Act I, Act II…I Don’t Know What to do

There are many things I’ve learned during my time on WordPress. One of the things that I’ve discovered is that writers seem to write their stories in different “acts”. And I’m not really sure why.

Just about everyone one here has written more than I have. I think in total I’ve only mustered out 90k words or something. I’m obviously not including these posts or any essays in that number. But 90k words isn’t much. So I’m not going to sit here and act like I know it all. What I do know is that I don’t write in these “acts”. And I never will. Just like I’ll never plan out a book before it’s written. Who needs outlines when I can just sit down and pump out a few thousand words whenever I want to?

Anyway, I’m just curious to know if you write your books in different “acts”? I have no idea why I keep putting quotation marks around that word. Because when I think of them I think of Shakespeare. And Romeo and Juilet. So it’d always be a little odd for me to write that way. But what do I know?

For instance, how many acts would it take to write a book? Or how many chapters are in a single act? Hm. I shall never know. Unless you share your wisdom.

On this day in 2014 I published To Pen Name or Not to Pen Name; That is…a Dumb Question.


33 thoughts on “Act I, Act II…I Don’t Know What to do

  1. This isn’t rocket science, or arcane wisdom. Don’t get hung up on structure because clearly that’s not the way you write.

    Most stories follow a three act structure. We think of it as “beginning”, “Middle” and “End”. The famous book on screenwriting summed them up as “Put your hero in a tree: Throw rocks at him: get him out of the tree”.

    The way you write is often referred to as “pantsing”, and that’s not a derogatory term. It means you write by the seat of your pants, following the flow of the story, rather than planning the whole thing out in advance. That’s fine – the only problem people encounter with it is occasionally writing themselves into a corner – something needed to be set up way back to get the heroes out of a hole without looking like an unlikely coincidence or deus ex machina.

    I’ve pantsed several books, and I’ve planned a couple of others. There’s good and bad in both methods, but the planned books were easier to write in terms of time. My last book (as yet unedited) was planned and written inside a month. It’s only 50K, but it’s the second in a series of three short books that will eventually lump together into one longish story.

    My feeling is that, without planning or a severe editing, books written by following the flow risk dragging the reader off down diversions that have no real effect on the main story – they just felt right at the time. That’s fun for the author, because that first draft SHOULD be you exploring your story, your characters and their world. But why should the reader have to suffer twenty pages about the hero’s first marriage and divorce, when all they care about is how he’s going to disarm the bomb and catch the terrorists?

    There’s no real formula to writing a successful book. No one has the one secret that will make you rich. But reading some of the books about writing will help you look at the way you do things, help you try something different. That’s never a bad thing, even if all it means is that you come away happy with doing things the way you always have.

    Shakespeare’s plays had five acts, mostly, so forget about those.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. *That famous book on screenwriting was ‘Save the Cat!”. Screenwriting is incredibly difficult, and has many more rules than novel writing. Reading a book on how to write screenplays can be incredibly liberating because you come out of it going “Thank god I don’t have to worry about any of that!”

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It’s odd to say you’ll never do something, then wonder about what it involves. Be that as it may, I used to feel the same way. I explored, because maybe there was something out there I could use. This book changed my whole outlook. She regularly makes it free or 99 cents. Some folks are just naturals and don’t need the framework. I found the framework to be very helpful. It may, or may not, be useful to you. You owe it to yourself to check it out first.

    Liked by 1 person

    • But I’m not wondering anything. Not really. I wrote this because it’s Friday and I’ve posted everyday for almost three months. Which means I save what I think are my good topics for other days of the week.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My first book was a pants-er, and that ended up really hurting it in the long run unfortunately. It really had no clear beginning, middle, and end, which of course forced me to do a million and one rounds of edits that might have been avoidable. Not to say that you absolutely have to stick to the three-act system, either, as long as you have a clear map of where you’re going! I think we all have our own methods, and it just comes down to finding the right balance of planning and doing.


  5. There are many, many, ways to structure a novel. As human beings, and the way we’ve structured most of our societies, structure and organization are really important. I’ve read more than a few post modern novels that have no linier narrative, or structure, or any semblence of “acts,” and they are absolute shit. I guess how much organization used is diverse as the authors who are writing.


  6. I usually do divide my books into what can be seen as three acts, but I like structure and using it forces me to think about the flow of the beginning, middle and end. I’ve written without structure as well and I usually have much more editing involved but its really just personal style and preference. Everyone should just write in whatever way works for them or feels right for the book. There isn’t really a right or wrong way.


  7. I have never planned a book in acts. I get why people do it, but I think it’s so limiting. You know I’m a cross between a pantser and a plotter, but separating my books into acts? Yuck!
    I think, though, as I read them, I see that they could be broken up into acts, but that’s just part of writing a book. The whole premise of acts is the exact same as story structure. Something I also ignore, for the most part. Story structure includes an inciting incident, increasing tension/suspense, the climax, and the resolution. Sounds the same as acts to me! People just keep rewording a basic concept to make themselves seem special and fancy. To me, it just sounds ridiculous.


  8. I have never thought about most books being written in acts. Now I am going to be looking for evidence of that in my next read. I did not use an outline for BLOOD TOY and ended up writing myself into a corner. While I was able to write myself out, I ended up having to do a crap-ton of backfilling. I am attempting to outline Book 2. We’ll see.


    • Me neither. Until I got on WordPress. I think Karin Slaughter might separate her books into different parts and perhaps James Patterson has too, but no other books I’ve read really made me think of acts.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I think you’re probably writing in the three act structure – you’re just not consciously aware you’re doing it. You are a well-read person in the 21st century, which means the three act structure is ingrained in your sub-consciousness. It doesn’t have to be like Shakespeare – you don’t have to wave a big title that says “Act III” in your book when the big finale shows up. In fact, if a book is well written, the act divisions really shouldn’t be obvious.

    But I’m willing to bet that “Act II”, or the middle of your novel, can be summed up as “the detective does stuff to solve the case.” That isn’t to say that your novel is predictable, because that’s obviously very vague. That same Act II description could apply to both Ace Ventura or Seven. Very different stories, obviously!

    Of course writers strive to be original, but most do not try to be original about structure. The originality comes in when you decide to make your detective a Brad Pitt or a Jim Carrey or hell, a Roger Rabbit. Or the subject of the crime itself. Or intelligent style, witty dialogue, red herrings, interesting setting, etc. I think it’s interesting that you set your novel in Houston, for instance, instead of New York/LA/Atlanta like most crime stories. THAT is originality. Telling your story in some kind of stream of consciousness non-linear way with no clear ending is not original – it’s usually just a gimmick.

    I’m really surprised that your other commenters seem to reject this form of structure though, as it’s….really quite unavoidable, even if it’s not intentional. The first draft may be a pantsed exploration with no pre-planning, but editing will inevitably whittle down the finished product to a clear beginning, middle, and end. I mean, give me any famous movie or book and I could probably break the three acts down for you – very, very few stories are exceptions to this. Even the Jesus story is pretty much told in three acts πŸ˜›


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s