Good Wednesday, my friends and fellow writers. It is an absolute pleasure to be with you this fine day.
What's that? Why am I so chipper? Well, I am glad you asked.
Today I have the privilege of speaking to you about the wondrous Three-Act Format of structuring novels. Let us get on with it, shall we?
To begin, here is the basic idea:
Act One: Inciting Incident
Example: Chase your characters up a tree // Give them a problem
(The first 20-30% of the story)
Act Two: Rising Action
Example: Throw rocks at them // Make things much, MUCH worse
(The middle 50-60%)
Act Three: Climax and Resolution
Example: The characters get down // Solve the problem and wrap things up
(The ending 10-15%)
In complete honesty, I have never used the Three-Act format to build a story. My purposes in using it were always to re-structure once I had a draft completed. This has helped me multiple times. Now, let us dig a little deeper.
Act One is a getting-to-know-you phase. You are showing us -your readers- the world, letting us meet the characters, and essentially pushing us through any learning-curve there might be where magic/science/world building/etc. might be involved. Act One is also the time to HOOK us. The Inciting Incident should happen within the first chapter or three (depending on genre & length) and this must be something that gives us a reason to relate to and/or care for the characters and the problems they face.
Let's continue with our example of Harry Potter:
SIDE NOTE: The middle of Act Two is sometimes called the Mirror Moment. This is the point where your character must make the choice whether to change or not. I'm not an expert on this, but that post I linked to does a fantastic job of explaining how to work from it, if you are interested.
Act Three is the final battle. The solving of the case. The lovers getting together. It is where everything you have foreshadowed finally comes to a head, and your characters either suffer, bleed, and die, or live to tell an incredible tale. Depending on your genre and how much you still need to wrap up following the big reveal/battle/action/romance, you may have a denouement to help fill in the blanks.
As you can see, there are bits and pieces of other structures within this one. The main focus -in my mind- of Three Act Format, is the tone. Each section is writing toward something, and therefore has a certain feel to it. Act One is exciting, in Act Two the pressure mounts, and in Act Three everything explodes.
I joke, of course. Unless you're Howard Tayler.
I hope this has been educational for you, my friends. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments if you wish, and I shall do my best to answer them by Friday.