Posted in Plot, Writing

Three Act Structure: Act Three

Resolving the entire journey, Act Three takes careful consideration from the writer. Many writers advise planning Act Three before beginning to write Act One; it’s not a bad idea to know the nuts and bolts of your ending before you start. So below you’ll find all you need to know about a story’s end: Act Three.

Act Three

Act Three is roughly the same length as Act One, and it resolves every conflict within the story, as well as rounding out the protagonist’s character arc, filling plot holes, and tying up loose ends. Act Three should have two main parts: a successful climax and a satisfying resolution.

The Descent

Chapter Nineteen (exposition)

After crossing the threshold into the final arena, after passing the point of no return, the protagonist finds themselves overwhelmed with conflict. The world of Act Three is unlike anything they’ve seen before; even if it’s in the same setting, the danger has increased, and they’re forced to deal with problems they’ve never faced before. The protagonist is tested with trials in Chapter Nineteen, forcing them to adapt and showcase the skills they’ve gained throughout the journey. These trials are an introduction to the climactic Act Three.

Chapter Twenty (confrontation)

Plot twist! Just when the hero thought nothing could get worse, it does. Their best friend is injured; their lover betrays them; their antagonist gets the Super Sacred Magic Artifact that gives its owner undefeatable power. The conflict in Chapter Twenty knocks the hero off their feet, making them want to give up. However, they have no hope of turning back now; instead, they must fight, even to the death.

Chapter Twenty-One (resolution)

Weakened by the plot twist, the hero reflects on the many defeats they’ve suffered so far. Here, they identify their own mistakes, failures, and weaknesses, blaming them for the pain that’s fallen on their loved ones or their home. They take responsibility for their actions, knowing that they must be the one to face the Shadow, but they also feel that they’re too weak to win. The descent is complete; they have fallen on their darkest moment.

The Resurrection

Chapter Twenty-Two (exposition)

Simply put, the hero gets up. Drawing on the strength, courage, and power they’ve gained throughout the entire journey, they reawaken their resolution to defeat the antagonist, and they renew their dedication to the journey. Maybe a friend reminds them of a past victory, or the Mentor returns to offer encouragement; maybe they’re forced to get up because the antagonist draws near. No matter what inspires them to rise again, the choice to get up is entirely the protagonist’s.

Chapter Twenty-Three (confrontation)

In Chapter Twenty-Three, the protagonist again takes action to resolve the conflict. In this chapter, they show the extent of their character development: by now, they are strengthened by their trials, and they have the capability of dealing with problems. They’ve grown significantly since Act One, and this should be evidenced in the way they take action with confidence and cunning. Their action succeeds, bringing them one step closer to the final battle with the main antagonist.

Chapter Twenty-Four (resolution)

The hero doesn’t have time to celebrate their small victory; suddenly, they find themselves on the way to the final battle. They may be captured, or they may be willingly breaking into the villain’s lair; either way, they’re drawing closer to the final battle. In this chapter, the hero prepares for the final battle, and all subplots draw together to meet in one climax. All the loose ends of the story begin to make sense in one unified picture, and all the questions the protagonist has are beginning to be answered.

The Climax

Chapter Twenty-Five (exposition)

The protagonist must succeed in one more battle to reach their ultimate goal: the antagonist’s lair. Maybe they’re battling ogres at the gates, or hacking into a security system. The battle in Chapter Twenty-Five builds up suspense in tension for the climax of Chapter Twenty-Six. While providing set-up for the next chapter, Chapter Twenty-Five is also action-packed, filled with fear, tension, and courageous acts as the hero approaches the end of their journey.

Chapter Twenty-Six (confrontation)

It’s the endgame. The protagonist has successfully defeated the guards and now faces the antagonist in their own lair. Usually there’s a bit of reader-pleasing banter between protagonist and antagonist before they get down to the meat of the chapter: the final battle. The hero draws on all their strength and pulls out all the weapons they’ve picked up along the journey, and the conflict is resolved. Both the plot arc of protagonist versus antagonist as well as the internal conflicts of the hero are resolved.

Chapter Twenty-Seven (resolution)

In Chapter Twenty-Seven, the hero, the Special World, and the Ordinary World all react to the defeat of the antagonist. After celebrating with sidekicks, the hero returns home to the Ordinary World, completing the Hero’s Journey. But the protagonist has changed: the Ordinary World no longer looks the same to them, and they may be reluctant to leave the Special World. The story’s end looks forward as the character considers the future; in the Hero’s Journey, they often become a Mentor to a new, young hero. This makes the final chapter a resolution rather than an end: readers are left satisfied, but the story isn’t closed and dead, but alive in reader’s minds. The falling action of the Three Act Structure may take longer than a single chapter, but as writers it’s our job to rearrange story structures and break rules, right?


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