Act Structure (FenCon Writer's Workshop Part 4)

New and aspiring authors often say story structure is "confining", or just plain unnecessary. But you rarely hear that sentiment from published, selling authors. [Pete: For more on why you should learn the rules of story structure, check out my post about the Path of Least Resistance]


The following series comes to us from guest blogger and author Tom Howard.

Learn more about Tom by visiting his Amazon Author Page, and check out Tom's latest story in The Good Fight, an anthology of superhero vs. monster stories.


FenCon--a long-running science fiction and fantasy convention in Dallas, Texas--hosts an affiliated writers workshop every year, where professional writers share their own experiences with beginning writers in intensive workshops.

My own writing is at a too comfortable plateau, and I attended to learn some new skills to improve my writing. I've enjoyed FenCon writing workshops before and always find something to take away.

I attended the workshop with my friend and frequent collaborator, Belinda Christ. I think she has attended them all. Like me, she's always searching for community and new tools to improve her trade.

This year, 2015, urban fantasy writer, Jaye Wells, did a four-day class for a dozen writers on critiquing each others' work. Ms. Wells used our comments as a springboard to present sessions on structure, conflict, and the other areas writers need to learn their craft.

Part Four – Act Structure

The classic three act formula can become four acts by breaking act two into two parts, and can even become five acts depending on the amount of resolution you include. [Pete: Sound familiar? Read my take on this in my post about Four Act Structure and the Stages of Competence]

Act 1: Depending on genre, set up the problem introduction in Act 1, and make the goal to alleviate that problem.

Act 2: Start to pursue the goal and make plans in this act. End of Act 2 is a huge obstacle that changes the plans and goal.

Act 3: New information and a new plan. Try new things for the new plan. End of Act 3 is big boss encounter, where fight scene happens. Internal and External conflict collide. 

Act 4: Starts out with “What do we do now?” Overcome internal demons to overcome external demons. Goal set up in Act 1 does not have to be the climax. This Act can be duplicated also. Lead to resolution.

Act 5: Resolution. Can be long, or short, or set up the next book.

The plot points at the ends of the acts are usually thought of as external changes, but they can (and should) coincide with internal conflict changes.

The Hero’s Journey is just not plot points, it’s character development. People say genre fiction (science fiction, horror, and fantasy) is plot driven, but really the best genre fiction is character and plot driven.

Subplots start in Act 2. If you're not careful, Act 2 and Act 3 become what's called "the Muddy Middle".

General tips