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On Writing

What is the Most Important Part of a Book? Act Three

If you have not read Part One or Two, start here with Part One and then finish Part Two here.

So, we’ve reached the end. Act three.

This act typically ends our journey with the characters we’ve grown to love. It’s a sad goodbye (unless Disney decides to reboot your series for a less than stellar sequel trilogy).

Before we get into the points on why the third act is so good, I must put a stipulation. The third act can only be good if your first two acts did their job. Did you set up a protagonist that people cared for or are interested in enough to care about what happens in the third act? Are there enough hints to your twist ending so that it doesn’t feel random and out of nowhere? And is your antagonist set up as a dangerous conflict to your protagonist? If the answer is no to any of these, you might want to rework some of your first and second act, because if you leave any of these components out, your ending may not end up being as killer as you think it is.

Now, considering all of these things have been checked off, let’s look at why the third act is so good.

There are several reasons, here are three!

1. The first and most obvious thing is that we are given the last big confrontation between the antagonist and protagonist. It’s all built up to this. We finally get the big fight between them. This is generally a pretty awesome and satisfying part of the book. But it can also be shocking. You may not know how the hero will win, but you know they will win. But most of the time at a cost. They generally will lose something dear to them, sometimes not, but generally, you will see the loss of someone or something close to the protagonist. A good example of this is in the movie Super 8 (warning, if you have not seen this movie, major spoilers are to follow). In the movie, Joe has carried a locket that was his Mom’s for the course of most of the movie. It is fairly obvious that he treasures the object and that it reminds him of his mom. At the end of the movie when the alien is building its ship by taking the majority of the metal in Lillian, Ohio. As Joe, Alice, and their fathers watch the metal suck towards the ship. That’s when you see Joe’s locket start heading towards the ship, he grabs it, but the ship still needs it and isn’t complete without it. He lets go of the locket. He had to lose something that was precious to him in order to let the alien leave and therefore winning the movie’s struggle. This is also a great example of character growth, but that’s not what today’s post is about.

2. The second thing is the resolution. The third act concludes things, but the story doesn’t end after the antagonist loses. The story ends only once you have finished the last page or when the screen goes black. That’s when it ends, not before and not after. Do you know those last couple of chapters between the defeat of the protagonist and the end of the book? Those can help decide whether or not you like a book. There was an epic fantasy book that I read a couple of years ago, I won’t mention the name of it because some readers really like it. It was the first of a series and the series has yet to be finished as far as I know. I loved the beginning of this book and the middle. It was so drastically different from anything that I had read to that point. When I arrived at the third act, it went in a completely different direction then what I thought. The character did things that I as a reader did not think he would. I barely even finished it. I just skimmed the last couple of chapters. This really saddened me because I had grown close with the land and the laws and the main character, but the ending was such a disappointment. Now, every time I see a book by that author, I disregard it. So why am I telling you this? Your resolution needs to go along with what you have set up. If not, it disappoints readers like me. Another resolution is key to the third act is because it is the last time you interact with the characters. It’s your goodbye, and this leads to point three.

3. The last thing is the want to spend more time with the characters, also known as a hole. If the book did its job, and especially if it’s a part of a series and is the end of a series, you feel that hole. It’s over. All the time you spent with those characters, it’s over. Their story has been told. This only happens if the author has given a meaningful ending and has tied up all the plots and subplots in their novel. And when you finish, well that’s when you have to find a new book to read.

So why is the third act the most interesting part of a book? Because of the final conflict between the two opposing forces, the resolution, and the end that leaves you wanting more.

So that’s it! Three acts, which is your favorite? Be sure to comment below and let me know and comment anything you have to say relating to Act Three as well! I want to hear what you guys think!

From my pen to your paper, may our swords never clash.


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