1. chronicler
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    chronicler Member

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    The Three Act Formula

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by chronicler, Aug 13, 2011.

    So in my obsessive need for doing something perfect, I have found myself researching a lot about the "proper" format for a novel. Or a short story for that matter.

    I know there needs to be an introduction, some disasters a climax and an ending.

    My current brain fog is resting on how much (pages, words, % of book length) does each of those need in order to be fully explained. I realize that there is no "right" answer to this, so let me ask this instead:

    How closely do you stick to the 3 act format, do you have a set number of crisis before a climax or do you just "go with it"?

    Thanks for your input.
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Stories by formula are like cookies from an assembly line. They might taste fine, but they just don't measure up to homemade.
     
  3. mugen shiyo
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    mugen shiyo Contributing Member

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    ^ :) I like that, Cogito.

    Just write your story. Sometimes, different is as good as conventional. Even better.
     
  4. Amsterdamatt
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    Amsterdamatt Member

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    Story, by Robert McKee, while being concerned more with screenwriting does talk quite a lot about structure, acts, and so on. It's a good resource for learning about tempo, act breaks, etc.
     
  5. SupposedPolecat
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    SupposedPolecat New Member

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    Really couldn't have said it better myself. Try something absolutely absurd and start your novel towards the end and find a clever way to tell the rest as your reaching your final goal.
     
  6. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Maybe, but it's an infuriating book. Always trying to hammer square pegs into round three-act holes. I kind of hate this book, even though it might be helpful for some. I bet Shakespeare would have thrown it into a bonfire. Nabokov, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Pynchon, Melville, Tolstoy, Conrad, etc., etc. would probably all have done the same.

    Relax and write. Let your story take its own shape. If it ever gets made into a movie, let the screenwriter pound it into McKee's three acts.
     
  7. frostedfields
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    frostedfields Member

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    I go with it, with only the detailed summaries telling me how the story will go. I have produced nothing using the three-act structure. It literally and completely stifles my creativity. Funny enough, though, I've used it in my moments of "writer's block" despair only to rediscover my inspiration after I tossed it aside.
     
  8. Mikeyface
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    Mikeyface Member

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    I dislike Robert McKee's strict adherence to storytelling. You can use the rules in creative ways, but books are a medium where you can break free from formula and deliver something surprising.

    That's not to say that having three acts is a bad thing, but four (or even five) are equally acceptable in the medium. When terms like "all hope is lost," "dark night of the soul," and "false resolution" start getting thrown around I get very queasy. Save the Cat is another book that gets tossed around a lot (again, more for screenwriters) but when the guy that wrote "Stop, or My Mom Will Shoot" is telling me how a story should be, it begins to lose buoyancy.

    If you write a story that an audience can get swept away in, and can be followed well, then I think you can break free from "this goes here, that goes there" type formulas. Yes, the hero's journey is fine and easy to digest, and has many uses. Books can follow more subplots and characters around towards the climax. This is a good thing.

    If the audience is surprised and entertained by what is put forth, then you're successful.
     
  9. DBock
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    DBock Member

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    Just make sure exciting events are better than the previous one. I've read books were the most exciting thing takes place first and by the end you could care less.
     
  10. chronicler
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    chronicler Member

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    So the only real structure to a novel is that it feels right and flows smoothly.. ? I really need to break out of my technical minded approach to writing.
     

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