When I started writing the only thing I knew about story structure came from English classes and theater training. Needless to say, I knew vague terms and hazy definitions and as a result, my manuscripts were weak. Beat readers told me that I was missing something. When I asked them to explain what "missing something" meant, many couldn't articulate exactly how the story let them down.
The thing I did know was when I wrote my stories seemed to break down about two-thirds of the way through the story. From classes gone by, I had learned about the Three-Act structure (see below) and that would mean my story fell apart after the Midpoint.
The diagram didn't explain to me what was my problem so I decided to brush up on the terms and definitions within the Three-Act Structure.
Act 1 is the first one-fourth of the story and is the Setup of the story. In the middle of Act 1 is the Inciting Incident. Act 1 ends at Plot Point 1 and starts Act 2. Act 2 is half of the story and is called the Confrontation part of the story. Act 2 starts at the Plot Point 1 and ends at Plot Point 2 with the Midpoint at the story's halfway mark. Then the last quarter of the story is Act 3, which is called the Resolution part of the story. Act 3 starts after Plot Point 2 and in the middle of the act has the story's Climax.
Having flashbacks of high school English class yet? I know I am. The words do not equate to me understanding how to create a story with any real structure. As a novice writer, I heard about others struggling with a "soggy middle" where Act 2 meandered and readers stopped reading, which makes sense. Half of the story started on a plot point moved to a midpoint and ended on another plot point. For me, it wasn't enough explanation for what was needed to make the story work well.
Then I found Story Structure Safari, a month-long class taught by Lisa W Miller and the class melted my mind, in a good way. 🙂 She taught me about stories having Four Zones, see below. This theory is based on Larry Brooks books and blog www.StoryFix.com.
Zone 1 is the same as Act 1 and covers the first one-fourth of the story and is the Set-Up of the story. This part normally introduces the reader to the main character, the world they live in, and what we think will be the story problem. Yet at Plot Point 1, the main character has everything they thought they knew upended. This is the point where the story launches and carries the reader and characters to the end of Zone 4.
Act 2 is broken up into two separate sections Zone 2 and Zone 3. This part here, breaking the middle of the story into two pieces helped my very linear mind.
Zone 2 is called Response since it starts right after Plot Point 1 and is the main character's journey to try to come to grips with what happened at the end of Zone 1. The zone ends at the Midpoint. At the Midpoint, the main character shifts from reacting to things to taking action.
Zone 3 is called Attack and ends at Plot Point 2. The purpose of this zone is to show the main character's potential of who they can be but aren't ready to be just yet. To determine what the Plot Point 2 could be, ask, "what is the worst internal thing(s) that could happen to this character."
Then the last quarter of the story is Zone 4, which like Act 3, is called the Resolution. Zone 4 starts after Plot Point 2 and in the middle of the act has the story's Climax.
Now that I've explained the high-level structure of the anatomy of a story. Over the next few months, I will dive into each Zone and break them down into their important pieces.
To the structured mind and story,
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