• Michelle Raab

The 5 Act Structure

My work in progress is the first in a series. In conceiving of the character arc for the main character… the driving force of the series… is a fall followed by redemption set in a dystopia. Each novel has its own story structure, but there’s an overall story structure going on. Why am I so concerned about structure?


There’s a couple of different ways you can approach a series. You can have an episodic approach, where there’s no real attention to one story building on the next. Those are fun. But that’s not what I’m trying to do. I want a world that’s entertaining, obviously. I also want to write something that has a world that the readers to tear apart and find out more about. To do that, you need to have stories build on eachother. For that, you need to pay attention to structure.

Since the character arc covers a fall and then redemption, this is more than 3 acts or 3 books. The next type of conventional western story structure is the 5 Act story.



If each book is one act of the 5 acts, then looking at act 1 … you might see that there is a problem. There’s no rising tension. It’s just introducing the world and inciting incident. If you have an entire book of introducing the world, then that could potentially lead to an incredibly boring story. So what could you possibly do to pull the story forward without overly contrived plot devices and things happening because plot.

Well, I introduced a subplot that also introduces a character strength/flaw of my main character. This character trait is both a good thing and a bad thing. All at the same time. It’s also logical to her general make up, the setting, and the overall plot. I introduce a mystery subplot that highlights my main character’s incredible mind and curiosity. The mystery subplot also afford me the opportunity to place, ever so delicately, Chekhov’s gun.

The playwrite Chekhov said that if someone is going to shoot someone in Act 3 you need to have the gun onstage in Act 1.

So my hope is that my story is entertaining l, even given that it’s a dystopia. I’m also hoping that at the end that it’s well seeded. Surprise twists are ok. But you still have to have the gun onstage. It just has to be obscured in some way. Endings that come out of no where are not satisfying and piss off readers. I’m one of those readers.

I have respect and love for my potential readers, so I want to make sure that the story is of the kind of quality that would satisfy me.

Fingers crossed.

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