The Three Act Structure
November 24, 2007
The three act structure is the essential structure of any story: beginning, middle, and end. Some writers may omit one of the acts, but the audience will fill it in with their imagination, so the act isn't necessarily missing. Some writers claim to create complete one act stories, but such stories usually just contain very small acts. Some writers create stories with more than three acts, but they usually do this by splitting up one of the acts (usually the middle) or writing two storylines in one story and having a three act story for each storyline, resulting in seemingly additional acts.
To see how to flesh out the acts, see The Hero's Journey.
Act One / The Beginning
Introductions to characters and conflict.
Act Two / The Middle
Building tension and frustration, more questions than answers (throw them a bit of relief once in awhile to remind them how good it will feel to get to the end of the story and to make the next frustration even more frustrating than the last).
Act Three / The End
Climax, resolution, and then life goes on.
Act three starts with the climax. During the climax, the characters, plot, and the world in general go through a transformation. Your main character says "Hey, I'm a changed man" and does something big to prove it.
After the climax, we have the resolution, which is where the audience says, "You said you changed and you did. Ok, we believe that you're a new person now." Likewise, your characters also realize that things are different now and there's no going back.
Finally, we have the life goes on ending where we realize that things will continue in this new way.