So I wanted to write this ahead of time and be all fancy with charts and info and academic stuff…but it’s 1pm on Friday and my weekly mental breakdown has come to call, so instead you’re getting this.
I’m sure you’ve all heard of the famous Three-Act Structure. You set up the story, you burn everyone’s lives and possibly kill a mentor or two, and then everything gets wrapped up in a happy little package. Or completely disintegrates, if you’re writing a tragedy. All the cool kids are doing it.
Well, here’s the thing. I have a bone to pick with you, Three-Act Structure. A distinctly non-mountain-shaped bone. Half the time…you make all the stories sound boring!
I mean really. Think about it. If you’re planning a story, say, like, Star Wars: A New Hope, for example, and for your three-act-structure map you write down “Luke leaves Tatooine, Obi-Wan dies, Luke blows up the Death Star…” That doesn’t sound like a story! That just sounds like a series of unrelated events!
And okay, yes, I was just listing what happens at the end of each of these Three Acts, which really doesn’t give a full picture of the story. You could start at the beginning, I guess… “Leia hides the plans on the droids, Luke sneaks onto the Death Star, Luke delivers the plans to the Rebels…” But still, that doesn’t leave you with much. Sure, it works AFTER the story is written. But does it really work for planning purposes?
I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of trouble coming up with three seemingly random events to mark the beginning, middle, and end of a story I’m formulating. Maybe it works if you already know how you want your story to end, or have an idea of what’s happening in the middle. But the idea that it’s the magic formula to building a story — from scratch, no less — is kind of ridiculous to me.
It gets even worse if you start trying to apply it to non-fantasy/action/sci-fi stories. For example, Catcher In The Rye. Now, it’s been awhile since I’ve read this, so excuse me if I get this wrong (and spoilers ahead, obviously), but what would you even put down for this? “Holden gets kicked out of school, has an existential crisis in NYC, and goes home.” Like…how do you get a novel out of that?
The problem is that the Three-Act-Structure is so bare-bones, it doesn’t allow for any planning in the in-between parts. Sure, you can do that too, but I feel like we’re often encouraged to come up with the defining events BEFORE we get the in-between parts. To…save time? Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method encourages authors to create a more detailed outline, but still, the three big events come first.
Maybe I just work differently than these people. I have to admit, organization and a logical approach to creativity has never really been my strong point. Maybe I’m just jumping the gun and trying to use the three-act structure too early. But then…why is it heralded as the best way to tell a story? Am I just seeing the wrong blog posts?
And, why are we ignoring other ways to tell stories? Such as Kishōtenketsu, the method of telling a story through contrast? Or the daisy-chain plot? Or ensemble plot? Or repeated action plot? Etc etc etc?
Well, what do you guys think? Are we using the three-act structure too often? Or do I just have my head on backwards, as usual?
Anyway, I’m signing off. I’m hungry and tired and probably should not be allowed to touch a keyboard right now.
Stay crazy, guys. I know I am.
Picture background from TV Tropes.