I just want to start off by saying that there are numerous ways to outline your novel. The technique listed below is the most common and easiest, and I encourage you to try it out. If you find that it’s doing more harm than good, push it away and try something else. A quick search on the Internet for “plot structures” will bring up numerous examples to try. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the years, it’s that there’s no right way to write. What works for one person, may not work for another. The point is to use what works best, and don’t be scared to adapt as you go along.
Three Act Structure is the basic beginning, middle, and end format we learned in elementary school. It unfolds like so:
- Act One: Setup– The goal in this act is to show the protagonist’s world to give the protagonist a goal and a choice to make. You also want to introduce the antagonist and any other important secondary characters. The Act will make up roughly 25% of your novel.
- 1st Turning Point – This is where the opportunity to change or fix what’s wrong presents itself. The protagonist must choose to act, and the stakes are raised for the first time. This step into the unknown is what officially leads your readers into Act Two.
- Act Two: Confrontation – This Act will make up roughly 50% of your novel. The protagonist must struggle to achieve the solution to the problem, and there will be a continuous cycle of struggles and complications that stand in his way. Each struggle and complication will bring the protagonist closer and closer to the climax and resolution of the novel. Towards the end of this act everything should go wrong. Your protagonist’s plans will fail, the stakes will be raised again, and he will feel like giving up. This sets us up nicely for the climax.
- Climax – This is the final showdown with the antagonist. The protagonist finally understands who he is as a character, what he’s supposed to do, and crafts a brilliant plan. This sets your audience up for your novel’s biggest cliffhanger. Will the protagonist win or lose?
- Act Three: Resolution – This Act is usually less than 25% of your novel and will wrap everything up neatly for your readers. The Protagonist either fails or succeeds and we learn what he plans to do now that he’s resolved his problem.
I encourage you to take your plot bunny, or story idea, and, using the research you’ve already complied, try out the Three Act Structure for yourself. The goal is to find holes in your plot, and places in your novel, where the stakes might need to be raised or where more conflict needs to arise.
Be on the lookout for my next blog post on Sunday. I’ll explain the outlining technique I use to plot my novels. Also, let me know if you have a favorite outlining technique already, or what cool technique you may have discovered through your own research. I look forward to hearing from you!