Friday, March 1, 2013


Authors surely know that fiction should be in three acts, resembling a play. I honestly did not learn this for a long while into my writing experience.

All it means is that your story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Each part is distinct from the other. This is not particularly easy, nor are the parts clearly identifiable. However, if we use the concept as a rule of thumb, we may write a better novel.

I: THE FIRST ACT: Main characters and the Incident
The first act is to establish main characters, their relationships, and their place and time. The main statement we hear today from editors and publishers is "begin where the story begins." I had a terrible habit to break in which I felt I should explain and describe for the reader to inform him of the coming story. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The opening is the "hook," and it bodes well if we spend some time working on that very first sentence or paragraph.
Throughout the first act, the main character is involved in or aware of some incident that leads to a turning point. This turning point ensure the main character's life will never be the same, that he will confront this issue until the end of the story. He has a problem, an enemy, or a question to solve, and his life now revolves around such an issue.

II: THE SECOND ACT: Action and Character Development.
During the second act, the main character finds himself confronted with some entity that appears to thwart his goal. This may be in the form of a person, force of nature, or even an internal personal problem. In fact, the main character cannot solve the problem easily because he might not have the skills to do so. He must go through a learning process to repair his predicament. In doing so, he may need the help of another character in the form of another major character or a mentor.

III: THE THIRD ACT: Climax and Resolution.
Now, during the third act, the main characters reach a turning point, intensifying tensions and reaching a conclusion. The character, as well as any others connected to him, find their way, a new direction, or a new life.  

This is a simplified version of many articles and books written on the subject. If I were an expert, I would give more instruction. This much is the skeleton framework I try to follow, and I find it amazing that often a story naturally takes this route.

In a romance novel, the skeleton framework is boy meets girl, boy and girl face dissension and part, and boy and girl make up and live happily ever after.

In RODEO MAN, a novella about a city girl and a rodeo man, follows this skeleton in this way:

I: Marla inherits an abandoned town in West Texas. When she arrives to camp out for a week she finds a stranger there, whittling and whistling. The main characters have met.
They talk, argue, have fun, and learn about each other. Then Marla receives a threat--the incident-- and they must leave the town.

II. When they arrive in the rodeo town, Cody helps Marla track down the person or persons who made the threat, and why. During this time, the two become more acquainted, but Marla is ever diligent about becoming involved with a man who might have a girl in every rodeo town.

III. Cody and Marla confront the perpetrator of the threat and have him arrested. But do the two fall into each other's arms? Not yet, not until Cody proves that he is her man.

Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas
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  1. Celia--Thanks for the three-step mini-guideline. I think you've assembled a mini-version of about a thousand writing handbooks. And, it's succinct enough to print and keep on hand for reference.


  2. Thanks for a good lesson today, Celia. It is always helpful to be reminded of the rules a good story follows if well-written. And I can say that I've read Rodeo Man and it is a perfect example of what you are saying, and a wonderful read as well.

  3. I found your succinct three step writing guide to fiction very helpful. Goodness how we love to complicate things, but this is a good rule of thumb to keep in mind as we write. I know this would be especially helpful to aspiring writers and maybe even those stuck in writer block he'll (been there a couple of times). LOL

  4. Great post Celia. That's what I follow when I write: a hook at the beginning where the goals of the hero/heroine are mentioned, their motivation, and the conflict between them. A middle where the characters and plot develop. And an end part with the black moment, resolution and happy ending.

    I also read Rodeo Man and loved it.

  5. This is great, Celia! I enjoyed how you just broke it down for us to see how it needs to play out. I loved Rodeo Man, too!

  6. Tom--yes, there are a gazillion books explaining this process in such detail it makes one's head swim. I need "simple," and I really broke it down for myself.
    I wasn't sure I was still writing stories using this method, or at least somewhere was a self-test for me.
    Thanks for visiting!

  7. Linda--That's all I can do--remind others of something we might all know. I'm certainly not a writing expert--oh, how I wish I were!
    Thank you so much for the comment about Rodeo Man.

  8. Sarah--I read once there's no such thing as "writer's block," only lazy writers. Now, I do not believe that for a second! Like you, I have certainly been there. It has nothing to do with being lazy.
    I would have been better off if I'd known about this outline early on.

  9. Mona--the Hook is an interesting part of writing a story. I have begun a story a few times in which I could not get the beginning right. As a result, I would write and re-write. I've learned it's a very difficult thing to explain to a new writer.
    Thanks so much for reading Rodeo Man..and the review. I appreciate that!

  10. Cherl--I'm glad you liked Rodeo Man, and thanks for reading it.
    I know you are much more of an expert on writing, since you teach a writing course. I bet you could write a book on How Not To Write A Book, too!

  11. Great summary of the 'beginning, middle and end', Celia. Working out the exact point at which to start the story is often the most difficult part!

  12. Good summation of the three act process, Celia. I too had to learn to start at the inciting incident of the book. Waaaay back, I would write 50 pages setting the stage for the story. Learning to write better fixed that problem, and once I got that right, the sales came along like clockwork.

    Looking back, it's scary how much I didn't know about writing a book. Thanks for the tips, and I love Rodeo Man.

  13. Celia, I heard this a while ago - high school, I think. I always try to tackle my novels as a Shakespearn play with the Intro, Middle and End. :)