Week 9 (21/4): 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 Set-up, 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 Greek philosopher Aristotle, who in his Poetics (335 BC) 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.
Set-up, 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 engaging with 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.

An easy way to keep to the Three-Act Structure is to think of your 500 words divided by 4:

  • Act 1 Set-up: Introduce us to the character, their world (approximately 125 words)
  • Act 2 Conflict, Part 1: Midpoint when something shifts main character (about 125 words)
  • Act 2 Conflict, Part 2: The actions caused by the shift – (about 125 words)
  • Act 3 Resolution: Tying up the story. This will include a climax as a result of what the main character has been through on their journey – (about 125 words)

Post your Three-Act Story on WordPress


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.

Review: What did people think of the feedback? Who reviewed their assessment and acted on the feedback, responded in writing to the email?

Assessment Part 2 – Due May 5

Radio Story – 1-2 minutes



Fiction: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Non-fiction: On Writing by Ernest Hemingway


‘Eliminate every superfluous word’ by James Parker in The Atlantic


A storytelling singer inspired by Hemingway.

or if you want to get heavy


Midnight in Paris

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