— Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, as quoted in this interesting article on Transmedia Storytelling
It’s only been within the past year or so that I’ve really started to study the 3 act structure, but I am finding it enormously helpful to my writing to use these principles to construct an outline.
This way, I have a destination I’m writing towards instead of just staring at a blank page until my forehead bleeds. And I think it’s really helpful to get these main “fenceposts” below figured out first, and then slowly fill in the “pickets” in between. This way I’m not wasting time writing scenes for a structure that just won’t work.
If you write a sentence for each of these key scenes below, you’ll have 9 sentences and the start of a solid story. And this way you can break it into manageable chunks (“I only have to write from the normal world to the inciting incident, okay I can do that”) instead of looking at the blank page with a bleeding forehead and thinking, “One page down, one hundred and nineteen to go.”
Act 1: Establish the Normal World
Inciting Incident: The incident that kicks your story into action and launches your Hero out of his Normal World.
Act 2 Begins: The acceptance and commencement of the Journey; what does your Hero want? Who is going to keep him from getting this?
Act 2 Midpoint: The False Victory, Raising the Stakes - here we think the hero has won but wait! Something happens to send the story in a new direction with even higher stakes.
End of Act 2: All Is Lost: this is the darkest night for your character, he thinks the world is over. He is much worse off here than he was in the beginning of the story.
Act 3: New Piece of Information is Discovered
Resolution - show New Normal World
For example, the Wizard of Oz would look like this:
Act 1: Normal World: Gray boring ol’ Kansas with Auntie Em and Uncle Henry. Dorothy dreams of going over the rainbow.
Inciting Incident: Holy smokes, a tornado has blown this house to Oz and killed the Wicked Witch of the East!
Act 2: Commencement of Quest / Hero’s Desire: Dorothy learns she must travel to the Emerald City in order to ask the Great and Powerful Oz to send her home. Her desire is to get back to Kansas.
We also meet Dorothy’s antagonist, the Wicked Witch of the West, who wants the ruby slippers that Glinda gave to Dorothy. “I’ll get you, my pretty…and your little dog too!”
Act 2 Midpoint False Victory and Raising the Stakes: With the help of some new friends, Dorothy reaches the Emerald City and meets Oz! Huzzah, victory! Except hold up: the Great and Powerful Oz says that he will not send her home until she brings him the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West. The stakes are raised by this dangerous mission.
End of Act 2 All is Lost: Flying monkeys have captured Dorothy and Toto and they are locked up inside the Wicked Witch’s castle! This is way worse than even just being stuck in Munchkinland. How can she possibly get out of this one?
Act 3: New piece of information is discovered : Toto escapes and finds Dorothy’s friends!
Chase Scene: Toto leads the Lion, Tinman and Scarecrow through the treacherous tunnels and past the monkey guards to Dorothy where they have the
Climax : Showdown with the Wicked Witch. I’m melting, I’m melting!
Resolution New Normal: Dorothy learns that she had the power to return home at any time she wished - all it takes is three clicks of the heels. Dorothy returns to Kansas with a new perspective: forget rainbows, there’s no place like home.
Does this make sense? Am I off-base? Would you do anything differently?