How to Write Like a Professional

How to Write Like a Professional
6 Surprising Writing Mistakes That Make You Look Like an Amateur Author... and How to Avoid Them

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bootcamp Wisdom SKILL #4: STORY LINE and the THREE-ACT STRUCTURE

Linda Arms White used to write screen plays and now she uses the "Three-Act Structure" to write all her books.

How to Write a 3-Act Structure || storyline | writing craft | problems and conflict in stories

Here are 5 books to study the 3-act structure:

  1. Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger
  2. How to Write a Movie in 21 Days by Viki King
  3. The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler
  4. Screenplay by Syd Field
  5. The Screenwriter's Workbook by Syd Field


Linda has harnessed the power of screenwriting and realized its strength when applied to writing picture books, or any book of fiction, really. Screenwriting is set in scenes. Well, what is a picture book? A story with illustratable scenes!

The basic structure goes something like this in its simplest form:


  1. Beginning is Act I, or the setup
  2. Middle is Act II, or the development
  3. Ending is Act III, or the resolution


The problem is introduced in the setup, or Act I. The beginning of the story must include what she likes to call the CATALYST. A character encounters a problem (whether active or passive, more on this in a minute) and gives us a central question. What will the character do about the problem?

A turning point (T.P. I) occurs between Act I and Act II. It is a twist in the story, something to take the plot into a new direction, and often changes the focus of the action. I had the most trouble with this at the conference. I am used to plotting out an outline of my stories as part of my prewriting. But to pinpoint one action to label the T.P. was a challenge for me. Now I'm having a hard time reading books and NOT looking for one. Of course the first reading is still for pleasure. But afterwards, while thinking about the story, I start analyzing it. During Act II, complications continue, and the conflict gets thicker.

T.P. II bridges the gap from Act II to Act III. This second turning point speeds up the action and leads into the resolution of the problem. She calls the climax the big finish, where all the loose ends are neatly tied up and the problem has been solved. Then, say no more.

It's basically another way to think about: Someone Wanted But So Then.

When a character wants something, has a goal, a quest, or something of that nature, and then has a hard time attaining it because a problem arose, I call that an active problem. No matter what the problem is, the character still wants to reach the goal.

When a character inadvertently happens upon a problem, I like to call that a passive problem. If a character isn't specifically wanting something in particular, but her goal is to get rid of the problem and to return to life as normal, that's a passive problem.

Just something to think about when you're thinking about your characters and the problems they face.

Does the MC in your current WIP have a an active problem or a passive problem?

Keep on keepin' on...

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