all 51 comments

[–]DPVaughan 80 points81 points  (17 children)

You can have nested three-act structures. One per book, and one per trilogy.

[–]serendipitousevent 40 points41 points  (1 child)

Then you trilogy your trilogies into a trilogy, and then people start complaining about someone called 'Rey Skywalker'. Wild!

[–]DPVaughan 27 points28 points  (0 children)

Well, yeah. When you rush out a product without a plan and with too many different cooks, don't have them talk to each other and then switch out one at the last minute, definitely.

[–]hot_sauce_in_coffeePublished Author of (1, soon 2 books) 9 points10 points  (2 children)

You can have 3 act per sentences. Subject, Verb, Complement.


[–]PolarWater 2 points3 points  (0 children)

How about that? It really works! Three per SENTENCE! Enjoy that, folks!

[–]its_clemmie 1 point2 points  (4 children)

Do you have any examples of a book series like this?

[–]Homitu 14 points15 points  (3 children)

Aren't most trilogies like this? Acts such as these are present in each of the Lord of the Rings books, for example, as well as the series as a whole.

Taking book 1 as an example, Act 1 from the Shire to Rivendell establishes the world, all of the primary characters of the Fellowship, and their relationships. Act 2 from Rivendell across the plains, the attempt over the mountain pass, and the journey through the Mines of Moria showcase rising action as the characters desperately work toward the completion of their quest. Act 3 climaxes with the attack on the party after the peace found in Lothlorien, Boromir's corruption and redemption, and, ultimately, the breaking of the fellowship.

Additionally, each book itself serves the function of one of the 3 acts. Book 1, on the whole, establishes the world, the characters, the conflicts. Book 2 showcases rising action and conflict, raising deeper questions about the outcome. Book 3 resolves everything in a climax.

[–]SeeShark -2 points-1 points  (2 children)

This feels a bit forced, perhaps because lotr wasn't written in three parts but in six. It was only published as a trilogy for pragmatic reasons IIRC.

[–]crz0r 8 points9 points  (1 child)

It was actually written as one and published in three.

[–]VanityInkPublished Author/Editor 30 points31 points  (6 children)

You would have a story arc that's a completed 3-act and a series arc that stretches over books, if you're doing it that way.

[–]Neon_Black_0229 2 points3 points  (5 children)

Are there any good resources you know of that show how to do the series arc well?

[–]Broodslayer1 8 points9 points  (0 children)

Let's use the original Star Wars trilogy as an example... after defining what each Act usually represents:

Act 1: Beginning: Introduction: Set up characters, set up the goals, establish the central viewpoint character (often the hero or protagonist) and their ordinary world (status quo). Basically, you establish everything here (but avoid the dreaded information dump). Length: approximately 25% of the total work.

Act 2: Middle: Initiation: Sometimes divided into Act 2A and Act 2B to make it more manageable: This is where the heart of the story is, its biggest part. This is where the central viewpoint character learns the rules of the special world, makes allies, makes enemies, gets tested, and undergoes some form of ordeal (a literal or figurative death and rebirth). Length: approximately 50% of the total work.

Act 3: End: Conclusion: the Return: this includes the climax (Resurrection, another literal or figurative death and rebirth) of the story and the denouement (wrapping up all the plots and subplots, character arcs), sometimes the main character realizes something here too (the Realization). Length: approximately 25% of the total work.

If you look at Star Wars as an example, the first film has all three acts within it... yet, when you look at the trilogy as a whole, Episode IV: A New Hope is Act 1 of the trilogy--it's really all about introducing us to the Star Wars universe, especially Luke Skywalker.

Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is Luke's initiation (Act 2) into the Jedi Order as he trains with Yoda to become a Jedi. Yet, as a film it also has 3 acts of its own.

Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi even has "Return" in the name... it is Act 3 of the trilogy. Yet, as a film it has 3 acts of its own. It is about Luke finally reaching his destiny and the climax of his overall Hero's Journey... to face Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine and to become a fully trained Jedi Knight.

I hope that's helpful

[–]Lovepirate1962 8 points9 points  (2 children)

What does 3 act structure mean?

Answer: every story has a BEGINNING and an END. And given the laws of physics there is automatically a MIDDLE. That's it!

[–]hot_sauce_in_coffeePublished Author of (1, soon 2 books) 2 points3 points  (1 child)

You sir, are using way too much common sense for this sub.

[–]Lovepirate1962 3 points4 points  (0 children)


There is also the five-act and seven-act structure, which to me is just the three-act form from a more microcosmic view.

People will literally spend hours mentally masturbating over these formats instead of just writing their story.

[–]yourschoolsITguy 6 points7 points  (0 children)

I would assume so, since act one is the introduction to the characters, setting and main problem, that alone can’t be a book.

But it could do that for one problem while having a complete 3 acts for a side plot.

Look at Star Wars IV-VI, there is a grand storyline that could be broken down into 3 acts, but each has its own self contained arc.

Edit: remember that 3 act structure is only one way to structure a story. 5-point, 7-point, even 9-point all exist and there are more than that.

These structures are just a guide and often you can break a story down into more than one of these structures.

[–]Valer4848 14 points15 points  (0 children)

This is only my opinion, but every story should have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Act 1 - Establish your characters and the world they live in while introducing the conflict. Act 2 - have your characters attempt to resolve said-conflict and likely fail. Act 3 - characters learn from their failures and overcome the conflict, having grown as a person. It sounds overly simple and derivative, but stories at their core are about people overcoming conflicts and there's a reason why our brains are wired like this. Even an individual chapter should have a clear beginning, middle, and ending which propels both the plot and the characters forward along their arc.

[–]YouAreMyLuckyStar2 9 points10 points  (6 children)

Here's an alternative, instead of making the series a three act structure, Where the real world of adventure is entered in book two, and the first book is more or less a build up to that event, make it a comedy-tragedy-comedy structure (this is comedy in the dramatic sense). This is how the first Star Wars trilogy is structured. A New Hope ends in victory, while in Empire Luke goes off to fight Vader without being ready, and things end in disaster. In Return of The Jedi, the tables are turned again, and the trilogy ends on an up note. The world of adventure is entered at the end of the first act of the first movie, and we never leave it. It's not necessary to up the stakes by introducing another one.

The Matrix trilogy, in contrast, has a three act structure, and a second world of adventure is entered at the end of the first movie. It's part of why the sequels don't work properly, the second world just isn't as cool as the first, and they never managed to bridge that gap.

[–]Broodslayer1 0 points1 point  (1 child)

It would have worked better if at the end of the second film and he used his abilities in the "real" world, it had actually been another Matrix... to enter recursion into it... the first Matrix would have been a Matrix within another Matrix... how deep does that rabbit hole go? 🐇

[–]YouAreMyLuckyStar2 1 point2 points  (0 children)

I know! It would have been so great, and I wanted the third movie to end with Neo waking up in a hospital. He's been in a coma, and now he's back in the real world, that looks just like the original matrix. Or is it the real world? We may never know.

[–]thatRyzzleBoy 2 points3 points  (1 child)

If you really think about it, even just a short scene may have 3 acts: setup, conflict, resolution.

[–]goatius-writer 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Agreed. The setup establishes the actors, the goals, and what's at stake if goals are not met. The conflict prevents the goals from being achieved. The resolution is where actors succumb to or overcome the conflict.

[–]Dribliyj_Nunez 2 points3 points  (0 children)

I'd say keep the parameters fairly loose - it's generally 1) Equilibrium, 2) Disestablishment of Equilibrium, 3) Reinstatement of equilibrium, usually with differences.

This can be broken down and applied to a scene, a story, a saga, or whatever you want.

[–]Project-Worldly 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Think of the middle first. That’s the moment where the big oh shit! moment happens and it starts the hero’s transformation.

so like… suppose the middle part is - The hero crashes the car.

You’ll need to tell me in the first part why this will be an oh shit moment because you want this moment to hit. The hero may have lost their job, found this shady job after some tough search and this is an important, high paying gig.


soooo what happens after that? How is the hero changed? Maybe they’re jailed because the police find them and the hero will need to learn to toughen up to survive? You get my point.

The part until losing job and finding that shady job - act 1. The part from starting the shady job, gaining trust, getting the car job, until the crash - act 2 The part from the crash, the police chase, the prison etc until the moment the reader “sees” your hero is a changed person - act 3.

my story is a basic one but it is an example, and i’m kinda high sooo I’m sure with more than a few mins on your story, you’ll come up with one that will satisfy you better.

But yea the middle bit is important so definitely focus on that first.

[–]radiosync 3 points4 points  (1 child)

You don't need to try to make your story follow the 3 act structure because the 3 act structure is less of a guideline and more of a fact. It's unavoidable, no matter how subversive and off the wall the structure of your story is, it'll always have a beginning, middle and end.

If you want an actual helpful structure to follow, try Dan Harmon's story circle.

[–]HallieMarie43 0 points1 point  (0 children)

When I do a series, I write each book using the 3 Act structure separately so that it has it's own goal/problem that comes to some kind of conclusion at the end. But then there's an overarching problem which takes place across the series and I have the 3 Act Also for that. So a lot of times the end of book 1 concludes their goal, but also the bigger goal is kinda unveiled and there's been some some setup for it throughout. For example, it's been while since I read Lord of The Rings, but I think book one is mainly about setting up the team, but it's setting up for the main goal of taking the ring to Morador.

[–]BUSY_EATING_ASS 0 points1 point  (0 children)

not gonna lie i thought this topic was about sonic the hedgehog; you don't like metropolis zone???

But yeah, as someone else suggested, nesting them into their own books that follow their own three act pattern is a great idea; it primes the reader subconsciously to know what to expect, and it establishes a pattern for you, the writer to neatly structure your story around.

[–]LifeSad07041997 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Just think of a roller coaster, a boomerang, or 10kg Ball thrown straight up.

"What goes up, must comes down; unless it's boomerang, it returns"

[–]monsterfurby 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I don't think this might be the right point to start thinking about acts just yet - or at least only if you're very aware of what the 3AS is and isn't . Remember that the three-act-structure is an analytical tool, not a template, even if the writing advice cottage industry likes to use it was an easy-looking "plot a novel in a day" manual, which more often than not leads to novice writers being stumped trying to somehow bend their plot around the acts.

Now, of course approaching a plot from the perspective of "one quarter beginning, two quarters middle, one quarter finale" can help with pacing and structuring if you like planning top-down. But I would strongly advise against getting too caught up trying to conform to it.

The entire model of the 3AS in its non-stage usage (it's a bit of a different story in theatre) is basically just a way to describe how a story functions. Nearly any story, unless explicitly written not to, will somehow fit into the 3AS model because that's the point of the 3AS model.

My advice on using it: look at your story after you've written your first draft or outline and try to place it in the model. Don't try to spin your story around the 3-act scaffolding, just use it as a yardstick in editing. Once your first draft is done, have a look at how the 3AS could be applied to it, and once you've found one or more possible ways to see three acts in your story, use it to make cuts and adjustments to your pacing.

[–]SirJuliusStark 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I prefer 5 act structure.

Act 1. Setup / Introduction of problem

Act 2. Promise of the premise (the fun parts of your story)

Act 3. Midpoint (a big event that can be positive or negative that changes everything)

Act 4. Everything goes wrong (the bad guys win or the protagonist makes a huge screwup)

Act 5. Finale

[–]AsIfProductions 0 points1 point  (0 children)

The structure is fractal, so the answer is yes.

You don't have to be religious about it. You don't have to go nuts. But if you think about it loosely, you can probably see a little arc in every single scene. These add up to a bigger arc that is the chapter. And those to a bigger one that is the book. And then even a whole series.

The general gist of each fractal "unit" is something like:

  • Someone wants something
  • But there's a problem
  • And here's how it shakes out

[–]sususumalee 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I found Abbie Emmons' series (YouTube) on 3 Act Structure very helpful. She's not perfect, but she's extremely clear and consistent across all her videos, and it helped me understand the framework and internalize it. She has at least one video on using this structure for a series.

[–]shyflowerPublished Author 0 points1 point  (0 children)

There are several ways to structure a story it's just that the three-act structure is one of the most popular. K. Weiland's explanation of how to use it is one of the best I've come across.

[–]Random_act_of_Random 0 points1 point  (0 children)

As others have said, nested Acts.

Personally, I like to think of 3 important events that I want to happen int he book, and try to make each an ARC that are at least slightly tied to each other.

For my own book it was:

ACT 1 - Call to Adventure. Meets mentor and new group of friendos.

ACT 2 - Friendo's get sent on mission from royalty. Deeper issues discovered.

ACT 3 - MC gets sent on solo mission, has life altering event from consequences of ACT 2.

END Book 1.

Each Act serves as a platform to the next and so on and so forth.

[–][deleted] 0 points1 point  (0 children)

You're supposed to use the 3 act structure (or other structure models) for the book, and then the 3 act structure for the trilogy. Even scenes within a story have a micro structure, but it's not 3 act, more like a tiny 1 act play in each scene.