1. Scot McPhie
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    Scot McPhie Member

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    The importance of a 3 act structure in novel writing??

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Scot McPhie, Jun 8, 2013.

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    Last edited: Aug 31, 2014
  2. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think the whole 3/5 act structure has much meaning when writing a novel - most novels could be forced into a 3/5 act division by readers, but most are not written with that structure in mind. In theatre the division in acts had a real, mundane reason - jugglers needed to make money, too...not to mention snacks for the audience :p

    Seriously: having a structure, or an idea of a structure formed and maintained during (or before) writing could be, and is great help. But I think you should be as relaxed about it as you can - creating a believable secondary plot should be more important that forcing a climax before resolution, or whatever :rolleyes:

    This is an interesting point of view. Personally, I feel it has more in common with our notion of time - and one could argue the illusionary nature of time as a psychological construct... But in context of story-telling, I don't find much substance in this comparison -stories are usually implied to have already happened, in narrative situation, eg they are being told and the resolution is already known to the narrator. Without this, foreshadowing would border on mysticism! :)
     
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  3. ArnaudB
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    In my experience Arcs are a subjective things. They're good for writing books because you can always divide a book in three sequences: The beginning with introduction of the characters, the action (as in series of events), then the conclusion.
    No matter how long you can bottle down a book into those three.
    Thus the arcs is subjective, like how many scenes there are in a chapter. Personally I use the scenes, in that a "Arc" represent a massive evolution in the main plot, like change of place and/or characters and/or ellipse represent a change of scene. Changing planets in SF for instances could represent different arcs, if half of the book is spent in two planets. Yet the plot may not take that division well, that's why I am saying that Arcs are subjective.

    Don't bother about "Arcs" much, worry more about the rhythmic of your story so as not to bore the reader.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    And that's why you should step away from it.

    It fits the presentation restrictions of plays and television dramas well, but there's absolutely no point to it in a novel.

    Of course, that doesn't mean if your story falls naturally into three parts, you should add or remove something. It just means let the story find it's own rhythm.
     
  5. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with Cogito. The writer does not control how the reader reads his novel - he can't. The reader can charge through the whole thing in one sitting if he wishes, or linger over a chapter he likes, rereading it until he's ready to move on. The reader can skip ahead or jump back; he can limit himself to only two pages a night if he wishes. The writer has no control.

    This basically means that the reader decides where the divisions are between "acts." And that fact frees the writer to write in any structure he chooses. There is no reason for a writer to think in three acts, or to think in terms of "acts" at all.
     
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  6. Thomas Kitchen
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    I never truly thought of it like that; thank you for giving me something to ponder. :)
     
  7. Scot McPhie
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  8. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    None. The three act setup is for script writing and not novels. In the movies you need that for filming purposes, etc etc. Novels don't require it and novelists shouldn't allow themselves to be bound to it.
     
  9. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Sure, the same thing can be said for a DVD. There's no reason why, if a movie is made for DVD and not theatrical presentation, that it has to conform to three act structure. The only reason most DVDs do is that they're just reproductions of theatrical movies. C'est la vie.

    I dispute that the reader will necessarily assemble the material into a three-act structure in his own mind. One of my favorite novels, Steinbeck's East of Eden, really can't be seen that way. It's one of those multi-generational family sagas in which there are several beginnings, several middles, several climaxes, and perhaps more than one ending - or perhaps no real ending at all. It holds together as an examination of a theme, not so much as a single plot. The movie version follows one thread; the novel is more complex.

    Three-act structure isn't built into our minds. It's just a very common way to tell stories.
     
  10. Scot McPhie
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  11. minstrel
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    Another, more trivial example that just occurred to me is the usual James Bond movie structure. They all begin with Bond in the midst of the climax of a previous mission we're not told about. All we get is a big action sequence and a denouement, then the opening credits, THEN the story proper begins. The intro functions as a kind of zeroth act - a high-intensity, whet-the-viewers-appetite act. Effectively, the Bond films are four-act movies. Nobody seems to have a problem with that.

    :)
     
  12. doghouse
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    To add another perspective on things.

    And, I'll just start by saying. The fact you come from a script writing background, I'd assume you have a very good understanding of drama, and dramatic impact. Puts you ahead of the game already.

    Syd Field's 3-act structure is a story form. And no story form should be sniffed at. In fact, I think it's a valid starting point as any other form, if not more. Especially if you're into genre fiction. Indeed, it is not meant for the medium of writing fiction, but it is still useful and usable -- although, it may seem a little simplistic. It's worth at least exploring.

    Study as many forms as you can, and decide what works for you or not. Story form is not formulaic, and is merely signposts that allow you to know what happens next (gold for plotters!). Those blanks in between allow you the creative freedom, and how you go from one to the other is what I consider structure.

    Well. When you find or develop a story form that works for you. You'll be able to read fiction and break it down to fit your paradigm. That's when you know you have a good form/structure.

    Just my opinions of course. Happy writing.
     
  13. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    Both of these are excellent points that I think you should take to heart. I feel it's best for a story to be organic and not have a rigid structure. Stories flow better that way.

    Your job is to write it well enough so that the reader wants to keep reading. Worry less about structure and more about writing an engaging story!
     
  14. ithestargazer
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    This is interesting. How did I not think of this?

    I've never thought of my story in terms of the 'three act structure' but if I did, I suppose mine would have four. My first chapter begins in the middle of an action scene and establishes my characters before the main conflict is introduced. I guess this is my 'zeroth' act.

    As always, this forum puts to words the things I struggle to conceptualise myself.
     
  15. Scot McPhie
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