THE 3-PART STRUCTURE I ALWAYS USE
I’ve got a question for you. How long does it take to write a page? How about a chapter or a complete book?
This is a challenging area for many aspiring authors. I hear it all the time.
“I don’t have time to write a book.”
“I need a clear diary to be creative.”
“When I sit down to write, I get distracted.”
“I have too much on at that moment.”
As you’re reading this, you might be nodding your head in agreement. But what if I told you about the 3-part-structure to help you write quickly but still produce great work?
One of the top reasons literary agents and publishers reject manuscripts is because of lack of structure. Your book will fall flat if there’s no structure to support it. (If you want to know about other reasons, read my post, 10 Things That Will Annoy A Literary Agent here.)
It’s not a new concept (it was first devised by Syd Field) but I find that many new writers are tempted to skip this step and dive head-first into writing. The 3-part structure is the framework I have used with all my books and was absolutely critical in allowing me to meet my publisher’s tight deadlines.
And if you’re thinking, well, I’m not writing a novel, I’m writing non-fiction, then it’s just as important to include a structural narrative, otherwise, it’s just factual information on the page.
By the end of this article, you will be able to create a top-level plan of your book to guide your writing sessions so you can say goodbye to writer’s block and labouring for hours over a chapter.
Get ready to learn the most effective way to write your book whether that’s a novel, non-fiction, or memoir. Here are the 3 parts: beginning, middle, and end, or you may have also heard it referred to as act one, act two, and act three. For simplicity, I’m going to use the former and I will share what you need to consider and include in each part. I’ll also lay out your action steps so you can start working on your structure today.
This is where you introduce background information the reader needs to know for your story to be understood. If you’re writing a novel or memoir, this could include character introduction, the setting, dialogue, and the world the character inhabits. If you’re writing non-fiction, you also need to include this. For example, if you’re writing a book on the Second World War, describing the various battles could be made far more interesting if you paint a portrait of Winston Churchill, Hitler or any other significant character.
This section of a book usually culminates in the ‘inciting incident.’ This is a term that describes an event, plot point, or conflict that sets the story in motion. An example in fiction is The Hunger Games when Katniss’s sister is called upon to compete in the games. It incites her to volunteer in her sister’s place.
The inciting incident can also be referred to as the problem, commonly found in non-fiction. In a science paper for example, the beginning would include the hypothesis or the question that is trying to be solved. It’s also important to clarify why the reader should care - what are the consequences for the reader if it isn’t addressed?
The middle of the book is often where writers give up because it’s a large section and planning the structure of this section will help you avoid getting stuck in what is commonly known as the muddy middle.
In fiction, this section is where the action increases and is usually broken down into four plot points, one of which is the climax, where tension is at its peak. To do this, your story needs conflict whereby negative forces increase as the character struggles to overcome them. This part is also where you need to focus on the pace of your book in order to keep the reader invested throughout.
In non-fiction, you may want to convey your proposed solution to overcome the problem or scenario you outlined in part one. This needs to be done in an engaging way to draw the reader in and keep their attention. Techniques such as dialogue, exercises or worksheets, anecdotes, and quotes can be useful additions here for non-fiction writers.
By this point of your writing journey, you may be tempted to rush the ending just to get the book done. However, I would argue this part is just as important as the beginning. If you’ve planned out the key information you want to include for each part, then this will definitely help you navigate the writing of the final act.
If you’re writing a novel, the last part of the book includes the resolution. There are various types of endings; happy endings, cliffhangers, full circle, a final twist, and so on. In my digital course, Kick Start Your Book With Karen, I describe in detail the five main types of endings and several writing techniques to implement them. In the structural planning stage, I would suggest you just need to know what happens at the end.
In non-fiction, there are various approaches to ending your book. You could focus on the HOW of your solution, a summary of your chapters, a call-to-action, or all the above. A call-to-action - where you are directing the reader to do something - is a fantastic way to get the reader engaged with your other work, for example, additional resources that the reader can subscribe to.
Whatever type of book you’re writing, you want to leave the reader with a sense of satisfaction; a feeling that they have come away with something valuable or experienced something enjoyable.
Spending time on developing your structure before you start writing will help you in so many ways including:
Organising all the information
Setting an engaging pace
Guiding your writing sessions so each one is focused and effective
Now it’s your turn. Let’s map out the 3 parts of your book. Taking a pen and paper, divide your paper into three sections and label them beginning, middle and end and answer the following questions for each section. I have divided the questions up into fiction and non-fiction.
Who is your main character and what world do they live in?
What time period is your book set in?
What event (inciting incident) sets your story in motion?
What are the main plot points of your story?
What is the biggest event (the climax) that happens in your story?
How does the main character change as a result?
What type of ending does your book have?
What happens to the main character and how do they feel as a result?
Who is telling the story?
How will this book help / educate / add value to the reader?
What problem are you trying to solve?
What is your proposed solution and what proof do you have?
What personal experience can you weave in to create a narrative?
What writing techniques can you use to keep the reader engaged? (Worksheets, questions, dialogue etc.)
How can the reader implement your solution?
How can you best summarise your book?
What do you want the reader to do after they have finished your book?
A fantastic way to lay out your 3-part structure is to imagine taking the reader on a journey. What things do they need or want to know? Use that as your guide as you answer the questions to create a framework that will support your writing.
I hope this helps!
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