About Six Act Structure

actions-and-goals-final-2WHAT IS SIX ACT STRUCTURE?

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Six act structure is an innovative structural technique that takes the focus off of ambiguous narrator oriented concepts and places it where it belongs: on the actions and goals of the character.

Most successful modern stories are structured on a universal pattern of six actions undertaken by their characters. This sequence of six actions, or acts, is the hidden foundation of modern story structure. By focusing on these actions, you can easily and accurately identify act divisions within your stories, eliminate sagging middles and create narratives that unfold with logic and momentum.



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Act One: Dealing with an Imperfect Situation – In this act, a character in an Imperfect Situation faces Oppressive Opposition as he pursues an Initial Goal. But when there is a Disturbance to his routine, he faces a Dilemma regarding his situation, and must assume a New Role.

Approximate Runtime: 20% of the story

Act One Example: The Hunger Games

Katniss Everdeen, an impoverished teen in the poorest region of the country (the imperfect situation), must defy the laws of the Capitol (oppressive opposition) to provide food for her mother and little sister, Prim (initial goal). But when the government holds the reaping (the disturbance), and Prim’s name is selected as the tribute for District 12 (the dilemma), Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place in the Hunger Games (the new role).

Act Two: Learning the Rules of an Unfamiliar Situation – In this act, the character learns the rules of an Unfamiliar Situation and faces Incidental Opposition in pursuit of a Transitional Goal. But when he receives a Reality Check, he makes a Commitment to his New Role.

Approximate Start Time: 20% into story

Approximate Runtime: 20% of the story

Act Two Example: Avatar

Jake Sully goes into the Pandoran wilderness for the first time with little knowledge or training (the unfamiliar situation) and is nearly killed by the local wildlife (incidental opposition) while trying to spy on the Na’vi and gain intel on their weaknesses (the transitional goal). But when he is separated from the group by the fauna of Pandora (the reality check), he is rescued by a Na’vi woman and taken to her village where he convinces their clan to teach him their ways (the commitment).

Act Three: Stumbling Into the Central Conflict – In this act, the character stumbles into the Central Conflict and faces Intentional Opposition in pursuit of a False Goal. But when there is a grave Turn of events, he has a Moment of Truth.

Approximate Start Time: 40% into the story

Approximate Runtime: 20% of the story

Act Three Example: Inception

Dom Cobb and his team of dream thieves enter Robert Fischer’s protected dream world (the central conflict) and must contend with his unexpectedly weaponized subconscious (intentional opposition) to implement their simple plan to implant the inception (the false goal). But when their backer, Mr. Saito is shot, and it is revealed Fischer’s subconscious has been militarized to protect itself from extraction (the turn), Cobb realizes the only way to survive to is to complete the mission and comes clean to his teammate, Ariadne, about how his wife, Mal, died (the moment of truth).

Act Four: Implementing a Doomed Plan – The character implements a Doomed Plan and faces Self-Inflicted Opposition in pursuit of a Penultimate Goal. But when an unthinkable Lowpoint occurs, he pulls himself together and discovers a Newfound Resolve.

Approximate Start Time: 60% into the story

Approximate Runtime: 20% of the story

Act Four Example: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Harry tries to help Hagrid smuggle a baby dragon out of Hogwarts (the doomed plan), and risks being caught by repeatedly going out after hours (self-inflicted opposition) while trying to figure out what Snape is trying to steal from the guarded room (the penultimate goal). But when he’s caught out after hours, loses Gryffindor the top spot for the House Cup and is shunned by his own house (the lowpoint), Harry discovers Voldemort is trying to come back to life and vows to stop him at all costs (the newfound resolve).

Act Five: Trying a Long Shot – The character tries a Longshot and faces Ultimate Opposition while trying to accomplish the Ultimate Goal. But just when it seems All is Lost, he makes a Final Push against the forces of antagonism and either succeeds or fails.

Approximate Start Time: 80% into the story

Approximate Runtime: 15% of the story

Act Five Example: Star Wars

Luke Skywalker and the Rebels use the stolen data tapes to plot their attack on the Death Star (the longshot), and face the full might of the Empire (ultimate opposition), as they try to destroy the Death Star once and for all (the ultimate goal). But when they fail to make the crucial shot and all but a few ships are destroyed (all is lost), Luke makes a final run on the canyon, sinks the shot with an assist from Han, and destroys the Death Star (the final push).

Act Six: Living in an Improved Situation – Having accomplished (or failed to have accomplished) the Ultimate Goal, the character is shown living in a New Situation.

Approximate Start Time: 95% into the story

Approximate Runtime: 5% of the story

Act Six Example: Titanic

Having survived the sinking of the ship through Jack’s ultimate sacrifice, Rose is shown to have honored her promise to him by not marrying Cal and living a full and happy life on her own terms (the new situation).


For everything you need to know about six act structure, purchase your copy of Actions and Goals: The Story Structure Secret now, or check the database of popular stories for the six act breakdown of your favorite movie or novel.