How to Use Your Three Act Structure to Write Your Synopsis

The plot diagram I work with using post it notes.

As I work on my mystery, I’ve realized that at some point I will have to write a synopsis.  In all reality, while I don’t love writing a synopsis, it isn’t the worst thing every and it just got easier.  Last week, I read this post on using your story beats to create a 1 page synopsis.

The way I was taught to use the term, a beat is a unit of action.  Think about the 3 Little Pigs.

  1. Wolf knocks on door and calls, “Little pig, little pig let me in.”
  2. The pig replies, “Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin.”
  3. The wolf responds, “Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down.
  4. Wolf huffs.
  5. Wolf puffs.
  6. Wolf blows said house down.
  7. Pigs run.

As you can see, that’s going to be a lot of beats. How can that possibly make it easier to write a one page synopsis?

Read the original post and you’ll realize that what she calls a beat, many of us were taught to call a turning point.  That greatly reduces the number of things you have to include.

Act 1.

  • The hook that pulls your reader into the story.
  • The inciting incident that sets the story in motion.
  • The event that forces the protagonist to take action.
  • The turning point or tipping point during whicn your character crosses the point of no return.

Act 2.

  • Character’s reaction to the tipping point.
  • First pinch point or stress point.  The antagonist does something that narrows the protagonist’s options.  And see what this does?  It brings the antagonist into the synopsis!
  • Turning point at the middle of the story. This is where your protagonist quits reacting and takes charge.  This is marked by a strong action of some kind.
  • Another stress or point point.
  • The dark moment.  This leads to the climax and we wonder if all is lost.

Act 3:

  • Your character regroups and makes a new plan.
  • Climax – the big battle scene/final confrontation/maximum drama.
  • Wrap up.

Come up with these points for your novel and you will find that your synopsis will be much easier to write.  Try doing it for a favorite book or movie and see how quickly it comes together.


It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: Or the Joys of Three Act Structure

basil-rathbone-402601_1280As I get ready for NaNoWriMo, the last step that I’m confronted with is creating an outline.  There are several different types of outlines that you can create.  Each one is “the only way to do it,” according to one group of writers or another.  Here are two of the most common.

Scene outline.  Some writers outline their novel scene by scene.  This means coming up with a list of events that take place in your story.  It gives some writers the safety net they need.  For others it saps their creativity.

Plot Point Structure.   Other writers create more of a plot point structure.  This is similar to a scene list but makes sure that certain key events are present and accounted for in the most effective order.  This is what I’m creating for Iron Mountain.  The plot points that I need to note are:

Act 1.  (Roughly 25% of the story)

  • The hook:  Pull your reader into the story.  Get the reader to start asking questions.
  • Inciting Event: This event sets the story in motion and leads to …
  • The Key Event: The event that forces the protagonist to take action.
  • 1st Plot Point:  This is either at the end of Act 1 or beginning of Act 2.  There is a change of surroundings.  It is a personal turning point for the protagonist.  From here there is no turning back.  The main character is driven out of her comfort zone and into the world of the story. Some people call this the “Tipping Point.”

Act 2.  (Roughly 50% of the story)

  • Strong Reaction:  The character has a strong response to the 1st plot point.
  • First Pinch point:  Sometimes called a “Stress point.”  This is where the antagonist makes his reach and power known.  He does something that narrows the protagonist’s choices.
  • Turning Point/Second Plot Point:  This marks the midpoint of the novel.  It should be about halfway through the story. There should be a change of direction for the characters.  This is where your protagonist quits reacting and starts acting.  She takes charge.
  • Strong Action: This new direction and stepping out on the part of the Protagonist is expressed through a strong action.
  • Second Pinch Point:  Sometimes called a stress point.  Once again the antagonist makes his power known and he again narrows the protagonist’s choices.
  • Third Plot Point.  This comes at the end of the 2nd act, beginning of the 3rd act.  Things are set forward leading to the climax.  This is a low point for the protagonist.  Perhaps she has been confronted again by the antagonist and lost.  There could be a betrayal.  Her confidence is shaken.

Act 3:  This is where the pace picks up as we move toward the climax.  (Roughly 25% of the story)

  • Plan.  Your character has taken some time to regroup and now has a new plan of action.
  • Climatic Moment.  This point is the highest point in the drama of the story.  It fulfills the dramatic promise.
  • Wrap up.  Wait!  Things aren’t over yet.  Here’s where the reader finds out what happens next for your characters.

Some people start with the plot point outline and then move into a scene outline.  That’s what I’m going to try to do.  Wish me luck!