 15 is the immediate reaction or consequence of the midpoint. Here, Katniss makes an alliance with Rue and they formulate a plan to take down the Career tributes.

Block Six – Finding a Solution

  • Chapter 16: Reaction (set-up)
  • Chapter 17: Action (conflict)
  • Chapter 18: Dedication (resolution)

In Chapter 16, the hero reflects on the long-term impacts of the midpoint. In The Hunger Games, Katniss realises that to take down the Careers, they need to stop their food supply.

In Chapter 17, the hero decides to take action to resolve the problem created by the midpoint; however, they realise the enormity of their task when things don’t necessarily go to plan. In Chapter 17, Katniss blows up the Career’s food supply, but before she and Rue can celebrate, Rue is attacked by another tribute.

Despite the set-backs, in Chapter 18 the hero decides that they will succeed no matter what. Rue dies in Chapter 18, and Katniss promises to win for her.

Act Three (resolution)

The final act is all about resolutions. In the third act, the hero needs to find solutions to the conflict created by the midpoint, and you as the author need to make sure you tie up all the loose ends.

Block Seven – Victory Seems Impossible

  • Chapter 19: Trials (set-up)
  • Chapter 20: Pinch (event/conflict)
  • Chapter 21: Darkest moment (resolution)

In Chapter 19, the hero faces significant trials. These trials are extremely difficult for the hero and is something the hero has never experienced before. Here, Katniss races to find Peeta and struggles to help save his injured leg.

Chapter 20 is the second pinch, where the hero experiences something completely unexpected that makes everything even worse. In Chapter 20, Peeta’s injury leads to blood poisoning.

This plot twist leads to the darkest moment in Chapter 21 where the thought of success is incomprehensible. Here, Katniss risks everything to get medicine for Peeta, and the chapter ends with her passing out from her own injuries.

Block Eight – Hero Finds Power

  • Chapter 22: Power within (set-up)
  • Chapter 23: Action (conflict)
  • Chapter 24: Converge (resolution)

Having hit rock-bottom, the hero remembers their desire to succeed in Chapter 18 and finds the power within to continue on. In Chapter 22, Katniss and Peeta both start to recover from their injuries.

After deciding they can do it, the hero takes action in Chapter 23, and this action causes the plotlines to converge and come together in Chapter 24. In Chapter 23, Peeta and Katniss realise how close they are to winning, and in Chapter 24 all of the tributes are pushed towards the lake by the Gamemakers for the final battle.

Block Nine – Hero Fights and Wins

  • Chapter 25: Battle (set-up)
  • Chapter 26: Climax (conflict)
  • Chapter 27: Resolution (resolution)

Block nine is the finale. In Chapter 25, the character has one last battle. This doesn’t have to be a physical battle – it could be a fight between friends or lovers, or a mental battle your hero has with themselves. Here, Peeta and Katniss try to survive the freezing night and kill Cato.

Chapter 26 is the final climax. The decisions the hero makes here will impact the rest of their life; it is the point of no return. In The Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta pretend to eat the poisonous berries, which leads to President Snow stopping them by declaring them both winners. However, Katniss realises that despite winning the Games, she’s now in even more danger.

Chapter 27 is the resolution or the immediate reaction to the hero’s decision in the last chapter. Here, Katniss and Peeta finally get to go home.

The way you end your novel is up to you. You might choose to explain everything, or leave some things (or a lot of things) up to your reader’s imagination. It could be a happy heroic ending, or it could be a tragedy where everyone dies.

Either way, congratulations! You’ve planned a novel.

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One last thing to note: When you start to plan your novel using this structure it’s important to remember it’s just a guideline. You don’t have to change your story to suit the structure; you can change the structure to suit your story. If your plot twist would make more sense earlier or later, move it. These aren’t hard rules. Do what is right for your story.  So take a deep breath, set yourself up in your favourite place to write and start planning!

Via: https://writersedit.com/plan-novel-using-three-act-structure/

Literary Devices: How To Master Structure

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This week Writer’s Blog will be exploring literary devices to help you along with your writing. Literary devices are techniques and structures writers employ to convey their message and story. When done well, the use of literary devices can alter, manipulate and challenge the way a reader perceives any work. Used masterfully, literary devices influence how a story or essay can be interpreted and analysed, as well as how much the reader enjoys the work. Today’s device is Structure:

How To Master Structure

Structure, or form, is the arrangement of story elements according to purpose, style and genre. Structure doesn’t just happen on it’s own. Rather, it’s carefully considered by the author to make sure their intended meaning is conveyed.

In order for a story to be truly immersive, the structure must play the part of a skeleton. In other words, the structure supports the story to ensure the most powerful delivery of elements, yet in a manner unseen and not easily identified by the reader.

“Fiction is supposed […] to be entertaining and narrative, so structures have to be buried a little bit. If they become foregrounded too much, it stops being fiction and starts being poetry – something more concrete and out of time.” – Eleanor Catton

Structure may be confused with plot. While the plot is the events in the story itself, heavily affected by character, setting and theme, the structure is how these elements are presented to the reader.

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Why do we need structure?

Structure is the literary device that turns words and sentences into a story. It aims to present that story in the most favourable way, for a specific audience. The writing process is more than simply piecing together words on a page:

“[…] turning all that raw material into a novel isn’t simply a matter of putting it into words on a page or screen. You have to ‘translate’ it into a form that readers can relate to. That’s what structure does. And if you ignore it or mess with it, you risk frustrating – or worse, losing – readers.” – James Scott Bell

Consider this very article. If we opened with the ‘tips’ section, and finished with a definition, readers would become frustrated, scrolling up and down to make sense of the information. If all the quotes were lumped in a pile right in the middle of the article and sub-headings placed at the end of their sections, instead of at the start, would the article be easy to read? No.

It doesn’t matter if your sentences alone read like golden honey. Your story must have a readable and engaging structure or your readers will switch off.

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Types of structure

Most stories can be either rigidly or loosely aligned to a particular structure and these can be expressed through simple diagrams.

A common example of structure in modern fiction is The Fichtean Curve, involving moments of rising and falling action, a climax at the height of the curve and a resolution, may it be a happy ending or a tragedy.

Perfect for fantasy or science fiction, the Hero’s Journey begins with an interruption to a protagonist’s everyday existence by an opportunity for adventure. They journey into the unknown, facing obstacles and undergoing a gradual metamorphosis. After overcoming every hurdle, they return to their old world with a new mindset. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, is a fine example of this structure.

Another common structure, In Media Res, means ‘in the middle of things’. If your story begins on the third or fourth crisis point of a Fichtean Curve, the stakes are very high already. You hook your readers in from the first word. Events prior to the start of the story are revealed gradually through the narrative or through flashbacks, like in the movie Vantage Point. Alternatively, any boring introductory scenes can be dismissed entirely, like in William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies or Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen.

Frame narratives are, as the name suggests, stories told within stories. Useful for setting the stage or casting doubt on the reliability of a narrator, this structure is more common in the crime, adventure or fantasy genres. The Farm, by Tom Rob Smith and every title in the Redwall series, by Brian Jacques, are frame narratives.

Historically, the popularity of different types of structures has fluctuated. Of course, as story-telling continues to evolve, structures are constantly reworked, simplified and deconstructed, according to the writer’s target audience and purpose.

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Working with structure

The way that writers approach structure can vary. At one end of the spectrum are the strict planners. Before they begin a first draft, these writers spend hours constructing each scene, and the order in which these scenes will appear.

“Some writers can produce marvellous plots without planning it out, but I can’t. In particular I need to know the structure of a novel: what’s going to happen in each chapter and each scene.” – Emma Donoghue

At the other end are the writers who leave the story in charge, writing without the ‘restriction’ of a preconceived plan.

“I don’t plot the books out ahead of time, I don’t plan them. I don’t begin at the beginning and end at the end. I don’t work with an outline and I don’t work in a straight line.” – Diana Gabaldon

And then there are the authors who occupy the middle ground.

“I always have a basic plot outline, but I like to leave some things undecided while I write.” – J.K. Rowling

Newer writers need time to discover how they work best when it comes to planning. On the other hand, you might already know where you stand, so it’s best to go with what works best for you.

Identifying structure

In some instances, such as children’s picture books, the structure will be fairly straightforward. Other books are more expansive, such as David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas or The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

“I first read The Lord of the Rings as an adolescent. It’s a dense novel, a sprawling, complex monster of a book populated with a prolific number of characters caught up in a narrative structure that, frankly, does not lend itself to conventional storytelling.” – Peter Jackson

Tip: Reflect on some of your favourite poems or books and see if you can identify the structure. In most novels, you should be able to plot a graph of the structure and locate critical turning points.

Using structure to edit

The first stage in the editing process is called a structural edit. This only highlights the importance of a strong structure. Even before an editor looks at a manuscript at the sentence level, they start by gauging whether the structure is logical and appropriate for the intended audience.

Tip: Before you send your work to a professional, you too should consider structure when you first edit your text. Read through your work from start to finish, checking that sentences, paragraphs and chapters flow with logic and clarity.

Furthermore, you can check the pace of your story through a broad lens. Is one chapter far longer than most of the others? Are some chapters too short in comparison?

Approaching structure in different ways

Some authors may choose to toy with structure. Understanding your purpose is important. However, it’s also crucial to note that straying from the norm might not be as popular as sticking to well defined conventions.

This doesn’t mean that you should shy away from experimentation. When practising your craft simply for your own benefit, not for publication, you might choose to remove a critical turning point or write a story so convoluted that readers can’t make sense of it.

Tip: Try planning and/or writing your story from the end. Understanding the fate of your characters will strengthen their personality and motivations when the story is read from the beginning. And as you track backwards towards the beginning you’ll know for sure that the end of the book is supported by every word that comes before it.

“Structure is translation software for your imagination.” – James Scott Bell

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At first, structure might not seem like the most important device, but imagine if you had no skeleton. Imagine if your car had no chassis, your bridge no pylons. Your story will fall and fail. This device is a must-have for your literary toolbox. Now it’s over to you!

Via the amazing resource that is Writer’s Edit: https://writersedit.com/literary-devices-master-structure