A three act structure for short fiction
This is part 3 of the lessons I've learned from Mary Bernadette Kowal’s discussion on writing short fiction (see lesson 1, lesson 2 here).
In this last lesson, we’ll break down her three acts of the short story:
- Show the who, where, and genre.
- The who shows the POV of your character. How do they interact with the world? What adjective defines their attitude?
- The where reveals specific sensory details.
- The genre is about mood and tone.
- Show the struggle. Identify which MICE quotient it is.
- What is the character doing, and how are they failing? This is the initial try/fail cycle.
Build Act 1 in 5 sentences. 2-3 for the intro, 2 for the conflict.
- This is the heart of your character’s story and struggle. Build it out.
- Always think about the want of your character and how they move towards it. Regardless of their actions, they’ll continue to fail (yes/but or no/and).
Build this out in 5 sentences.
- Resolve the story with a try/success cycle (yes/and or no/but).
- Revisit the MICE quotients you opened. Have you closed all of them, preferably in reverse order?
- Mirror the intro of Act 1 and show how things have changed.
- Show how the who, where, and genre been affected.
Mirror Act 3. Use 2 sentences to show the final try/success cycle, and in 2-3 for the ending.
Initially, this structure didn't work for me. I struggled with the first act and the storytelling felt rigid.
But for the past few weeks, I've been testing it again. The more I practice with it, the easier it gets. And the more comfortable I get with it, the more I can experiment at its edges.
Hopefully I'll be able to share what I've learned in the future.