Friday Friends: Do You Know How to Act?

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

As writers, most of us have heard of the 3-Act Structure for films, and even for novels.  Though I seem to have heard more about it in film study, novels are fast catching up.

But what goes into Act I, Act II and Act III of a novel?

On Wednesday, Nov. 27, I visited the League of Utah Writers chapter at the Provo Library to hear the speaker for the Utah Valley Writers’ group: Elana Johnson, a fun and inspiring speaker (yes, I’ve heard her speak at other writers meetings too) who spoke on “Beat Out Your Novel.”  This is her adaptation to novel writing from the works of Blake Snyder, who wrote Save the Cat and Save the Cat Strikes Back, primarily for screen writers.

While a novel has only three acts, it should have, Elana says, 15 “beats,” which she also adapted from the “Blake Snyder Beat Sheet.”  This is a formulaic way of setting up your novel so that it will contain all the elements readers look for in a good novel:


1.  Opening Image – a before snapshot of Main Character’s (MC) current life

2.  Theme Statement – what story is about

3.  Set-Up – things which need “fixing” along with intro of all major characters

4.  Catalyst – explosion of the “old” world

5.  Debate – MC battles himself: What should I do? Stay/go?  Act/step aside?

Act II

6.  Break into Act II – the moment we leave the “old” world

7.  B story – a secondary, possibly love (not necessarily romantic) side-story

8.  Fun and Games – promise of the premise (think: movie trailers) where MC learns something s/he will need to know at the end

9.  Midpoint – the pivotal moment with either a drastic MC upturn or downturn

10.  Bad Guys Close In – where MC is headed for a fall

11.  All is Lost – a “defeat” which feels absolute (add ‘whiff of death’), but isn’t

12.  Dark Night of the Soul – the Dark before the Dawn; MC “knows” he lost


13.  Break into Act III – B story and A solution join; synthesis of new “world”

14.  Finale – MC finally figures out what to do: showdown with the “evil”

15.  Final Image – proof change has happened; should be opposite to #1 image

Want more details? See one, or more, of Blake Snyder’s books (Elana most recommends the first and third books, listed above), and make your own adaptation to your novel.  Or check out Elana Johnson, author of  Possession, Surrender, and Abandon, the last of which will come out in June.  She is often a speaker at Utah’s writer conferences and workshops.  Go hear her for yourself!

Both Blake Snyder and Elana Johnson’s books are available through Amazon.

See you day-after-tomorrow for Sunday Snippets.



Filed under Friends

3 responses to “Friday Friends: Do You Know How to Act?

  1. char4wmfw

    Good article, Brenda. I would have left a comment–I would have left comments for others– but WordPress is such a pain to log into, I generally give up. They never want to accept my password. Anyway, this is a good guide that I will print out and keep handy.


  2. This is a good, concise guide. I also highly recommend “Hooked” by Les Edgerton for setting up your plots.

  3. Char—glad you liked the ideas for plotting. And I’m sorry if you’re having trouble with logging in at WordPress—hmmnnnn. And, Diann, thanks for the extra recommendation!

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