Let’s do a summary of the killer 5 act structure.
Word of warning, this will get technical, and there will be numbers.
Here’s how I break down my stories as percentages. I use this framework for short and long stories, blog posts, tweets, heck, even Instagram captions.
Now before you get into it with me, I only use these as guidelines. So it’s not dogma.
Today we’re going to go over your first act.
You could be forgiven for thinking that not much happens in a story’s opening, but nothing could be further from the truth. There are specific targets that you have to hit.
Those targets you have to hit are:
1-Your hook, your storey summarized in the opening scene
2-You have to show us who the hero is and you have to make your hero likeable
3-There has to be a villain, they have to have a want, and you have to show them being a bad guy
4-You have to have a call to adventure-refusal of call-acceptance of call.
5-Your hero makes a plan of attack, and now they are going to go about it.
Now you don’t have to do that, you can do your own thing, but I guarantee that if you hit at least two of these points, you will at least have your audience on your side.
Act 1 is delicate. Your audience has put a certain amount of trust in you. If you betray the trust, the audience will not trust you again.
Understand that your villain is the one who drives the change. Without a villain, there would be no story. So what does your villain want?
Go work on tightening up your opening and making your hero more likeable. But, first, ask yourself what does your hero want?
Today we’re talking about act 2. This can be best summed up as things go to plan. Your hero formulated a plan at the end of act 1, and now they are going about carrying out that plan. For the most part, it is going pretty well for them. Whatever it is they’re doing, they’re crushing it.
Here, you would have a series of short scenes to show just how easy things are for the hero. Blake Snyder in Save the Catcalls this section fun and games. Your hero is zipping along, not a care in the world. They feel invincible. Heck, they are invincible. Nothing is going to stop them. They even feel a little arrogant.
Fun and games, things go to plan. Whatever you want to call it tends to stretch from the 20% mark to the 40% mark.
Does that remind you of anything else?
Kinda like your 20s, right?
This is the thing. A story is a life. It may be a bit out there, but every story reflects the collective human experience on some level. If you are conscious of that, you will be able to further hone your story and connect with an audience.
Of course, you don’t always have to do it. You can subvert expectations and go in a different direction. Still, on a certain level, your audience needs to have these things reflected in the story. So in “Things go well”, give them what they want because soon you’re going to take it away from them.
Allow your hero to get confident, cocky even. Fill your hero with pride because soon comes the fall. They have a clue of what will bring them down, but they will ignore it for now.
After all, your hero is invincible, right?
Today we’re meeting in the middle.
Call it what you like.
There’s so much going on in this section. Your hero has been ignoring the problem that they first got a hint of in the second act. They may be consciously ignoring the big problem, or they don’t fully understand what they’re up against. Now they’re in act 3, they have no choice but to face facts.
Around the 50% mark of your story, your hero will realize that their want is not as important as their need. It’s funny how this manifests itself in the stories of people not fully conscious of story structure. For example, one client told a thoughtful story about a father and son living in the snowy wilds only for the second half to turn into a Taken clone. So on some level, regardless of your experience level, you know a change needs to happen in the middle.
The thing is, you, the creator, on some level, know something in your story has to mix it up. The question is, what needs to change? This is a question to ask after your first draft is written. Sometimes when a story comes out of us, we’re not fully aware of what we’re trying to say. The subconscious mind blurts out the letters and the words. Then the conscious mind orders those letters into words, into sentences, into paragraphs, into stories.
You can ignore your midpoint. You can think it means nothing but the clue to what your story about rests in that midpoint. Your subconscious mind wants you to tell the story, but it’s going to make you work for it, test your commitment.
The answer is within. You have to look inside yourself, look into that darkness within you and work out what you think, feel and want to say.
Figuring out your midpoint may not be the most straightforward task, but it will be your most rewarding.
What is it you want to express?
You are almost at the end of your story. Here is where things are going to get hairy for your hero. They’re going to suffer a crippling defeat. Their mentor is dead, either physically or metaphorically. Your hero is wounded and on the run. They will have nowhere to turn to.
The question is, what are they going to do now?
Here is the point where they would be able to give up without much resistance. No one would think any less of them for it. Heck, we have all been there. There have been moments when you have thought to yourself, if I just quit, then no one will notice.
Here is where stories help us. The hero chooses to keep going. Sometimes they will have to do it all by themselves, or they might have someone come from the outside and giving them a helping hand or a bit of a pep talk. The main point is the hero has to choose to keep going. They are so close to the finish that giving up now would be the biggest tragedy.
In many ways, life is like that too. Whatever it is, be it a writing project or, I don’t know, buying a house. There are times when you feel like you’re done. You want to walk away. But, again, no one would blame you, and sometimes it is the right thing to do.
However, sometimes you have to keep at it because you are so much closer to the finish line/victory than you could imagine.
At the start, you had a few bumps, but you stuck at it. But now you say, “No one could have predicted things would get this bad”. That’s just it. Things will go to s**t before they get better.
Be like the hero of your story, take a moment and then keep going.
Blitz week is at an end. I hope you found this helpful and hope I have made structuring your work a little easier.
All you have left to do is wrap up your story.
How are you going to end it?
Try to get out quick, don’t hang around. But, at the same time, if your plot has ended, but you have a little more story to tell, do it.
Endings are where you conclude the journey. I know it sounds like stating the obvious, but there have been writers I have worked with who struggle with ending their work.
This does not just apply to stories, but in posts, captions etc. Look into any social media marketing. You’ll hear of the importance of ending on a question, and the same applies to the stories you tell.
Ask your audience a question. You can infer the question. Heck, you can even ask it directly.
Realize that it is not your job to reassure your audience. Leave that for the hacks. Your job as a storyteller is to make them think, make them question themselves. But, instead, they say that the best way to get the mob to agree with you is to agree with the mob.
You’re a storyteller. You are not here to agree with people, you’re here, to tell the truth. Your truth because when you are honest, they will see parts of themselves in you. They will thank you for shedding light on that part of them they kept in the dark.
Storytelling can bring comfort, not through being “nice” (whatever the heck that means) but by telling the truth.
What truth is not being told?
All stories end when the truth is revealed. Macbeth was not the rightful king of Scotland. Frasier is descended from Russian thieves. It expresses itself differently, but it’s all the same.
There are infinite ways to express “Murder will out”, and we never get tired of hearing it. So the question is, what do you have to say, and how will you say it?