The Basics of the Three Act Structure: Act I (the Beginning)

The Basics of the Three Act Structure: Act I (the Beginning)

The simplest building blocks of a story are found in the basic Three Act Structure (which can be used for both screenplay and novels). Act 1 is the beginning, Act 2 is the middle, and Act 3 is the ending. The components in the Three Act Structure are basically fundamental stages along the way of a story. To summarize the acts before I develop Act 1 and its components, I’ll say that:

Act 1 consists of the first quarter of the novel (or screenplay)

Act 2 consists of the next two quarters of the novel (or screenplay)

Act 3 consists of the final quarter of the novel (or screenplay)


What happens in Act 1?

Act 1 is usually called the setup, and the basic components in the first act are:

  • Exposition — This is the part of the story that introduces the characters, their relationships to each other, and places them within a time and place (fictional or real).

  • Main character — This is the character whose goals and desires result in actions that drive the story.

  • Inciting incident/inciting event — This is the part of the story that sets the plot in motion.

  • Plot point #1 — This is the part of the story that pushes the plot in a new direction and leads the story into Act 2.


Now, let us take a deeper look into Act 1.

In the beginning of the act, you introduce the characters, setting, the situation (conflict), and the character’s goal/goals to the reader. Usually the reader’s first questions are: Who is the hero/heroine? Do I like this person? Then they may ask more specific questions like: What is the problem for the hero/heroine? Is the conflict gripping? Do I care about this relationship? Do I care about any of the characters? Is this story exciting and engaging enough for me to continue reading? Have questions like those in mind when you write the beginning to make the story as engaging as it can be.

This early in the story it’s all about keeping your reader’s interest. Start at the most interesting point, where there is conflict, and help the reader sort it out. Remember that conflict is good, and by that I don’t just mean two characters verbally arguing with each other. Conflict can be both external and internal. No matter what type of conflicts you put your characters through, remember that conflict is good and interesting.

Plot point #1 is a situation that drives the main character from his/her ”normal” life. This is the moment where the balance is thrown off. Great plot points often come as surprises, which (in my opinion) make them interesting enough for the reader to keep reading. It puts an obstacle in the way of the character that forces him/her to act, to deal with something they in normal circumstance would avoid.

By the end of Act 1 you should have introduced the antagonist also in some form, as well as set up all of the secondary character relationships.

I’ll be telling you more about the other Acts of this Three Act Structure in two blogposts that are to come.

Is there anything else you establish in Act 1 that I’ve not mentioned in this post?

The Basics of the Three Act Structure: Act I (the Beginning)
The Basics of the Three Act Structure: Act I (the Beginning)

Do you want a Scrivener or Microsoft Word template that will help you with your story’s structure?

The Story Structure Template is designed to help you create and develop your story and its structure.

It includes a template for the Three Act Structure, one for the Seven Point Story Structure, and one for The Hero’s Journey structure so that you easily create or develop your story from the structure you like best.