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.
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