Three Act Structure: The Most Basic of Basics

Find the original /r/writing post here.

Today I realized I had been going over all this story structure theory for beginners and I hadn’t even touched on the most basic of basics, three act structure. I’m sure everyone here already feels like they have three act structure pretty well understood, but it never hurts to do a little refresher every now and again.

One of my favorite places to start with studying three act structure is the often trusty Wikipedia. Particularly, I like the plot line graph they use in the article, which includes a few extra points (pinch 1 and pinch 2) that aren’t often included in images illustrating three act structure.

Three Act Structure Plot Line Graph

Here’s a short blog article from Karen Woodward that talks about pinch points, with some examples from Star Wars. To quote it:

First Pinch Point:

The first pinch point reminds us of the central conflict of the story.

Second Pinch Point:

The second pinch point, like the first, reminds the audience of the central conflict of the story, but it also is linked to the first. It shows the audience the threat (whatever it is that still stands in the way of the hero achieving his goal). The pinch point scene lays out what the hero has yet to conquer/overcome/accomplish.

To put three act structure more simply, however, we need only turn to the always trusty TV Tropes:

“I took a master class with Billy Wilder once and he said that in the first act of a story you put your character up in a tree and the second act you set the tree on fire and then in the third you get him down.”

Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back Producer Gary Kurtz, LA Times interview

The entire article is a pretty useful simple explanation of three act structure as well, so be sure to give it a read. That, along with this little rehash of everything you just read (found on the College of DuPage website), should get you feeling comfortable with the most basic of basics and ready to go over the previous tips again (especially Miéville’s) if you didn’t feel comfortable with three act structure already when reading them the first time.

[Click here for more writing advice for beginners.]

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Dinner for Two Video Reading

Fast FoodToday’s a twofer, it looks like, because I spent some time yesterday recording a video I’d like to share with you all here. Now, I admit, the lighting’s terrible, my reading’s unrehearsed, Mr. Kitty (beckoned by my beautiful voice, lol) tries to come into the room about halfway through, and I bungle a word sometime after that (along with countless other little fixes that can be made, which I won’t list here), but it turned out better than I thought it would and I think I’ll be making more in the future.

All that’s to say, Here’s a reading I did of my very short fable Dinner for Two, enjoy.

Dinner for Two

by Bryan Perkins

“She’s gourmet,” I said to the phone. “Of course I want to go out with her. Next to her I’m like dog food.”

“So what’s the problem?” the phone asked back.

“The problem? I can’t even afford to go out to a nice restaurant by myself, that’s the problem. How do you expect me to afford a dinner for two?”

“Oh, come on,” the phone said, putting on that concerned tone like he knew what I was going through. He didn’t. Phones had all the money. Everyone everywhere needed a phone to do everything. He couldn’t help but to roll in the bakers—it was how he was built. “This is a new day and age,” he said. “The girl will even pick up the waiter these days. They call it dutch ovening or something, I don’t know. The point is, even a cheap ass sack of fries and a greasy burger dressed up in a paper suit deserve to sit on a nice table with a pretty girl every once in a while.”

“That’s easy for you to say,” wasn’t too difficult for me to say. “You’re a phone.”

“What?” the phone said, tone: offended. “You think my life is problem free? Those animals are always grabbing me, spitting on my ass, putting my face—that’s where my mouth is, you know, and my nose—up in their ears, and making me whisper sweet nothings from some other phone’s ass. You’re tellin me you want that life?”

“No,” I said. I did not want that. “But I’m fast food. I’m gonna—”

“What? So you’re afraid then?” the phone cut me off. I wasn’t even sure I was close enough to his butt for him to hear me.

“No, I’m not afraid,” I said anyway.

“You’ve never dreamed of sitting on a fancy table, candlelight between you and your gourmet date, a sweet, beautiful violin singing in the background, accompanied by an a capella orchestra?”

“Well, sure, who hasn’t? But I’m fast food!”

“It doesn’t matter, kid. It’s your destiny. I’ve made the call already. Get ready for the ride of your life.”

#

I won’t bore you with the details of the ride. Suffice it to say that it was the ride of my life. The table I ended up on deserves a little more description, but the phone has already gotten to that: candles, a capella orchestra, and—best of all—my gourmet date.

Ooh, what was she, though? I couldn’t see her from that angle, with the burning candle blocking my field of vision, but I could almost smell something exotic—maybe Thai. More than likely it was my own unkempt stench which I’ve probably never smelled anything beyond.

Ahem.” I cleared my throat of greasy phlegm. “Hello,” I ventured over the candlelight.

Gourmet gagged. “Ew. You have got to be kidding me.”

“I—excuse me.” I didn’t like the tone of her voice.

“You’re fast food!” she screeched.

“I—uh—” Of course. “The phone didn’t tell you?”

“I thought it had to be a joke. It is a joke, isn’t it? You’re not fast food, there’s something more under that paper veneer.”

“No, I—” I complained, but a hand—ugh, the most disgusting thing imaginable—ripped my clothes off and lifted me naked for the entire world to see.

Gourmet giggled now. It was so much worse than gagging. My insides turned pink. I gave up, gave in. There was nothing more for me. Thank the Holy Cow, Creator up above, a slobbery, cavernous black hole devoured me, sending me on a journey unknown, through depths even darker than these.

END

Dan Harmon’s Story Structure 101: Super Basic Shit

The /r/writing self post this is quoted from can be found here:

This is taken from Dan Harmon’s Channel 101 post, found here, and it is one of the many great ways to look at story structure which might help you follow China Miéville’s advice on novel structure for beginners, found here. Now back to Harmon:

Storytelling comes naturally to humans, but since we live in an unnatural world, we sometimes need a little help doing what we’d naturally do.

Draw a circle and divide it in half vertically.

Divide the circle again horizontally.

Starting from the 12 o clock position and going clockwise, number the 4 points where the lines cross the circle: 1, 3, 5 and 7.

Number the quarter-sections themselves 2, 4, 6 and 8.

Dan Harmon Story Circle

Here we go, down and dirty:

  1. A character is in a zone of comfort,
  2. But they want something.
  3. They enter an unfamiliar situation,
  4. Adapt to it,
  5. Get what they wanted,
  6. Pay a heavy price for it,
  7. Then return to their familiar situation,
  8. Having changed.

Start thinking of as many of your favorite movies as you can, and see if they apply to this pattern. Now think of your favorite party anecdotes, your most vivid dreams, fairy tales, and listen to a popular song (the music, not necessarily the lyrics). Get used to the idea that stories follow that pattern of descent and return, diving and emerging. Demystify it. See it everywhere. Realize that it’s hardwired into your nervous system, and trust that in a vacuum, raised by wolves, your stories would follow this pattern.

I will talk in greater detail about this pattern in subsequent tutorials.

Next article:Story Structure 102: Pure, Boring Theory

And do be sure to check out Story Structure 102 and beyond. Dan Harmon is great at what he does. Enjoy until next time.

[For more writing advice for beginners click here.]

Margaret Atwood’s Happy Endings and 10 Tips for Writing

Today I’d like to discuss Margaret Atwood, one of my favorite speculative fiction authors. Here she is in video formattalking about why we tell stories. She thinks it’s in human nature to do so, much like Dan Harmon did in an earlier tip post .

Moving on to a short story she wrote, Happy Endings, we’ll find again some of Atwood’s thoughts on storytelling. With the odd structure of this “story” she seems to be saying, “It’s not the end of a tale that matters but the meaty bits in the middle.” Right here you can find a decent, if short, analysis of the story to serve as a jumping off point for conversation.

And finally, it seems that every author has their own list–this one taken from the Guardian article here–so here’s Atwood’s. Enjoy:

  1. Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.
  2. If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.
  3. Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.
  4. If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a ­memory stick.
  5. Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.
  6. Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What ­fascinates A will bore the pants off B.
  7. You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.
  8. You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.
  9. Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.
  10. Prayer might work. Or reading ­something else. Or a constant visual­isation of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.

 

[Click here for more writing advice for beginners.]

TL;DR

So, I just might have written a reddit love story.

For the same reasons that no publisher would ever pay me to print this in their magazine (it’s about reddit, the formatting is wonky, it relies on hyperlinks), I’m offering it free for your reading pleasure right here. Wordpress will never be able to handle this formatting, though, so you’re gonna have to read it Google Docs style.

Click here to read and (hopefully) enjoy.

Heirloom Pieces by Lisa L. Hannett | Apex Magazine

I’ve decided that I’m not a very good critic because I either try too hard to love the things I read, or I get irrationally mad at them because prolly they’re better than I could ever be. That all being said, I still want to share some of the better short stories and such I’ve been reading with y’all, so here’s just that. Check out this story from Lisa L. Hannett, published in Apex Magazine, entitled Heirloom Pieces, about the responsibilities that come with having a child, and maybe a little bit more. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.