End of Act I: 5 Functions Determine Plot

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In traditional jargon, Act 1 ends with a plot point that pushes the protagonist irretrievably into committing to the action of the story. The problem with writing is that the Plot Point at the end of Act 1 could be anything. At least at the beginning of the writing process.

In reality, that plot point is restricted by its function:

  1. It must represent a major change in the setting, character, situation or events. Something big must happen here and there’s no turning back. If possible, there should be a surprise included in the Plot Point, something that spins the story on a tangent to its original story arc.In terms of page count, it’s a big scene, one that takes a goodly number of pages.
  2. It must relate to the end of Act II. There’s a relationship between this plot point and the one at the end of Act II, which sends the story into Act III. The exact nature of that relationship is hard to define, but it’s there. The character, situation, events are different by the end of Act II, and you should be able to explain how they are different. The story should demonstrate how things are different. Consider a coward, who suddenly faces his worst fears and takes action anyway. Or perhaps your story features an athlete who decides to step aside and let her best friend take the limelight—it’s a movement from selfishness to selflessness. The story isn’t over yet, there are still struggles to come, but the situation has changed in significant ways.
  3. It must be the culmination of Act I, that is, everything preceding it is a set-up for this scene, just at this plot point is a set-up for the climax.

  4. It must be a scene. When you write the Plot Point at the end of Act II, be sure to write a scene. Yes, your character probably decides to take some specific action, but thinking isn’t enough here, we need action. Embed the decision in an action-packed scene.
  5. It must anticipate Act II. Be sure to leave your characters a next step. This isn’t the end of the story, far from it. Build into the scene and the character’s decisions after the scene a sense of movement, of where the story will go next.

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1 Comment
  • Kristin wolden Nitz
    July 6, 2012

    This post came at a good point for me as I work on structuring my WIP. My first attempt at something big enough fell flat. (Sniff.)