Structure: Why Four Acts Instead Of Three
If you read Randy Ingermanson’s blog and e-zine like I do, then you’re likely very familiar with the 3-acts/3-disasters structure. For those who don’t follow Randy, you can read his fantastic explanation of this structure (including examples) in his e-zine from January 2006. If you want to read more from Randy, check out his e-zine archive.
And for those of you who don’t feel like reading anything (and you call yourself a writer?), I’ll paraphrase the structure very briefly:
- Act One–>
- Disaster One–>
- Act Two part one–>
- Disaster Two–>
- Act Two part two–>
- Disaster Three–>
- Act Three.
Now if you’re anything like me, you’re going to wonder why on Earth there are three acts when most clearly there needs to be four. I know the three acts fits nicely with the whole “beginning, middle, end” thing, but I don’t care.
Don’t get me wrong here — I am not criticizing Randy one bit. In fact, I’m doing just the opposite. I’m taking his advice, which I find to be terrific, and modifying so it makes more sense to me.
Do you remember this image from middle school?
Even this suggests having four acts.
By the three act structure, the beginning (act one) and end (act three) are about the same size. The middle (act two) is twice the size of that, or roughly the size of both beginning and end put together. There is a disaster separating the beginning from middle, a second disaster in the middle of the middle, and a third disaster separating the middle from the end.
To me, that sounds a little confusing.
By the same principle, but using four acts instead of three, the story is separated into equal quarters. Each quarter is separated by a disaster (meaning three disasters). Which causes me to create this lovely diagram:
This means I take Randy’s “First Part of Middle” from his examples and make it my Act Two, while his “Second Part of Middle” becomes my Act Three (and then his act three is my Act Four). Therefore, disaster 2 separates two acts just like the other disasters do, as opposed to chopping the middle in half. That’s it. There are no other changes whatsoever.
As it turns out, God-Chosen‘s plot fits very well into four quarters. But perhaps you prefer the 3-act structure, or something else entirely. In the end, it’s whatever works best for you, and figuring that out is a good portion of the battle.
What does work best for you? Do you have a specific structure you swear by? Or do you change things up depending on what best suits your story?