As almost all the plotters would swear by, outlining a story helps a writer greatly in making sense of the story for the readers. We, as writers, know what our story is and how it plays out, the difficult bit is to put in into words in a systematic way and have it make sense to its readers the same way that it does for us. And this is where the story structures come into play.
I used to consider myself a hardcore plotter until I finally realised that I’m more of an intuitive person who writes by the seat of her pants as much as I rely on planning my stories. So now I try to find a balance between pantsing and plotting. And I personally see story structures as an adventurer’s maps – you can have all the adventures you want to have by following your intuition, but occasionally you need the maps to take you where you want to go, especially when you get lost or stuck.
I used the 3-Act Structure for plotting my first novel, Deceived, but for my second and third manuscripts, I needed something more extensive as they are more complex than my earlier work, so I used the 4 Act Structure. In this article, I’ll be introducing the 4-Act Structure and its benefits and use. If you wish to know more about the 3-Act Structure then you can read the following articles I wrote a while ago:
The 4-Act-Structure: Introduction
What is the 4-Act Structure?
The 4-Act Structure is basically the broader version of the 3 Act Structure in which the elaborate ‘middle’ is broken into two separate acts. This method is very popular among writers especially those who write lengthy novels and the ones who struggle with the ‘infinite middle.’
- Act-1: Setup of conflict
- Act-2: Build-up
- Act-3: Crises
- Act-4: Resolution
Here’s a simple diagram to depict the 4-Act Structure:
What are the advantages of using the 4-Act Structure?
There are many advantages to using the 4-act structure, just like any other outlining tool:
- It helps in dealing with the overall story better, in an organized manner (just like any other story structure.)
- It assists in specifically dealing with the problematic middle of the story – the 75% part of the story that is a bit vaguely structured in the 3-act structure of story writing.
- It encourages in figuring out the problems with the story plot and in combing out the plot holes that would inevitably make your story weak.
- It helps in understanding what exactly your story is lacking in order to make it into a near-perfect manuscript.
- It even aids in recognizing, and then getting rid of, the redundant scenes, side stories and subplots.
- It greatly helps in dealing with the most coveted enemy of any writer – writer’s block, when you get stuck in the inescapable limbo.
- It also serves, for many writers, as a quick fix to complete the drafts within a particular timeline. It’s not necessarily a short cut, but can definitely be viewed as an answer to many plot-progression related problems.
When should the 3-Sct Structure be used? Before starting the first draft, in between or at the of the nth draft?
Over the course of the last couple of years, I’ve discovered the hard way that it’s always best to first write the first draft by the seat of your pants, no matter if you consider yourself a planner or a pantster, because the first draft has to be as unadulterated and pure as can be, and that would be possible only if you let your imagination take over your mind and the muse and instinct guide your hands. The story structure, whether it is a 3-act structure or the 4-act structure or even the 9-act structure, should be applied for the first time to the first draft once it is complete. Then as you progress, it depends on how often you want to adjust your story according to the structure; you can do it while you write or revise your drafts or before or after that. It is entirely up to you.
I have come to realise that if the story structures are applied to the story in the initial stage of the conceiving of the plot, before or right after beginning the first draft (which is far too complex and difficult than one might think) then it corrupts the authenticity of the plot that otherwise might have been and makes it feel constrained. And such writing often results in an amateurish end product.
If you want a simpler story structure for your story, then read this: The 3-Act Structure: In Detail
If you are suffering from a writer’s block or are facing difficulty in getting ahead with your story, here are some articles I recommend: