Friday, March 30, 2018

Is The Three Act Structure No Longer Useful?

Photo courtesy of VisualHunt

As some of you may know, I’m big into story structure. My ability to take a scene in my head and convert it into words on the page may be lacking, but story structure is a whole 'nother beast. Three-act structure, along with its requisite story beats at well-defined points, just makes sense to me. So much so that I’ve given a few lectures on the topic at local libraries and my SCBWI writing group. I can scarcely watch a movie these days without noticing the first plot point or the midpoint reversal. Heck, I’ve talked about it enough that even my wife and daughter can spot the “All is lost” moment. 

But lately I’ve come across a few writers who suggest that the three-act structure is no longer necessary for a good story. That writers can use whatever structure they want. And that makes me want to go hmmm… 

I first saw this advice a couple of weeks ago in the book Layer Your Novel by C. S. Lakin. I enjoy her books on the craft of writing, and this book does a good job of defining the important story beats and where they should go in the story, but she spent several pages at the beginning of the book telling writers that they don’t have to use the three-act structure if they don’t want to. She even pointed out that one of her books had seven acts. All a writer really needs, she said, is to have the proper story beats in the right places. 

I have to say I found this attitude rather confusing. First of all, there’s nothing about the three-act structure that says you can’t break it down into more than three parts. All you really need is the story setup, the journey, and the final battle. Pretty basic stuff. I haven’t read her seven-part story, but I suspect that it follows the three-act structure more than she would lead us to believe. In fact, if her story follows the story beats that she espouses in Layer Your Novel, then I’m positive it follows three-act structure. Because if you have all the necessary story beats and you put them in the right places, then you basically have the three-act structure whether you call it that or not. 

And then yesterday I watched a video by John Truby, another writer attempting to explain the art of writing. Not only did he knock story structure, but he claimed that following “The Hero’s Journey”—another method of characterizing three-act structure—would lead the writer to disaster. (I think his explanation was that since everyone else was doing using it, new writers would be better off doing something different. Yikes!) What I found most amusing was that the three stories he constantly held up as examples of what writers should aspire to—Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Lord of the Rings—all follow the Hero’s Journey to the letter. 

Hey, I’m all for not being a slave to writing rules, but I see no reason for telling newbie writers that the three-act structure is obsolete. All good stories follow it to some extent and writers would be wise to learn what makes a story tick before discarding it.

Have a great Easter weekend and enjoy this week's writing links!


5 Most Common Mistakes with Setting

Understanding Your Ebook Formatting Options

What's So Wrong With Clich├ęs in Our Fiction? This.

The Dangers of Premature Editing: Pruning Our Stories vs. Pillaging Them

Publishing Tips for 2018 and Beyond

Word Choice for Character Strength

7 Frequently Asked Writing Questions

Monday, March 26, 2018

Seven Writing Links -- Volume 186

This Week's Writing Links
Photo Courtesy of Visual Hunt

For all those asking about my wife's ankle last week, I can announce she's much better now, although she's a bit slower than the usual.  The bad news is that she proceeded to catch my cold and ended up with bronchitis. :(  Actually, my cold turned into bronchitis too, so we were both coughing and hacking around the house this week, much to the annoyance/amusement of our kids.  A round of antibiotics seems to have done the job, which means my head is finally able to concentrate on writing again.  It's about time, too! We're almost a quarter of the way through the year and I'm already falling behind my goals for 2018. 

My wife and I saw Tomb Raider this weekend. It was your typical treasure hunt movie--a fun action romp with well choreographed action scenes--but it didn't have much in the way of plot.  There were a few twists, but nothing I didn't spot coming a mile away.  But my wife will watch almost anything if it means she gets to eat movie popcorn, so a good time was had by all. 

Enjoy the writing links! 


How to Link your Kindle Book Edition to your Paperback Edition on Amazon

Book Description Basics

Writers: Grow Your Instagram Account Organically

Turning Points: Three Act Structure for Novelists

Can Slick Marketing Sell Bad Books?

Characters in Cars Thinking, or, How to Deal with the Passage of Time

Stealing Hollywood - Character Introductions

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Seven Writing Links -- Volume 185

This Week's Writing Links
Photo Courtesy of Visual Hunt

Between being sick with a bad chest cold all week and my wife spraining her ankle, there wasn't much progress on the writing front. And now I have to focus on critiques I owe three other authors.  Spring can't get here quickly enough. 

The family and I saw A Wrinkle in Time last weekend. It was okay, in my opinion, but I admit I was expecting more. I never read the book, but my impression was that they skipped a lot of the story in order to give us lots of visuals. 

What did you guys think? Did you enjoy it? How did the book compare to the movie?

Anyway, have a great weekend and enjoy the writing links! 


Foreshadowing in a sentence: Connecting story events

Assemble Your Street Team: How to Mobilize Your Fan Army to Promote Your Books

Want to Push Your Protagonist Over the Edge? Add an Emotion Amplifier

Back to Basics--Imagery

The Difference Between YA and MG Novels

3 Tips to Hook Your Reader’s Emotions

Character flaws: Creating lovable imperfections

Friday, March 9, 2018

Seven Writing Links -- Volume 184

Woo-hoo!  Both a Wednesday AND a Friday post this week.  Will wonders never cease.  Actually I have to thank the Insecure Writers Support Group for making me post on Wednesday. There's nothing like the threat of being dropped from the group for not posting on the first Wednesday of the month to keep those juices going. 

Last night's critique group meeting went well, and I just discovered my other critique group is meeting on Monday.  Whoops, I should have paid better attention at last month's meeting. I hope my submission is in good shape, or I'll be staying up late tonight polishing it up for critiquing.

Have a great weekend! 


Book Promotion: Do This, Not That – February 2018

5 Quick Ways To Shift Description and Setting Into Deep POV

6 Tips for Writing Characters Who Captivate Readers

Writing a Synopsis with Pintip Dunn

Garlic Breath For Writers (aka, Bad First Pages)

The 5 Turning Points of a Character Arc

How Should a Character Say Nothing?

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Insecure Writer and Deciding Your Genre

Today is March's contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.

Why am I an Insecure Writer this month?

Because I don't know which genre I should use to describe my story. 

I mean, that’s kind of weird, right? Not knowing what genre my story falls into? It’s not as if I’m writing some sort of weird crossover that’s never been done before. It’s straight fantasy about a college freshman who suddenly finds herself thrust into the middle of an alchemical war that’s been secretly raging on Earth for nearly a millennium. There’s no magic, but these alchemists have the power to manipulate chemical elements. 

My original thought was that it would be considered urban fantasy. However, these days it seems that urban fantasy falls into one of two camps. Either the protagonist is female and she’s a demon/vampire/werewolf/etc slayer in a world full of paranormal creatures or he’s a male warlock, usually with a checkered past who needs to fight some terrible evil to redeem himself. And I’m a little concerned that if I call my book an urban fantasy, people will be expecting something my book is not. 

My story does have subatomic-sized creatures (the ones responsible for the manipulation of elements), so some writers might classify my story as paranormal fantasy. In fact, according to this post, the main thing that differentiates urban fantasy and paranormal fantasy is the presence of magic. Since there is no magic in my story, that would make it paranormal fantasy. 

Heck, I’ve even considered just calling it science fantasy, since I basically take one fantastical element (the subatomic beings) and weave a story around them using science to work out most of the rules and consequences. But I’m not sure if anyone uses the term science fantasy any more. 

This may seem like needless worrying, but book covers these days are highly dependent on the genre and if my cover gives the readers the wrong impression, they won’t be happy. 

Let's move on to the IWSG question of the day. 

How do you celebrate when you achiever a writing goal / finish a story? 

Since I haven’t finished a story, I can’t answer that part of the question yet. As far as smaller goals are concerned, every time I finish a submission for my critique group, I consider that a victory. I celebrate by allowing myself a little time to work on my fan fiction. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine, and as such, feels like a reward. 


So how would you classify my story?