I recently read an article by a writer who claimed that the 3 Act Story Structure was essentially the “fast food” version of writing. His belief is that we’re giving America a bunch of junk food stories when what they really need is the sustenance found in character-driven literary works.
When you come across a writer like this, slowly back away. Because this writer is under the impression that simple means cotton candy, and that’s not a writer you want to be learning from.
Now you might be thinking, “huh?” But just hear me out.
See, the thing I love (like, love LOVE) about the 3 Act Story Structure is the way in which it reflects real life.
Here, I’ll show you. (The following is a basic story outline based on the 3 Act Story Structure, so we’ll stick to just the bare-bones.)
First domino (aka inciting incident): Man realizes he needs cash… FAST… because his girlfriend is about to have a baby. MC (aka Main Character) doesn’t know this yet, but his realization will directly impact her.
Second domino (aka catalyst): Man robs small credit union twice within 7 weeks, threatening to kill our MC. She is psychologically scarred and left shattered.
Choice (aka Break into Act 2): After debating between holding the status quo (working at the credit union and pretending everything is okay) and choosing the new, upside down world (quitting her job and moving across the country), our heroine chooses to quit.
Exploring Wonderland: MC moves, tries new existence, explores this new freedom outside of old expectations, begins writing and believes everything is going okay both in the criminal side of things and her mental health.
Midpoint: Man is caught, case goes to trial, MC thinks it’s almost over.
All Things Fall Apart: Case is thrown out (her word against his, she loses), MC slips into darkness, she tries taking her life and is hospitalized, and her husband indicates he wants a divorce (because her PTSD is “too much” for him).
Dark Night of the Soul: MC contemplates her existence, her marriage, and her ability to stay on the planet.
Finding the Chutzpah: MC reaches deep and discovers who she really is and wants to be. She uses this to face the obstacles in front of her.
Defeat the Big Bad: MC fights for and wins husband back, leaves her religious group, chooses to move back to original home, and figures out how to live a life that far surpasses what therapists and doctors said she could.
Closing Image: MC stands on stage speaking to a large group of entrepreneurs about living a life true to themselves.
While this is a very brief and big picture overview of plotting a story, the reason I point it out is because it’s MY story.
Not “my story” because I wrote it, but because I lived it.
And I believe it’s the story we all experience every time we’re faced with something that knocks us out of our normal orbit.
Something happens that messes with our world, we either choose to ignore it or we take the “road less traveled,” we explore and discover new things about ourselves, we think everything is getting better and then–BOOM!–a new problem presents itself and, for a time, we feel like everything is falling apart. This leads us down to a form of “rock bottom” where we learn something on the inside (faith, trust, compassion, etc) that helps us deal with the “big bad” or tough situation, which leads to our breakthrough and living in a whole new world we didn’t think was possible before.
The 3 Act Story Structure is the cycle of the human experience.
It resonates with readers. Draws them in. Helps them feel at home in your story without them even knowing why.
And that, my friends, is powerful when you’re trying to craft a book that doesn’t just sell, but changes lives.
Loves & hugs,
PS. I celebrate any style of structure or system that helps you get an excellent book written. Find what works for you and use it! Just don’t run around telling other writers that their process sucks. That’s not cool, yo.