Structure & 3 Acts

I’ve come to realize, through outlining (a truly tedious exercise, but helpful, I suppose) and through reading Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell that one of the problems I am having with my WIP is not its plot–apparently, it actually has a plot and subplots as well–but its structure.

I thought beginning when my lead moves to England would be a good starting point, but actually, it’s almost as cliched as starting a story when a character wakes up. There are lots of hints about his past, but I’ve come to see that while his past is tension-filled (i.e, good stuff), it’s not showing as well as it could because the reader doesn’t get to go on the journey with the characters because it’s happened already. It’s not getting shown. I need to use some of the immediate backstory to make this character clearer. In fact, when I do that, my story will have a three-act structure.

The Three Act Structure comes from the theater. Basically, the beginning, middle and end. Set-up, plot thickens, resolution. Novels can work this way as well.

From Plot and Structure:

Act I
1. Readers are introduced to the hero’s world.
2. A “call to adventure” or disturbance interrupts the hero’s world.
3. The hero may ignore the call or disturbance.
4. The hero crosses the threshold into a dark world.

Act II
5. A mentor may appear to teach the hero.
6. Various encounters occur with forces of darkness.
7. The hero has a dark moment within himself that he must overcome.
8. A talisman aids in battle.

9. The final battle is fought.
10. The hero returns to own world.

Bell also mentions that something has to propel the character from the beginning to the middle–something he calls the two doorways. It has to be a big plot point, something that’ll change the character and forces him to not go back to his past.

I’ve been analyzing my favorite book, Atonement, while thinking this over. The first major plot point is Briony’s accusation against Robbie. Act Two ends when Briony promises to change her evidence against Robbie.

So I’ve been thinking about how to move my story around and structure it better, in order to better highlight the plot. I’ve also been wondering about replacing a storyline with another one and how to bring more tension to my scenes. Also–this is purely a result of the tedious post-draft outlining–how to shorten my chapters. They go on forever.

What other types of novel structures have you come across? Was your biggest problem the plot or the structure?

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