Thor's Thoughts: One, Two, Three

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

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.

For example: Harry Potter
Right in chapter one we see that Harry has been involved in something extraordinary. There are wizards and shape-changing cats and flying motorbikes that make us excited to read more. Then we spend a few chapters getting to know and care for Harry, when suddenly the letters begin to show up, and then Hagrid arrives to tell Harry he's a wizard. Along with that, however, Harry finds out that he has enemies and a reputation he did nothing to deserve. All of this is part of Act One, getting to know the world and characters, and HOOKING the reader.

Act Two

The beginning of Act Two is usually marked by some kind of major shift. From there, as I mentioned above, things always get worse for our beloved characters. Since this is the meat of the story, this section is where you find the majority of Try/Fail Cycles and/or discovery of clues. Also, a great deal of character development and world building can happen here, because you have a bit of room to work with. Just be sure that everything you put into your story is accomplishing more than one goal. Character development AND plot progression. World building AND voice. Use this mid-section to the fullest extent.

Let's continue with our example of Harry Potter:
Act Two begins with Harry traveling to and arriving at Hogwarts. At first he doesn't seem to have any problems aside from getting to class on time, but before long it becomes obvious that someone is out to hurt him, and steal something valuable. Harry and his friends continually pester Hagrid (the teacher they're closest to) that something is wrong, but he brushes them off. As things get worse, the kids begin to look for clues on their own, until finally they go to a higher teacher: Professor McGonagall, and tell her their suspicions. She too brushes them off, and they realize that if something must be done, they'd better be the ones to do it.

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

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.

Act Three begins in the second-to-last chapter, when Harry and his friends go past the Three-Headed Dog to try and stop Snape (but not really Snape). The climax comes when Harry has been separated from his friends and has to face Quirrel/Voldemort on his own. Luckily, Harry has a heart of gold, and he not only survives but foils Voldemort's plans in the process. Our denouement is very brief, wherein Harry speaks to Dumbledore in the Hospital Wing and asks a few questions about what happened. He then returns home to endure the summer and wait for next year.


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.

Good luck,



  1. I loved the way you set out this post. I feel it's been incredibly well done, and your use of GIF images has really added some humour and appeal to the post.
    #THOR OUT! You don't know how much I laughed at that!
    I like to write too. I've recently posted a poem on my blog, and am participating in the Fiction Friday blog chain. Maybe you could....If it's possible. ....check it out? Maybe leave a little comment? Thanks!
    There's the link ^

  2. Here's the formula that I tend to use:
    1. Introduce the characters and what makes them unique. Give them their powers.
    2. Introduce the problem.
    3. Take their powers away (raise the stakes).
    4. Have them find their way back and fight for it.
    5. Repeat 3 and 4 as needed.
    6. Push it even harder into the darkest hour.
    7. Resolution (no deus ex machinae.)