Week 9 (14/10): The three act structure

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The Three-Act structure is a model used in narrative fiction that divides a story into three parts (or acts), often called the Setup, the Confrontation, and the Resolution.

Most stories follow a three-act structure, certainly most movies. This was first defined by Syd Field in the mid-70s in his book Screenplay. It has been repeated, refined, and built upon in hundreds of books since. But the basic idea goes back as far as Aristotle, who in his Poetics defined stories as having a Beginning, Middle and End that are causally related.

What’s that got to do with journalism?

This same basic three-act structure applies to just about any story. Fictitious or true. Long or short. Entertaining or informational. It works with a short film, a TV commercial, a cartoon, and it can also work with a news story.

Beginning, Middle, End.
Setup, Conflict, Resolution.

The other key part of any story is character. Something happens to someone. A person faces a problem and they either solve it or they don’t.

When looking at a news story, be it hard news or human interest, ask yourself:

  1. Who is the story about? Present us with a character. Introduce them and their world.
  2. What happened to them?
  3. Where did it happen?
  4. When did it happen?
  5. How did they respond? Did they solve the problem or have they yet to solve it?
  6. Why? Why did this happen, and why to this person? Why did they react that way?

This question – why – is the reason we are watching any story. This takes it beyond ‘just the facts’ and gives us something to relate to. Someone to empathise with.

So in a news story give us the Who, When, Where and How. But if you can, also explain the Why: That is the big question – as The Merovingian so eloquently explained to Morpheus, Neo and Trinity in The Matrix Reloaded’s Causality scene.


This article from NPR (National Public Radio) in the US gives an excellent analysis of the three-act structure as it relates to news reporting, and structuring a radio story in particular. And here is a Guardian profile of the “God of Story” Robert McKee.


Turn your famous person profile into a 500-word story using the Three-Act Structure. Or you may wish to use your News Story and write that up using the Three-Act Structure.  Keep in mind who your intended audience is.

An easy way to keep to the 3-Act Structure is to think of your 500 words divided by 4.
Act 1 Setup – introduce us to the character, their world – approx 125 words
Act 2 Conflict, Part 1 – to midpoint when something shifts the main character – approx 125 words
Act 2 Conflict, Part 2 – the actions caused by the shift – approx 125 words
Act 3 Resolution – tying up the story. This will include a climax as a result of what the main character has been though on their journey – approx 125 words

  • Post your Three-Act Story on WordPress
  • Record an audio version and upload it as an MP3 to the Weekly Student Tasks folder in the Google Drive.


Assessment #1 is now overdue.

If you have not done so please upload to the Final Assessments folder in Google Drive.

If you need more time to complete the Assessment, we can chat.

Assessment Part 2  – Due October 28

Radio Story – 1-2 minutes

A)  1 x Word/Pages doc

Write a radio script on the SAME TOPIC that you researched for Part 1 (Assessment 1). Your story can be in the format of a current affairs story, longer-form news update, or satire and should contain at least two quotes.

  • Use the 5 Ws, 3 Cs and possibly the H.
  • Check that all info sources are reliable.
  • To get a timing – using the stop watch on you phone, read the article out aloud as if you were recording it on air.
  • Above the article, add a short attention-grabbing description of what your article is about. You will see examples on the ABC’s Radio National page.
  • Leave some more blank space then type in the Duration:  e.g. 1min 40 secs.
  • Add this: Intended audience.

B)  x Audio file

  • Record the article on your phone or computer [MP3]

Upload to the Final Assessments folder in Google Drive.

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