how to plot a novel with 3-act story structure

How To Plot A Novel With 3-Act Story Structure

Have you heard the saying that behind every good story is a great structure? You probably have, If you haven’t I just told you now. If you doubt that, do a little test, pick any book from your bookshelf and go through its narrative structure and get back to me with your findings, but It will amaze you to know that so many writers run away from story structure when its time to plot a novel.

Story Structure Myths

  • Story Structure is too rigid and predictable.
  • Structure is formulaic.
  • Story Structure is hard.

Story Structure Facts

  • Story structure is simply a blueprint, not the story itself.
  • A formula will suggest an outcome based on a set of variables, and structure has more freedom than that.
  • Keep an open mind, It takes practice to understand structure but ts worth the effort.

Why You Need A Story Structure To Plot A Novel

Story structure is very crucial to your story because it maps the major beats or moments of conflict that give your story shape, and also maintains the flexibility needed for unique storytelling. There are different story structure today, but the 3-Act story structure is perhaps the most widely used and beloved structure.

The 3-Act story structure consists of three parts or acts used to plot a novel with transitions between each part serving as the story’s major turning points.

Act one contains these major parts:

  • The Hook: This captivates readers by introducing the protagonist and teasing the story’s conflict.
  • The Inciting Incident: This serves as the protagonist’s first call to adventure.
  • The First Plot Point: This launches the protagonist into the heart of the story.

Act Two is when the story starts to take off, It contains:

  • The Pre-Midpoint Rising Action: Here, the protagonist sets out to achieve their goals while shying away from conflict with the story’s antagonist.
  • The Midpoint: At this point, a major conflict between the protagonist and antagonist takes place and highlights the story’s stakes and irrevocably changes the protagonist viewpoint.
  • The Post-Midpoint Rising Action: The protagonist no longer hesitates to confront the antagonist while fighting to achieve their goal.

Act Three rounds up the story with these;

  • The Dark Night of The Soul: The protagonist suffers an unexpected loss that forces them into a make-or-break situation.
  • The Climatic Sequence: This serves as the final conflict between the protagonist and antagonist.
  • The Resolution: All loose ends are resolved here.

This story structure is the most popular with so many great books such as Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and so on. Personally, I think it is the best narrative structure created to plot a novel. So, the first step is to choose your story idea.

ACT ONE

This is the introduction of your story’s protagonist in their everyday life and surrounding.

The Hook

plot a novel with the hook

As the name implies, the hook is specifically made to hook your reader’s eyeballs to keep them reading. The hook does these 3 things;

  • Introduce your protagonist.
  • Establish the everyday life of your protagonist.
  • Show your readers your protagonist daily struggles and conflicts.

The hook introduces your readers into your protagonist life and at the same time shows them their flaws, strengths and fears which makes them unique. To get started with your hook, introduce an everyday conflict that showcases your protagonist’s dissatisfaction with life, this will jumpstart your story in a great way and drive momentum for your story to keep moving.

An example of a good hook in Pride & Prejudice shows readers that Elizabeth faces financial insecurities based on certain circumstances in her life, and of course, you can’t create the perfect hook without a well-crafted character, and here is a good place to start.

The Inciting Incident

the inciting incident when plotting a novel

With your hook in place, It’s time for some adventure. An inciting incident is an event that puts you in the driver’s seat of your story and sets your story in motion. At this point, your protagonist has begun to experience change no matter how small. The inciting incident presents them with new dangers they must overcome. It’s also important to note that your protagonist won’t immediately seize the opportunity at hand. The journey ahead will propel their acceptance.

A great example of the inciting incident in Pride & Prejudice shows us when Elizabeth meets Mr Darcy at the Netherfield ball and immediately dislikes him despite his financial security.

To get started with your inciting incident, here are a few things to take note of;

  • How is your protagonist dissatisfied with life?
  • What will bring satisfaction to their life?
  • What are their biggest fears and flaws?
  • What actions or step do they require to confront these fears and flaws?

The First Plot Point

 plot a novel with the first plot point

This is the greatest moment in act one of your story, it’s the moment of no return, It represents the first turning point in your story, at this point also, your protagonist chooses to engage with the action of your story. So, if your protagonist didn’t take action during the event in your inciting incident, they will take action now, as they cannot afford the risk of not doing so right now.

A good example of the first plot point in Pride & Prejudice is when Darcy encourages Bingley to break off his relationship with Elizabeth’s sister Jane. This is the end of your Act one, as your protagonist has begun to engage with the story set in motion.

ACT TWO

There is opposition in Act Two, as your protagonist goes after their goal.

The Pre-Midpoint Rising Action

plot a novel with the pre-midpoint rising action

At, this point your protagonist has begun to react to the events in your story, everything is new to them and their fears and flaws weigh them down as they go along, they won’t take any direct action just yet against their antagonist but try to survive this conflicts so as to go back to chasing their original goals.

A good example of the pre-midpoint rising action in Pride & Prejudice is when Elizabeth refuses a marriage proposal from Mr Collins.

THE MIDPOINT πŸ’ƒπŸ’ƒπŸ’ƒ

This is at the middle of your story, as the name implies, It contains the biggest conflict of your story between your protagonist and antagonist, during this conflict, your protagonist comes to realise the true intent of your antagonist and can no longer ignore the threat it presents, so they decide to do everything in their power to dance to the tunes of the antagonist( they face the conflict head-on). This is a transition from reactionary to proactive for your protagonist.

A great example of the midpoint in Pride & Prejudice is the conflict between Elizabeth and Darcy when Darcy confesses his Love and proposes marriage to Elizabeth( I literally had an aha moment writing thisπŸ™ˆ).

The success of your story’s midpoint depends on these two things;

  • The conflict between your protagonist and antagonist.
  • The consequences, that is the stakes.

The Post-Midpoint Rising Action

the use of the post-midpoint to plot a novel

Act two comes to an end after a lot has happened to move your story ahead. Your protagonist no longer waits to confront the antagonist at this point. Several events have taken place within your story’s mid-point and the end of Act two as your story moves quickly towards the climax. At this point, your protagonist is coming towards a point of resolution.

A great example of the post-midpoint action in Pride & Prejudice occurs when Elizabeth must challenge her opinion of Mr Darcy after reading his letter and learning more about his true nature.

ACT THREE

Act three is all about resolution !! Your protagonist is yet to resolve their fears/flaw and it will come back here to bite them. Also, your antagonist has one more blow to shoot just before the climax, are you ready?

The Dark Night Of The Soul

the dark night

This is a powerful moment where your antagonist comes in for a finishing punch to your protagonist’s jaw bone(not literally tho😁), this forces your protagonist into action, to either face their core fear or flaw or go home( give up πŸ˜’). The dark night is usually short in length but it is a powerful turning point in your story.

At this point, it will upgrade your story’s stakes and establish your protagonist as the hero of the story. A great example of the dark night in Pride & Prejudice takes place when Elizabeth is forced to confront her feelings for Mr Darcy when his aunt arrives and demands Elizabeth state she will never accept a marriage proposal from her nephew.

It doesn’t end there for your story, there is still more, keep readingπŸ˜‰.

The Climactic Sequence

the climatic sequence

The climactic sequence is the final conflict between your protagonist and antagonist, the stakes are higher than ever, and your protagonist’s odds of success are slim but that won’t stop them from doing everything they can to overcome the antagonist and achieve their goal.

Your Climactic Sequence does the following;

  • Bring an end to the conflict between your protagonist and antagonist.
  • It will solidify the theme of your story.
  • Showcase the importance of your protagonist transformation.

An excellent example of the climactic sequence in Pride & Prejudice takes place when Elizabeth’s conversation with Darcy’s Aunt rekindles Darcy’s hope in her affections. Darcy invites her on a walk where they talk about their wrongdoings and their Love. Afterwards, he proposes and she accepts.

The Resolution

plot a novel with the resolution

It is time to tie up loose ends of your story, as the last conflict has taken place in the climactic sequence. The resolution of your story should also be the time your protagonist rights all their wrongdoings in the past, especially the ones that stemmed from their core fear or flaw.

Finally, your protagonist should establish a new normal, one that provides more satisfaction with themselves than their previous everyday Lifestyle at the beginning of your story, a great example of the resolution in Pride & Prejudice is when Elizabeth and Jane both get married, and Elizabeth’s family finds financial and emotional stability, and the couple(Darcy & Elizabeth) finds hope for the future.

So, your story structure is a wrap, finally πŸ’ƒπŸŽ‰πŸ±β€πŸ. If you start to plot a novel with this amazing narrative structure, you will have a great draft seated in front of you😍, yay.

I hope you found this exciting yet helpful to you, cause I didπŸ™ˆ, If you have any question or suggestion, share it in the comments section, thanks.

Sharing is caringπŸ‘‡

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *