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Fiction Story Feeling Unnecessarily Complicated? How to Simplify it With the 4-Act Structure

Updated: Apr 17, 2023

Are you stuck in plotting your story? Often, we over complicate things during our writing. We try too hard to come up with something "truly" original and genius, and we really just need to get out of our own ways when it comes to fleshing out our stories or fixing plot holes.

3 Act Structure, 4 Act Structure, the Story Savant, Story savant podcast, author liesel k. hill
Comparison of 3 and 4 Act Structures

One of the best ways to do that is to get back to basics. In this episode, I explain the four act structure, including what each sector of your story should include. Often, just going back to the basics with this type of structure is what will give us realy clarity for where to go in our stories.

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and then listen to the full episode below.


0:00 Do you want to write fiction but don't know where to start. Believe me, I understand. I've stood in your shoes. I've wanted to write amazing stories and wondered if I was even on the right track. I worried and struggled for years. I know what it feels like to have no idea what you're doing. Like everything you write is cheesy and amateurish and you'll never be good enough to sit on the shelves next to the great authors of your time or the classics. 0: 21 But I want you to know there's an answer for you, a way to know that the stories you're writing will resonate with readers, a way to transform from wherever you are now in your writing journey to someone who's universally hailed as talented and a skilled storyteller. Welcome to the story savant, the podcast with free writing advice for the aspiring storyteller. I'm going to give you every tool I know to help you become a master storyteller. 0:43 Every week I'll bring you tips on story structure, characterization, themes, heroes, villains, and more to automatically make your story resonate with your audience. Stay tuned. We're going to learn to tell amazing stories and we're going to have a ton of fun doing it. Let's do this. Good morning story savants. Um, how are you doing today? 1:05 I'm going to have to apologize for the sound quality today. Uh, I can hear my brothers downstairs watching a movie, so there might just be a little bit of a hum in the background. And we also have jets flying over today, so there may be a time, I'll have to stop and I'll probably edit that out, but if there's a little bit of background noise, 1:21 I apologize. Please bear with me. Um, I'm a little bit late in my podcast this week. I had one of those busy weeks. We had Memorial day at the beginning of the week for those who were in the States, which was great. It was a holiday, but I also kind of lost that as a Workday and I've had a hard time getting back on track. 1:38 I was also not feeling well for a couple of days, and so obviously that had to do with it. So it was just one of those weeks where it's Thursday as I'm recording this where I usually record it on Monday and I'm wondering where in the heck my week went. I haven't gotten anything done, which is, which is not true. I've gotten a few things done, 1:53 but not nearly as much as I had planned on getting done. So that's why I'm a little bit late. But, um, here we are and I don't have too much of, uh, an update. We're doing well. Things are really opening up here in Utah in terms of the quarantine. So I'm glad to see that and yeah, I'm just plugging along, 2:11 getting my writing done and um, mostly I'm still working on my course. Um, that's the biggest thing. Mmm. In fact, that's what you're looking at is one of the course pages right now, which I probably shouldn't have on my YouTube channel for those who are watching on my YouTube YouTube channel. But Hey, at least you get to kind of get a preview of what the course would look like. 2:32 Um, yeah. Anyway, so today, Oh, here comes a jet. All right. I listened to that for a few seconds and then edited everything out. We're going to talk about the three or four act structure. This is, um, a little bit more general than the nine plot points that I've taught you before. Um, so it's a little bit of a different thing where the plot points are kind of beats that you hit throughout your story to keep it moving forward. 2:59 This is more like dividing your story into sectors and those beats will fall within a particular sector, but it's also very, um, it's, it's good, it's educational to know what the sectors are and what should be happening within each sector of your story that will also help you to plan your story and move forward with it. And if you're missing something, 3:19 it could really help fill in gaps for you. So, um, the difference between the three and the four act structure, usually people talk about the three act structure, right? And the first act is the first 25% of the story. The second act is 25 to 75%. So it's kind of the middle two sections. And then of course the fourth act or the third act, 3:42 excuse me, is the last 25% of the story. So I actually have a diagram of this. If you're watching on um, you YouTube, but I'm also going to give you a free resource. It'll be a PDF that has this diagram on it so you can see the difference and it will also kind of list what needs to be in each of the acts. 4:01 So the only difference between the three and the four act structure really is that in the three act structure, they're combining the two middle acts. So it's a four act structure. If you just think about dividing your story into four equal parts of 25% each, you've got first 25% second, 25% third 25% forth 25% The third, the three X structure, it basically does the same thing except act two comprises the two middle portions. 4:28 Okay? So act two is twice as long as act one or act three, but they basically have all the same stuff in them. So I'm actually going to talk about the four act structure because a lot of people, when they talk about the three act structure, they end up dividing the second act into two parts anyway. So it's just to me, 4: 45 more logical in my brain to talk about the four act structure. So that's how I am going to frame this. Alright, so here's what you need to know when you're setting up your story. In the first act--so this is the first 20 to 25% of your story--you're basically just introducing us to the hero and showing us what is going on in his or her life before the conflict arises. 5:05 Okay? So this is just the status quo. It's his life before the conflict, before the world of the story. How was he living at the beginning? Okay? It also corresponds with in the nine plot points, it's going to correspond with the world before and a little bit with, um, the intro to conflict, which is just him receiving information that's a little bit new to him, 5:28 right? Mmm. But you're basically setting up what does the hero have to lose? So we're going to see his life, you know, his relationships, his home, his, you know, his reputation, his friends. These are the things that he has to lose and that the conflict might threaten. All right then we should talk about the villain or the antagonist. 5:49 Should we see them in the first act? The answer is really no. When we're talking about the actual villain, you don't want the villain and the hero to come face to face in the first act. As a general rule, I'm sure there are cases when that does happen, um, especially for long form series. But overall you don't really want that confrontation to happen until closer to the end of the story. 6:12 However, you can have an early inciting incident or partial villain. Now what this means is that even though they're not going to come face to face with the actual villain, maybe they come face to face with a minion of the villain, you know, um, sort of a lesser bad guy or maybe just with the consequences of something the bad guy does. 6:31 So maybe, um, they come upon, you know, a farm that's burned or maybe someone who has died and they did not see the villain that did that, but they're kind of seeing it second hand based on, you know, kind of seeing the results of the villains, actions, that sort of thing. Um, either way, this is not going to be something that incites them to action. 6:52 It doesn't, it's not going to change their world in the fact that they're just going to go back to their day to day lives afterward, even if it's kind of a little bit of an exciting thing that happens that doesn't happen every day. Th this is not gonna make them go on a journey. They're still gonna return to their previous lives from anything that happened in the first act. 7:12 Mmm. The end of the first act happens when they do receive their call to adventure. So when something happens that actually makes them leave their old life and really embark upon a journey or an adventure, they're leaving the world, they've known there's something scary and challenging that they need to face or accomplish or achieve. So let's use an example. Um, if we use, 7:36 you know, one of my favorite examples, let's use a Luke Skywalker, right? So in the first act, we set up who he is before the conflict. We know he's a farmer, he lives on this planet. He's with his aunt and uncle. All good stuff, right? Um, an early inciting incident might be him meeting the droids or meeting Obi wan Kenobi. 7:55 Now, those are things that are different. They change his world a little bit, but they're not going to actually make him leave his home planet. In fact, we have Obi Wan asking Luke to come with him and Luke says, no, right? He's planning just to go back to his day to day life when something happens that actually causes him to leave, 8:12 that is the end of act one. And that's how you know you're headed into act two. Okay? And that would be the death of his aunt and uncle, which causes him to leave with Obi wan Kenobi. He leaves his home planet behind. He leaves the world, he's known behind this is the launch of his adventure. And that's how you know you're at the end of act one and turning over into act two. 8:29 And once again, I might have all of a sudden a PDF for you so you can click on that and get it after you're done listening or watching. So the second act is all about the response. Okay? Usually this shows the hero or heroine being acted upon. Okay. They do a lot of running, a lot of hiding, a lot of observing and analyzing, 8:50 recalculating planning. Okay. But things are acting upon them and a lot of times they're acting out of desperation. Okay? They're really flailing and floundering and not sure what to do. This is where you can also show a lot of try and fail cycles. Just meaning that they try to do something and it doesn't work right. You shouldn't have them achieve victory right away. 9:08 So maybe they even take on a couple of bad guys, maybe not the main antagonist, but a few villains here and there, you know, minor minions or whatever and they fail. They're defeated. Maybe they get captured, you know, maybe they get their butt kicked by, you know, one of the bad guys swordsman you know, depending on what kind of, 9:24 what kind of story you're talking about. If you're writing a romance, maybe they attempt to date different people. Maybe they attempt approach to approach, you know, who they're longterm love interest is going to be and they get shot down, they get rejected, they have bad dating experiences. Maybe they try to find something out, you know, thinking it'll be, 9:43 I'm kind of thinking of Pride and Prejudice here. She tries to find out more about Darcy and what she hears just poisoned her against him even more. It's these really terrible things. So just negative stuff and then kind of reacting to things that they're hearing but not really moving forward with much purpose. Um, when we finally see them create a plan and move forward purposely, 10:08 in other words, they're going from reaction to action. That is the midpoint. That's also what I call it in the nine plot points. But this is how you know that you're moving from act two to act three of the four acts. Um, generally they get new information or awareness of some kind that pushes them to act. So if something happens and they say, 10:24 okay, here's the plan, this is what we're going to do. That's your mid point and you're moving into the third act. The third act is kind of in contrast to the second act. Um, in this case, the hero is much more proactive, courageous, even ingenious in the pursuit of their goal. Of course, this should happen by degrees, 10:43 not all at once, but this is where we're going to stop seeing them reacting or being acted upon and now they're going to start to kind of charge forward and attack their obstacles, overcome their demons, and just really start learning and growing and progressing and doing things differently than they did before. The end of act three is actually the climax or their transformation. 11:08 Okay. I've talked about writing from your characters transformation before. So basically they're going to at the end of this act. All of their progress, all of the forward motion they've had, it still isn't quite enough for them to achieve victory. So you know that the act three is ending when they receive the final thing, the final information, or maybe it's a physical object that they need to triumph over the villain in the climax of the story. 11:34 Okay. So again, I've talked about this before, the climax or I mean, excuse me, the transformation can come prior to the climax or it can also kind of come right in the center of the climax. Either one works. It just depends on your story and what's happening in your story. Um, but the transformation when they finally actually receive what they need to triumph, 11:55 that's the end of act three and you're moving into act four. Act four is the resolution. And it's the resolution in two ways. The first is that they actually solve their problem. So once again, if we were, if we returned to Luke, um, his transformation kind of comes in the middle of the climax in that case. Because you could say that the climax begins, 12:16 you know, during the actual star battle when they're all flying around trying to destroy the desktop. But his transformation comes right smack in the middle of that, right when a lot of, or actually, all of the other fighters have been killed off. He's the only one left. And um, he has to trust himself and trust the voice of Obi Wan and you know, 12:36 trust the forest kind of a thing. So that's where his comes. So the resolution comes when he actually acts on that and destroys the death star. Okay. So they happen almost simultaneously, one on top of the other. But the transformation is him turning off his targeting computer and trusting the force. The resolution is when he actually blows up the death star because that solves the problem that they were trying to solve. 13:00 Right? That's why it's the resolution. Um, the resolution can also include falling action after the climax. Um, so him returning to base, you know, hugging everybody, getting the award, all of that, that's the resolution. So I also have, um, a slide here. You'll be able to see it if you're watching this on YouTube. 13:20 But if not, I will also include it in the PDF that you can go get. And it basically just gives you a visual representation of these four acts. And, you know, what happens to signify the end and the turning over into the next act. So we have act one the set up and I have you know, the line between act one act two that says call to adventure and then act two the response. 13:40 Again, them being acted upon and responding to things but not moving forward very purposely. Um, and then the beat is called the midpoint. That turns from act two to act three. Act three is the charge where they're actually moving forward with purpose and the beat that turns. Act three over to act four is the character transformation. And then act four, 14:00 the resolution. So you can kind of see them if you're a more visual person, see them all laid out visually. All right, so that is pretty much what I have for you today. I wanted to go over that. If you are stuck in your story, if you are, um, not sure what should be happening next. If you, you know, have a part of the story that you feel like it sags or you kind of have lost direction, 14:22 this is a good thing to go over. It's very basic. Most of us have heard of the three act structure and you can learn about it in school, but sometimes, you know, we really tend to overthink things as writers. We try to make them too complicated. So if you just go back to the basics and run through the four act structure and figure out what needs to happen in each act, 14:38 then chances are you're, that's going to help give you some direction for how to move forward with your story. Um, on the flip side, if perhaps you do have everything all planned out and you think it's all good, it's sometimes good to go back through these and make sure you've hit all the criteria for each section, each act. Because sometimes you might be missing something and you just don't know it. 14:58 So you might go, Oh yeah, I need that. I'm missing that. And if you're missing any of the, um, components that's going to make your story feel kind of saggy or lopsided and you might even end up losing some readers because it just, it feels a little bit out of sync. Okay. So, um, go ahead and click on the show notes and you can go and get the PDF, 15:21 um, so that you have this and can reference it in your writing. All right, so kind of short today and sweet. I just wanted to go over that quickly. Like I said, I've had kind of a crazy week. I'm going to try and get back on track for next week, but I've got some catching up to do. So I hope everyone is doing well out there. 15:37 I hope you are all well and safe and I hope that you were having so much fun writing your stories to get out there and get those words written. All right, see you next week. Did you know you can work with me? I help aspiring authors craft unforgettable stories so they can become respected working fiction authors because being an author is a calling and if it's calling to you, 15:57 visit to book a power hour with me. You are a storyteller and you ought to be paid for your stories, so let's get things rolling. Again, that's I'm actually running a special right now. My power hour is for a very limited time, 70% off, so you can get a 59 minute coaching call for $59. You heard that right! 16:27 Only $59 but this isn't going to last very long, so make sure and take advantage of it. Hop over and book your call today. I hope to hear all about your ingenious story very soon. Bye for now. If you would like to support the show as a patron, pop over to If you're big on Facebook, 16:48 join our Facebook community at To get a free PDF of my nine essential plot points for a page turning story. Sign up at All these links are in the show notes. Hi there. Before you go, if you found value in this episode, I would appreciate it so much. 17:10 If you could leave me a review on iTunes, be sure to screenshot it, share it on your favorite social media platform, and tag me. Remember, only you can tell your story and there are tons of people out there waiting to connect with it. So get out there and write the best story you can write. Remember, only you can change someone's heart with your fire breathing dragons, 17:29 your mind blowing mysteries, your Epic romances and your intense thrillers. So be a story savant and get out there and get that sucker written.

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