Plotting: The Three Act Structure

What I’ve learned from Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

For those of you who haven’t read the book, I’m going to break a part of it down for you. I still suggest you buy the book as soon as you’re done reading this; there are a myriad of details on plotting and all of them explained well.

In Chapter 2, James Scott Bell starts by explaining Beginning, Middle, and End and the roles they will play in your book. I know they sound pretty self-explanatory, but there’s structure to them.


  • Present the story world.
  • Establish the tone the reader will rely upon.
  • Compel the reader to move on to the middle.
  • Introduce the opposition.


  • Deepen character relationships.
  • Keep us caring about what happens.
  • Set up the final battle that will wrap things up at the end.


  • Tie up all loose ends.
  • Give a feeling of resonance.

You have just been introduced to Act I, II, and III.

In Act I, you must rock the protagonists world in some way. It could be small, it could be huge, but it must happen and it must happen early in Act I. This is where you “compel” the reader to continue. Hopefully you’ve already hit on the first two points of beginnings. All that you have left after that is introducing your villain, whether a person or an object (or even the self). Act I should account for the first 1/4 or less of your book.

Act II is about progressing the plot. It’s the middle and biggest part of your book. It can also be tedious to write. Still, without a middle, there can be no end. You must keep your readers interested through this part of the book and the way to do that is by creating obstacle after obstacle that your protagonist must face. It doesn’t matter if the obstacle is overcome or not, as long as it moves your plot forward. This is also the act where your protagonist must make a decision that will lead him to the next part.

Act III should start around the 3/4 part of your book. If you’ve “set up the final battle,” this is where it takes place. If you’re writing a stand-alone book, all of your sub-plots should resolve as well as the main plot. If you’re writing a series, some of the sub-plots can continue on into the next book, but the main plot of this book should be resolved.

There you have the three act structure broken down for you. You can find a more in-depth explanation on what to do with your three acts in Plot and Structure. You can also find other useful tidbits including “doorways,” character arc* and the LOCK system.

*For more on characterization try Characters, Emotion, and Viewpoint by Nancy Kress.

About Katie Doyle

Katie Doyle is an avid reader, writer of NA and Adult fiction, a mom to two tornadoes that resemble an eight and six year old, and pet to a tuxedo cat named Oz and a German Shepherd/Boxer rescue named Charlie. If she's not reading, writing, or getting Oz out of a tree, she's screaming at characters on TV and trying not to curse around her kids.
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2 Responses to Plotting: The Three Act Structure

  1. Glynis says:

    I have not come across the book. I will look it out, thanks. I appear to have followed the rules OK. 🙂

  2. Great approach to writing. I also haven't read this book. I'll have to check 'er out. DS Tracy

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