Telling a story in three acts is the classic “beginning, middle and end” advice that’s given to thousands of starting writers all over the world (and used by thousands more already-published authors on top of this number).
It works because it’s effective. It can also make your job as a writer a whole lot easier. Having room to tell the story in three acts allows you to create a much more effective and detailed outline for your story that can carry it through and help to prevent the ever-frustrating writer’s block that can hit you halfway through a story..
How do creators and writers stop the well-used three act storytelling method from becoming predictable even when it follows a pattern? The key is subplots (and of course, generally clever plotting).
Here’s how to weave subplots and twists into your three acts to make the ending less obvious.
Stories Are Never the Hero Straight to the Quest
Any story would be extremely boring if the hero just got to walk straight up to his quest and solve the problem. They would probably be short, ineffective and more boring than the average soap opera episode, too. Stories – and life – are never that simple.
That’s why heroes have things like:
o Internal Conflict
o Side Quests
o External Conflict
o Internal Flaws
o Other Characters
o Traveling Through Scenes
All of these things throw the hero off their quest (or help them get to it). These things make a story more interesting – and used right, it can help to make the ending far less obvious to your readers.
Think of a story, movie or TV show where you saw the ending coming right by the first part. Remember feeling disappointed? That’s what you want to avoid in your reader.
Three Acts Aren’t Always Linear
Even though a story takes place in three acts, no rule says that your first act has to start at the linear beginning of the story. It’s okay to jump between timelines as long as you’re doing it in a way that makes sense for your story.
Three acts don’t have to be linear. Many stories don’t use a linear timeline at all. Use flashbacks, add back story, start your story at the height of the action. You’re the writer: As long as you start the story’s first act at a place that hooks the reader successfully and gets them to read to the second, you’re on the right track.
Internal Conflict and Side Quests
Internal conflict creates your hero. This usually keeps them a little bit off their quest – and usually persists throughout all three acts. How bad (or what vice) you want your hero’s internal conflict to be is entirely up to you. Again, you’re the writer!
Side quests, things that the hero has to do in order to achieve his quest or things that throw him off, can be a great distraction from where you’re leading Act III. Always be sure that your ending is neither predictable nor obvious to the reader during the first two acts (or in fact, the beginning of the third).
Ways to Distract: Subplots and False Trails
False trails that (technically) just lead the hero into a trap or around a shortcut that goes nowhere are common elements in fiction. Again, these can serve as great distraction for readers to keep them from discovering what you’re going for during your third act.
Excellent examples of false trails can be found throughout most horror and mystery stories – especially mystery stories of the detective type. Look for false trails while reading your favorite story and write down how the author got there. This can help you to practice the ability to see and insert these into your own story.