Master The Three Act Story Structure | Pauline Harris | Skillshare

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Master The Three Act Story Structure

teacher avatar Pauline Harris, Fiction Editor

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

5 Lessons (16m)
    • 1. What is the Three Act Story Structure?

    • 2. Act 1: Setup

    • 3. Act 2: Confrontation

    • 4. Act 3: Resolution

    • 5. Final Thoughts

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About This Class

In this course, I’ll be teaching you the basics of the three act story structure, which is one of the most common story structures found across narrative fiction and movies. This is a very easy formula to follow, especially if you are new to writing or are struggling with your current story.

I'm a full time freelance fiction editor with years of experience in the publishing industry. I run my own editorial business at Pauline Harris Editorial.

Further Resources for Writers:

Novelize--an easy-to-use, novel focused writing software:

Meet Your Teacher

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Pauline Harris

Fiction Editor


Hey! I'm Pauline. I'm a full time fiction editor and I run my own editorial business at Pauline Harris Editorial. I specialize in genre fiction, and I love helping authors make their work the best it can be!

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1. What is the Three Act Story Structure?: Hi and thank you so much for clicking on my course. I'm so excited that you're here, and I can't wait to start talking to you about how to construct your novel in the Three Acts story structure. First, I want to talk a little bit about what this course is and what you'll be learning. It's gonna be super quick. You don't need to spend too much time on this, And that's the best way to learn something. I think so. I'm just going to be giving you a brief overview of the three acts story structure and why it's so important and how you can implement this into your own writing. So the three act story structure is probably the most common story structure that's used among novels and, most notably movies and TV shows. So throughout this course, I'm going to be giving you examples from Cinderella, the Disney movie. Actually, because it's a super easy story to follow, you know, obviously very simplistic, and it's probably something that you're already very familiar with. If you've been struggling with your narrative fiction and how to sort of set it up and categorize it and how to really make sure that your plot points air coming across well and that it's flowing. Um, this is a great course for you because the three Acts story structure is very easy to follow. It's a really easy way to make sure that your story is set up in a really engaging way for the reader, so whenever you're ready, it click on the next video and we'll get started. 2. Act 1: Setup: all right, We're just gonna jump right into it. Here we are in act one, and this is often referred to as the set up. This is where you're just, you know, setting up your story, really giving the reader some context as to where they are. What's going on? You're gonna want to introduce some characters, introduced the setting, all of that. Very important. So the first little bullet point under Act One is exposition, which is what I was just basically saying is the setting Where is the character? Where is this taking place? And then you're going to want to answer some key questions just to again give the reader some context as to what's going on first, what is my protagonist struggling with? You're gonna want to identify right away. You know what's going on in this character's life? What is, um, you know, what's their biggest worry? We don't write stories about people who have perfect lives. You can't, you know, you can't really, um, go anywhere with that. And you know, let's see, your character does have a stereotypical perfect life, you know? What is it that makes it fall apart? What's kind of under the surface that, um, is a little bit off. So that's a big question that you want to answer. What is my protagonist struggling with next? One of their goals? All of your protagonist? Everyone, just every person has goals, OK? And when we look at stories especially, you know, the most sort of exciting ones that we really resonate with, these characters have goals that they're trying to accomplish. That's sort of what sets up the story as them going after this goal. So that's a huge question you're going to want to answer as well. And lastly, what is my characters? Biggest flaw or fear. This is also going to play a huge role in your story. It's also going to kind of go into the next few incidents that are going to come up. So let's look at those. So yes, next we have the inciting incident, and the inciting incident should address or answer those questions that we just asked. This is often referred to as Thedc, all to adventure, and, um, it should really push your character out of their comfort zone. This is what starts your story going, and like I said, there aren't stories about perfect characters doing you don't normal and comfortable things . So this is really sort of the launching point for your story. And lastly, we want to address what's at stake for your character. What are they? What could they possibly lose if they don't continue with this journey? Or what could they possibly gain if they continue this journey? Usually, you know, it's it's characters are compelled by what they could lose on what the gains we want to really clearly state that. And then we have plot 0.1. And this is where your character chooses to engage with the inciting incident. They've been confronted with this incident, you know, they're like, Oh, okay, here it is that they think about it for a moment, and then they're like, Yeah, okay, I'm going to go forward with this. And this is when the story really starts. This plot point launches your character into the story and then intact, too. And before we go into act to and want to give you some examples from Cinderella like I mentioned earlier, because this is just gonna make it a little bit clearer as to how this story follows the three act structure. So if we think back toothy three parts of Act one, we have exposition inciting instant and plot 10.1. We can see clearly that Cinderella follows that pretty much exactly So for exposition, you know, we meet Cinderella, we see her life, she's living with her stepmother, her stepsisters, and she has to do all these chores. Um, and we see very clearly that this is what you're struggling with, and her goal is to get out of this situation and to truly be valued for who she is. The inciting incident is when the kingdom calls for all the eligible young ladies to come to the ball to meet the prince because he wants to get married. And so Cinderella, you know, she's thinking about that. She's like, Oh, that that would be great if I could do that. Oh, my gosh! And plot 0.1 is when she decides that, yes, I do want to go to the ball. This would be great for me, and you start really planning that and, you know, kind of making the dress along with all of her little mice, friends and everything. And so that's, um, that's act one summed up in an explanation from Cinderella, so hopefully that is helpful 3. Act 2: Confrontation: Okay, now we've moved on to act to, and this is often called the Confrontation Act. This is when your character is confronted with the problems that they're faced with in their story. The confrontation active, usually the longest section Think of it kind of sandwiched between Act one and Act three, because actual one is really just setting everything up. We're just giving some context for the story, whereas most of the action and the roadblocks and the accomplishments were gonna take place an act to. So be sure to spend a lot of time on this part of your story. This is where the bulk of your story is going to take place already. The first bullet point for Act two is rising action, and this is going to include learning more about your supporting characters so overactive your character's gonna run into some problems. You know, they've been faced with their inciting incident. They've decided to take on this challenge, and they're going at it. But they can't just easily overcome their problems, or it's not an interesting story. You have to give your characters some obstacles. Usually one or two, we don't want to go overboard or it'll get frustrating for the reader if because they want their characters to succeed, they just want them to work hard to do it. So one or two roadblocks is definitely enough. Um, in a more simplistic story like Cinderella, there's really only one. But keep in mind that the Children's story. So if you're writing for adults, um, two, even three is definitely acceptable. This is also where we're going to see a lot of character development, that there's not a huge amount of character development in Cinderella, as we're going to see in the examples and I get to it. But remember, this is the story for Children. So we're going to really want to delve into your character throughout this act. Why are they doing what they're doing? Hopefully we have some idea that based on the exposition and you know their goals and everything, but we're gonna wanna learn a little bit more about them, go under the surface. We also want to learn more about your supporting characters. This is oftentimes when you're supporting characters are introduced, they could be introduced in either Act one or early on an act to, um so either introduced your characters here or really delve into who they are, why they're part of the story. What their point is and who they are, is people. This is going to be really important. All right. Next we have the midpoint, and this is right in the middle of the story. As you might guess, based on the name um, this should be a really significant event where something goes wrong. This is the largest roadblock in the story. Like I mentioned the roadblocks earlier. You might have like a little one before this. And then this is the big one. Were just like, Oh my gosh and your character's really hit on This is like a huge problem for them. This also makes the stakes higher for your character. So it might be like there close to reaching their goal or saving someone or whatever. And it's snatched away from them. So makes the stakes higher. And they are, um, they have even more of a passion toe, overcome this huge problem that they've been faced with, and lastly, we have plot point to. This is where your character reflects on the midpoint event. Learning new skills are empowering themselves to finally take control and confront their problems. So this is a huge opportunity for you to add a lot of character development for both your main character and you're supporting characters. This is what happened during this midpoint section. How can we come back from this and truly conquer our you know, the antagonist or the problem in their story? So now let's use Cinderella again. Teoh talk about act to give some examples here. So, um, INEC to Cinderella has decided she wants to go to her, but she wants to go to the ball, but her stepmother refuses to let her go. This is a roadblock that Cinderella tries to overcome. Here we learn more about Cinderellas character as well as some of the supporting characters , like the Nice that air helping her. And then eventually we learn more about her fairy godmother, who comes to help her. She faces another roadblock when the stepsisters destroyed her dress, and she has no way to get to the ball. But she overcomes on with the help of her fairy godmother, another character development point here, and she eventually gets there. The mid point is when Cinderella meets the prince, but then has to flee right before midnight because the spell's gonna break rate. And so she runs away, leaving her shoe behind. 0.2 is where Cinderella reflects on the midpoint. So she's like, Oh, my gosh, I had to run away. I left my shoe there, Um, and she believes she's lost her chance. Um, it seemed the prince again, and she wonders what she could do to solve that. And so, um, point to leave Cinderella sort of thinking about. Okay, how how can I How can I see him again? And so that's plot point to summed up under the Cinderella examples. So whenever you're ready, click on the next video and we will get to Act three. 4. Act 3: Resolution: all right, here we are. The last act is Act three, and this is often called the resolution. This is going to be another shorter act, like Act one, because it's basically including the climax and then sort of tying up loose ends of the story. So the first bullet point for Act three is the pre climax, and this is where your character faces their enemy or problems. So they used the time that they've taken from plot point to remember backed an act to where they reflect on the midpoint and gains and skills and some knowledge they use that time of reflection. And now they're ready. Teoh face their enemy. The next point of Act three is the actual climax, and this is normally just one scene. Oftentimes, it is a long sort of detailed scene, but it's just one, and this is when your character ultimately defeats their enemy. So this might be very similar, or mirror the roadblocks that your character has come across throughout the story specifically in Act two. But this time they really triumph over their enemy off the problem that they're trying to solve. This is really their moment of glory their moment of victory, where they get to relish in solving this huge problem that has been plaguing them since the inciting incident in Act One. And the last part of Act three is the conclusion, and this is probably pretty self explanatory. This is where you really tie up the loose ends. You release the tension that was building during the pre climax and the clinics, and you really just, kind of, you know, solved the story and let it lie. This might include sort of a epilogue where we see the characters. Maybe a little bit later, when things have died down. It might include answering some questions that haven't been answered in the climax. Um, it might even show where your characters go after this story has ended, in sort of maybe see them continuing to achieve their goals. Now let's take a look back at Cinderella and really explore how Acts three is played out in this story. So we'll see the stakes begin to rise as the prince searches for the woman who fits the shoe that he found, which is obviously Cinderella's shoe. Cinderella knows this is happening and thinks okay, this is how I could get back together with the Prince. But her stepmother also knows that this is happening. So Cinderella gets locked away in his, um, stuck there, and this is sort of the rising action. The pre climax Cinderella is able to break free, and we think, Okay, this is finally gonna happen. But the climax is when the stepmother breaks her shoe. And so we think, Oh, no, this is how is this going to be overcome? A bull for her? But Cinderella ultimately triumphs by bring out the other shoe, improving that she is, in fact, the woman that the Prince Matt at the ball and the store concludes with the Prince and Cinderella getting married. So that's the conclusion and tying up of loose ends for the whole Cinderella story already . So there's your rundown of Act three and go ahead and click on the next video, and I've just got some final thoughts for you. 5. Final Thoughts: So now you know all you need to know about the three Acts story structure. Yea, as you can see, it's a very simple formula on how to write a book that flows and that really keeps the reader engaged. And the great thing about this story structure is that it has been tested and proven drew over and over and over again. Honestly, look at a lot of your favorite books. A lot of your favorite story is a lot of movies, and you'll see that a lot of them used this tree structure because it works. So one of my tips for you when it comes to using this formula and really mastering it is to try to pinpoint it in other works of fiction that you really like, try to look out for it. Because when you see the different variations and the different ways that people utilize this structure, you're gonna be able to implement it in exactly the way that you want, and in a way that is authentic to you and is also really unique. And lastly I just wanted to put in a quick little plug. I am a full time editor and I love helping authors with their stories. I work Premier Li in genre fiction on, and I would love to help you if that's something that you need. You can also find me on Twitter and Facebook and also subscribe to my email list because I send out weekly tips, industry news, a bunch of helpful stuff to help with writing, querying the publishing process. I just really love helping authors navigate the whole publishing industry because it conveniently overwhelming and confusing, and I really want to try to simplify it for you. So once again, thank you so much for watching my skill share chorus. Be sure to check out my other one on how to write a query letter and be sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Absence Card, my email newsletter. That would be amazing, and I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day