Three Act Structure–Third Act

threeAct three is where your protagonist either succeeds or fails utterly. It should comprise around the last 25% of your book.

Right after the second plot point, the dark night of the soul, your protagonist has to devise a new plan.  If done well, the reader might think this should have been their plan all along, even if they didn’t see it coming.

The protagonist becomes completely proactive and takes the battle to the antagonist. (S)he is going to face the enemy one last time, no matter the cost, because failure is unacceptable. They’ve already lost more than they thought they could bear. This makes them finally free to do what they must to bring the antagonist goes down.

The plan may or may not succeed initially. There may be a hidden trap, one last impediment to your hero’s success.

The stakes are often escalated here, but don’t try to involve the reader with nothing more than a high body count. The reader only cares about a certain number of characters, the ones you’ve spent your entire story making three-dimensional. The stakes have to matter to them.

This leads into the climax, the star of the third act. In a love story, this is where the characters marry or profess their love. In a mystery, the detective has finally neutralized the murderer. In a heroic adventure, like The Lord of Rings, the hero finally achieves their quest. The Ring is thrown into Mount Doom and the Dark Lord is vanquished forever.

And in a tragedy, this is where your protagonist fails and reaps the consequences of that failure.

The resolution or denouement, doesn’t typically take up a great deal of space, but it’s still crucial. This is where you wrap up your book and put a bow on it for the reader. When they’re done with this passage, they should have both a sense of closure and a feeling that it was worthwhile reading your book.

Don’t blow it at the end, though. This is still very much show, don’t tell territory. Don’t leave your reader with the taste of a sermon from your story. Allow them to draw their own conclusions.

Previous: Three Act Structure–Act Two

Next: Three Act Structure–Epilogue

Avid writer and reader, especially of fantasy. Learning about social networking and always interested in honing my writing skills. Contact me at cathleentownsend.com.

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