One of the plot planning tools trumpeted about in the writing community is “The Three Act Play”. You’ve probably heard of it.
The idea is that the storyline is broken down into three acts.
Act One is where the story opens with a “hook”. The main characters are introduced.
Act Two is practically the rest of the story. It starts with the problem, the goal to be accomplished stated in some way. Find the murderer, for instance, which in and of itself contains the necessary complication, the thing that will make this not an easy goal to accomplish. All players must stay involved, be in the action. Act Two closes with everything going wrong for the hero or heroine.
Act Three is where the main characters stage a comeback and reverse things, reach their goal. If necessary, solve the crime, find the treasure, find each other.
Actually, for me, that’s not enough. It’s a far too simplified breakdown and it’s not much help in filling in everything that happens from the opening until the closing – in other words, the entire middle of the book.
Enter The Eight Sequences.
They are also part of a scriptwriter’s toolkit. And far more helpful!
Take Act One – it gets broken into two:
Sequence One is where the main character or characters are currently but something will need to happen to put change in the air
Sequence Two presents the problem to be faced and ensures that the main character is taking on the job, is not able to turn the job down, there is something, some reason, that keeps them dealing with the predicament that arose thanks to the inciting incident. The main character giving into his fate is also the end of Act One
Act Two, because it is basically the bulk of the story, has far more sequences.
Sequence Three is the first obstacle, something that will raise the stakes for the main character
Sequence Four falls at the midpoint of the story. It is also when the main character reaches/achieves the first step toward the goal. Something happens that is positive, encouraging. But it isn’t the end all answer
Sequence Five introduces a subplot, though action continues to be very much to the forefront
Sequence Six puts everything back in the main plotline and has events hitting either a very high point or a very low point. And Act Two ends.
Act Three returns to only two sequences and begins with…
Sequence Seven where it is better to have brief scenes with little set up – but then the set up for everything that happens at this point has been given in everything that has taken place already in the story. Here is also where the story takes an unexpected twist – goes in a direction the audience/reader didn’t see coming. This is probably the most difficult part of the story to dream up, but it’s also going to push the tension, the suspense through the roof – always a good idea
Sequence Eight is the big finish. Everything needs to be tied up in a manner to answer all the audience’s/reader’s questions. The perp is caught, the lovers succumb, the world is saved!
And that is what the notorious Three Act Play is really all about.
Excerpt from 60 Ways to Plot or Dodge Writer's Block by Beth Daniels
Available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble online in trade paperback or e-book format
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