Writing a novel: First act

In this post, I’m talking from a literary genre writer’s point of view.


3 cookies, because 2 is too little, 4 is too much.

3 glasses of wine, because 2 is just not enough, 4 is a twenty-four hours headache waiting to happen (I’m not that young anymore, writer friends!).

I learned about the rule of 3 in school, back in the days. A lot of fairytale uses the rule of 3.
Peau d’âne have 3 magic dresses, the Three little piggies have 3 little houses, Boucle d’Or finds 3 bowls of oatmeal, then 3 beds.

And I used 3 examples to illustrate the rule of 3 !

The same rule applies to plays, screenplays and, of course, novels.

The Three-Act Structure vs. Literary Fiction

Now, since literary fiction is a unique creature with its own set of rules, I’m leaving it aside.
In this post, I’m talking from a literary genre writer’s point of view.
For at least the past 15 years or so, many Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Mystery writers are clearly using a three-act structure for their novel.
This structure helps with pacing and building the climax. BUT. It also makes every novel (and every blockbusters movie, while we’re at it) « sound » the same.

So, yes, it is very useful. But I personally play around with it. I’m blurring the lines, I’m trying different rhythms.
I try to write a unique novel that will still meet the readers’ expectations will surprising them a little at the same.
Challenging. But fun!

Of course, if one wants to break the rules well, one needs to know them well.

The three-act novel structure

A three-act structured novel is the most commonly used by writers, from what I can gather from the writer community, both in real life and online.

The codes within a three-act structured novel are so well-know to the readers, they are now expecting it.

Not meeting those expectations can be awesome. As a reader, I really LOVE being surprised, thrown off my comfy cozy prejudices and pushed outside of my own narrow perspectives.
But, to be honest, not meeting what the readers expect from a literary genre novel it’s more likely to be a disaster.
No one likes to be fooled or misled.

Ok, let’s dive into the specifics.

The three-act structure divided the narrative, in this case a novel, into three acts.

The first act is about the Setting Up the Story.

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What does a First Act need?

In the first act, we need to Hook the readers. That goes hand-in-hand with a good introduction to the main protagonist: where they’re at, family, friends, world.
Then, we need to propel the protagonist into its journey with an Inciting Incident.
Last, but not least, we need to come to the First Plot Turning Point, where the protagonist is forced to take action.

Now, I’m not gonna go statistics and say that all those points need to happen before this mark or this mark in a book.
Not because it’s bad. Not at all.
It just, in my humble opinion, too restricting, too narrow.

That being said, here’s what to be aware in the First Act:

  • Hasty starts or/and slow starts.
  • Giving too much info.
  • Clichés (such as morning routines or looking at a mirror).

In short, clichés are to avoided (unless they really, really work for the story) and pacing is to be well though through.

It’s a LOT to keep in mind.

So I won’t start now about first chapters and first sentences now.

For more info about First Act, scroll down now to find more Resources for Writer.

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Thank you for reading, I hope it helped.

Until next time, dear writer friends!

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Auteur : Marie Alice

Writing away and reading books. Joy! Écrire à tout vent et lire des romans. Joie!

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