As enticing as it might seem to take an avant-garde approach to writing, there may be a price to pay for veering off the timeworn pathway of effective storytelling. The three-act story structure template is a proven method that dates all the way back to Aristotle, a method that has paved the way for countless successful creative works in literature, screenwriting, and playwriting. 

Here we guide aspiring authors through the various plot points or “story beats” contained within the three-act story structure. As you employ the three-act model in your writing, you’ll find the incremental steps to be extremely helpful in helping you to complete your novel. 

What is the Three-Act Story Structure?

The origin of the three-act story structure is credited to Aristotle’s Poetics back in the 4th century B.C., the earliest playwriting manual on record. Aristotle’s treatise articulated the key elements that were present in Greek tragedies of that era. He arranged them into the prologue, parados, episode, stasimon, and exodus. This became the foundational blueprint for storytelling ever since.

Although the three-act structure has evolved from the time of Aristotle, it has never lost the essence of the key plot components – a beginning, middle, and end. Today, the three-act story structure consists of The Setup, The Confrontation, and The Resolution. Each of these acts provides a challenge or development in the story that keeps it interesting and engaging – think of Gone With the Wind as a great example of this model.

Three-Act Story Structure Template

There is good reason for the three-act story structure to have withstood the test of time as a reliable model for plotting stories—It just works! So, let’s unpack the basics and show how this invaluable tool can guide fiction authors through the writing process:

Act I: The Setup

Act I is where the author sets the stage, introducing the reader to the protagonist and providing a general idea of the desires and fears that propel his or her daily life, hopes, and goals.

  1. Hook. You’ll describe the protagonist’s central conflict, something that may have been brewing for a while. What are they grappling with, what problem are they hoping to solve – and what is standing in their way?
  2. Inciting Incident. The inciting incident represents the problem that has surfaced for the protagonist and describes the inner turmoil it causes them. This sets the story in motion. 
  3. Build-up. The tension builds as your protagonist struggles, trying to figure out how to face the problem and how to navigate the challenge.
  4. First Plot Point. The first major plot point introduces how this conflict is mishandled and amplified by the protagonist’s missteps.
  5. First Pinch Point. Here you’ll convey a future threat that is looming ahead for the protagonist, a sneak peek at something that causes them danger or some other problem later in the story.

Act II: The Confrontation

Act II occupies the longest section of the three acts and introduces the roadblocks that will impede the protagonist’s goals and fuel their internal conflict.

  1. Pre-Midpoint Reactionary Hero. Give your protagonist a plan, a goal that will fulfill his or her desires, and also describe how they will execute it.
  2. Game-Changing Midpoint. Here the author introduces a surprise problem that will cause the protagonist to adjust their game plan.
  3. Post-Midpoint Action Hero. Now that your protagonist must adjust their strategies or plan, you will describe how he or she manages this unforeseen problem.
  4. Second Pinch Point. At this point of the story, you’ll convey the danger that lurks ahead and offer a peek at the story’s climax.

Act III: The Resolution

Act III is usually the shortest part of the story. This act provides the reader with the final showdown between the protagonist and his or her nemesis that stands in the way of reaching the ultimate goal.

  1. Supposed Victory (optional). Add an extra twist to the story with a fake out, or the protagonist’s belief that he or she has overcome the challenge, unaware that disaster looms.
  2. Disaster. At this stage of the story, right when things were looking good for the protagonist, some terrible unexpected setback occurs. To make this step truly effective, create a disaster that is particularly devastating for your protagonist.
  3. Dark Moment. Faced with this terrible disaster, the protagonist hits rock bottom and feels defeated and hopeless at the darkest moment.
  4. A-ha Moment. During the protagonist’s darkest hour comes a sudden revelation, an “a-ha!” moment. This is the pivotal point in the story when, just as the hero or heroine has given up all hope, they decide to rise up and push forward.
  5. Climactic Confrontation. Here your protagonist bravely faces their adversary, be it a person, villain, or state of mind, and demonstrates courage and personal growth. This climactic moment is what the story has been building up to. 
  6. Victory. Whether your protagonist celebrates an outright victory or merely a personal victory, this positive beat at the end of the story underscores the transformation this character has experienced. Character development should be evident by the end of the story. 
  7. Resolution. This final segment provides the reader with closure, leaving no lingering questions in their mind.

So, there you have it … the framework you need to create a magnificent novel using the highly effective three-act story structure template.

Work with Gatekeeper Press to Publish Your Novel

Do you have an incredible story to tell? Why not join forces with the team of publishing professionals at Gatekeeper Press? They can guide you from story conception to publication using the three-act story structure as a template. Reach out to them today!