Plotcasters Season 1, Episode 1: Plot Structure–overview, acts, turn
These are just the main topics covered in Episode 1 of Plotcasters podcast. Visit the Podcasts section and listen to the full story.
Most stories (those that follow the western aesthetic) have a similar structure: plots have a beginning, middle, and end three x beginning middle and end. That makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it. Because you can’t have the middle without a beginning.
- Act 1 is the setup.
- Act 2 is the meat of the action, aka the muddle.
- Act 3 is the ending
In the past, the acts were of equal lengths. Modern readers no longer have the patience for that. In response, writers have shortened Acts 1 and 3 and have expanded Act 2 so that it is half of the novel. Having a long Act 2 means the muddle is much longer.
Act 1: The beginning of your story. It has specific story elements that need to be included, starting with the setting. Setting is the time, place, and culture of the story, often called “The World As it Is.” There’s a call to action. The hero is given a task. It’s the moment when the character goes into motion.
Act 2: We no longer view Act 2 as one big chunk. Instead, we divide it into three parts. The first part is 2A. The third part is Act 2B. We split 2A and 2B right down the most to create the most important part, the Turn.
Act 2A: Your hero has begun to call the action. They’re on whatever emotional/psychological/physical journey they started in Act 1. They do well. They got friends. They have fun and games they have high jinks and everything was going really well for them so that by the end of today. It looks like they’re going to succeed.
Act 2B: Once they have not succeeded. Once they have failed. Then act to lead is the antithesis of ACT 2A. That’s where everything goes wrong. That’s where this stuff hits the fan. So everything that they get right in the beginning they do wrong. Now the peak that they reached the highest level they crash down from. So that by the end of Act 2 by the end of that to me they are humbled. And almost destroyed. And the thing that destroys them is the Turn.
Act 3: LIke the other acts, Act 3 has specific elements. They vary based on genre expectations and length. Typically, the elements are a promise of self-evaluation by the hero, a final battle with the villain that completes the challenge the hero accepted in Act1, and a return to equilibrium so that the Worlds as it was becomes the World as it will be.
Remember: Plot is the series of actions a character does because of what those actions mean to her or him. The ending has to mean something, too.
- One Minute Surf Boogie by texasradiofish (c) copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.
- Blow-up Santa by texasradiofish (c) copyright 2013 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.
- Foolish Game by texasradiofish (c) copyright 2014 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.
About The Author
David Macinnis Gill
Host and Originator of Plotcasters, David Macinnis Gill is the author of SOUL ENCHILADA, BLACK HOLE SUN, INVISIBLE SUN, SHADOW ON THE SUN, RISING SUN, and UNCANNY from HarperCollins/Greenwillow and “Praise the Lord and Pass the Little Debbies” in RURAL VOICES from Candlewick. He teaches in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program.