How to structure a book like a professional author
How to structure a book can be the most over-thought part of writing a book making the entire process confusing and uncomfortable. Yet, the structure of every book comes down to three main things.
In literature, these three things are tied in to what is called the three-act-structure, possibly better known in a theatrical setting as act one, act two, and act three of a stage play. If you’ve been to watch a play at a theatre, this will create a familiar visual representation of what a three act structure is made up of. If theatre is not your thing, no problem, because I’m going to explain the three-act-structure, and how you can use this to structure your book like a professional author. Get my three-act-structure cheat sheet absolutely free now.
What does the three-act-structure look like in a book?
Okay, so in literature, the three act structure is not always easy to see. When we read, we get tugged along by the narrative of the story, laughing along with the antics of loveable characters or squirming at the actions of those characters that throw everything away when even we know what they need better than they do. When a story sweeps you up and takes you along for the ride, the very last thing you’ll be doing is keeping an observational eye open for the three-act-structure. It doesn’t matter what genre you’re reading (or in this case writing) the three-act-structure will indeed be present.
Ready to dive in? Let’s go!
The first part of the three-act-structure provides a representation of the character (protagonist) in their current form. It will also establish what this character longs for. A character’s representation, along with a motivation for something that seems out of reach creates a dilemma. This dilemma is known as conflict. What the character believes they can have juxtaposed with what the character longs for plays into the need for change.
At first, the character may have a set of beliefs that support how they are initially represented. They may also have a group of people around them limiting their potential. These elements will need to be presented to the reader in act one. However, during act one, in this moment of consciousness for the character, they will encounter something that shifts their perception in a positive way. It is this shift that encourages them to set aside their limiting beliefs and reach for what they want. Even though they may fail in doing so, the character sets out to see if what they want is truly worth it, and if they are capable in achieving it.
Act two bares much conflict. This is the act that presses, pulls, tugs, punches, and soothes the character round a myriad of trials involving triumphs and fails. Each trial/event that happens is a moment where the character can test their boundaries, abilities, leap in front of their fears, and ultimately learn about themselves, and discover more about the thing they’re reaching for along the way. Throughout this act, the character is taking a new shape – though they may not see it themselves – there will be other characters around them that help them to see just how far they’ve come, or how far down they have to fall if it all goes wrong. This part of a book is putting the character through moments that make them uncomfortable so that they can grow and evolve into a better version of themselves. Toward the end of act two the character may have bagged themselves another dream along the way, or want to settle for something lesser, feeling that reaching too high, or wanting too much is way too complicated anyway.
Your character may have set out wanting one thing, and developed an unexpected love interest along the way adding more hurdles and throwing them off the scent of what they originally set out to achieve. By the end of this act, the character will overcome a big conflict, and align themselves with what they want most, and will perhaps be considering a new way of getting to their goal. They may even take a few steps back to achieve it.
The final act is all about climax and resolution. Finally, the character is doing what they set out to do. It would seem that every hurdle has passed and the road they thought would be presented to them, is indeed very different to what they imagined. How they thought they were going to achieve their goal, in the beginning, is very different and perhaps much more simple than they expected. There is one final climax in act three. As you know, a story is rarely simple and rarely about one thing. During act two the trials your character experienced exposed her to new people, different settings, and gave her insights into what bigger things she might want to have for herself once this goal is achieved. These don’t go away. Not completely. There may be a moment where they put all these new ideas and dreams down in a bid to re-align themselves with a familiar part of them, and in order for them to complete and accomplish what they set out to do in the first place. But the bigger story lies in how they evolved along the way, how their perception to the world changed, and what they want going forward. This final point of conflict is about them recognising this evolution in their character, again, going through the process of old beliefs and cross checking them against new experiences, and new emotions.
As with every ending to a story it is a new beginning. A character must fight for what they set out to do, but they also must fight for the person they have become through their journey to remain in this way. This moment may involve another character. The protagonist will have to put all their new vulnerabilities on show for the final conflict to be seen, and the final resolution of the story to be realised. How those vulnerabilities are met will also allow the character to either take their new evolved shape in greater depth and security, or enable them to see the situation in a new light yet again. The end of the story and indeed the three-act-structure will deliver a new representation of the character you set out with at the beginning of the story, and will demonstrate through their choices just how much their experience has transformed them, and their lives.
How do I create the three-act-structure for my book?
The best piece of advice I can offer is to really understand your story, its purpose, premise and promise to the reader before you begin. Understand who your main character is and what they want to achieve. Create a wish list for them and all the things that hold them back. Then take that wish list and all the things that hold them back and begin to look at ways you can exploit those limitations, and turn them into the trials that shape them into something they never imagined possible.
There is a not so well kept secret that’s looping around at the minute. This secret is ‘Say Yes!.’ Say yes to everything. Because when you say yes, you learn more about yourself and the world around you. When you say no, you learn how to remain comfortable and nothing more. Have your character say YES.
Don’t forget to download the free three-act-structure cheat sheet before you go.
You have the ability to write the next best seller, my friend. And, I for one, can’t wait to read it!
Respectfully your guide,