A Tool not a Rule

The three-act structure is a useful tool. It can help you to structure your story in the early stages of writing, and it’s a great lens through which to examine a draft.

That said, not every successful story is going to fall neatly into the three-act structure. “Ride the Cyclone”, a terrific script from Victoria’s Jacob Richmond is completely episodic. In lesser hands, this could have resulted in a flat attempt at entertainment, but Mr. Richmond’s episodes—and the music that accompanies them—are all so surprising that “Ride the Cyclone” is knockin’ ’em dead everywhere it plays.

And, even when stories contain all of the steps of the three-act structure, they’re not always in the same order. The Ordinary World, for instance, might be outlined after the protagonist has already received the Call to Adventure. That’s what happens in one of my favourite kids’ stories, “Never Be Afraid!”, which is part of Paul Yee’s story collection, Teach Me to Fly, Skyfighter!

In Yee’s tale, the shy John Chin has already received the Call to Adventure, which is to become a martial artist before the story reveals John’s Ordinary World, with his strict father and sympathetic mother.

So use the three-act structure as a tool, but don’t be bound by it.

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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