Plot Your Novel with the Three-Act Structure
with Denise Santomauro
Plot with purpose.
Plotting a novel can be a daunting task, one that leaves our hands sweaty and makes us reconsider why we chose to write one in the first place. By studying the classic three-act structure and its use throughout storytelling forms, we can make that task a little lighter and find new ways to bring our stories to life.
In this class, we will explore the acts of the three-act structure in detail. Each week we will cover an act from the three-act structure in depth, providing the opportunity to learn about and discuss the structure one act at a time. In between classes, you will apply the lesson to your own story and build your outline in stages. You will also learn about how the main points of the three-act structure are connected and intertwined with your protagonist’s character or emotional arc, and how to up the stakes at each stage of the plot arc.
Writers at any stage of the drafting process will benefit from this course. Even if you’ve already drafted a story, plotting your novel is incredibly useful as you jump into revision! While the three-act structure is a great tool for crafting memoirs, this class will be focused on its application in fiction.
Learning and Writing Goals:
In this course, you will:
- Deepen your understanding of the ins and outs of the three-act structure.
- Explore how the three-act structure applies to your story.
In this course, you will:
- Workshop your outline in the online portal to get feedback from the instructor and fellow students (with exception of the final week) **Participants will be asked to provide feedback on the work of 2 fellow participants.
- Draft a complete outline using the three-act structure.
Each week, we will meet on Zoom for a lecture, discussion and Q & A, and some generative writing exercises. All of the meetings will take place on Wednesdays from 7-8:30pm Eastern, beginning January 17th.
Week One: A Star Is Born (Developing Your Protagonist)
The three-act structure is almost always character driven, so you need to get to know the star of your book! Week one will cover how to develop your protagonist in a way that sets them up to drive the story, and in turn the plot.
HOMEWORK: Complete character development exercises on main character and create a one-page summary of story.
Week Two: Act One—Let’s Get this Started!
Where in the world are we? When in time are we? What do we need to know about this world and the main character? Week one will dig into worldbuilding and the major turning points in act one—the inciting incident and the first plot point. We’ll explore how those points catapult your protagonist and reader into the story.
HOMEWORK: Begin outline, focusing on act one.
Week Three: Act Two A—Climbing the Mountain Part One
Now comes the hard stuff. Week three will cover the rising action, introducing allies and friends and challenges for your protagonist to face. We’ll take a look at how these points set your protagonist and reader up for what will happen at the midpoint.
HOMEWORK: Add to outline, focusing on the first half of act two.
Week Four: Act Two B—Climbing the Mountain Part Two
Act Two often suffers from what’s called the muddy middle, and this week will focus on two major turning points—the midpoint and the second plot point—that help keep the middle of your story from sagging. We’ll take a look at how these points set your protagonist and reader on a collision course with the climax.
HOMEWORK: Add to outline, focusing on the second half of act two
Week Five: Act Three—Let’s Wrap this Up
Week five will rip your heart out as we explore the pre-climax, or all is lost section, and how losing everything challenges your protagonist, before jumping into the last two elements of the three-act structure—the climax and the denouement. We’ll cover how the previous events in the story have built to the final epic moment for the protagonist, and how to guide the reader out of the story.
HOMEWORK: Complete outline, focused on act three.
Week Six: Revise, Revise, Revise
Stories morph and change as writers get further into their story, so it’s important to revisit early work to make sure it aligns with the rest of the story. In our final week, we’ll dive back into the character development elements from week one and the beginning of Act One to see what changes need to be made now that you know the arc of the story.
HOMEWORK: Revise character development exercises on main character, a one-page summary of story, and Act One outline. **This will not be posted for review.
Student Feedback for Denise Santomauro:
Denise’s knowledge and experience come through in subtle but effective reframing techniques that helped me sidestep my own doubts and find new excitement for writing. Holly Chaille
Denise Santomauro was the best teacher I could’ve had for this class. She’s extremely helpful and encouraging while still giving the necessary critiques to improve your writing. If you’re reading this Ms. Santomauro, thank you and you’re the best. Isabel Richardson
Denise is an excellent instructor. The lessons and supporting materials were well organized and very helpful. I learned so much and left with practical tools. I will take any course Denise teaches. Heck, I might take this again. Anne McKenzie
Denise was phenomenal to work with. What a kind and patient human being with incredible knowledge and a real heart to help writers grow. Britt J. Benson
Denise is a wonderful mentor who provided tools and actionable steps to enable me to see the heart and voice of my story. Anonymous
Ever had one of those stories you’ve looked at a thousand times and rewritten a hundred ways? Ever decided that your narrative is so far down the rabbit hole there is no hope? I’m here to tell you there is hope and comes to you as Denise Santomauro. She can see the story’s thread through the royal tangled mess you’ve made of it. Denise has a clear vision, a love of language, and spot-on critique. She’ll get you untangled. She’s wonderful! J.A. Cameron