General · Writing

Doorway to Act II

open doorsI was reading Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell and it talks about the three structure act. It talks about moving from Act I to Act II through a doorway.

The key question to ask yourself is this: Can my Lead walk away from the plot right now and go on as he has before? If the answer is yes, you haven’t gone through the first doorway yet.

Further, the book says this should happen at or before at the 1/5 point of the book. This is an interesting way to look at transitioning from the beginning to the middle, IMO. I hadn’t considered the transition like that before, but more like the number of pages from the beginning of the book.

And, you know, if it feels like middle. But that’s not a quantifiable feeling. How would you quantify it anyway?

I have never really paid attention to when I feel like I’m in the middle of a book as opposed to the beginning. But according to this definition, it should happen when the plot feels inevitable. Like, something has happened and nothing will ever be the same.

Do you agree? Do you this doorway separates the beginning from the middle? And does it usual happen at or before the 1/5 mark?

I suspect this is something I’ll be a lot more aware of when reading now. I was rereading Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K.

guilty-pleasures-by-lkh-book-coverHamilton and you know what? It is true. In Guilty Pleasures, this doorway happens when a close friend of the main character is harmed/threatened by the vampires. This happened pretty much when 1/5 of the book was done. So it works in one book.

But Guilty Pleasures is structured like a thriller. Question is, does it work for other thriller style books? And other non-thriller style books?



22 thoughts on “Doorway to Act II

  1. This doorway concept is not something I conscientiously think of when I’m watching a movie or reading a book. It seems a bit formulaic to think in these terms. There is a logic to this, but I don’t know that it’s always necessarily true. Maybe I’ll be observant in the future, but probably not if the story sucks me in. And that may be the way it works–we get sucked into the story as a leading character reaches that point of no turning back.

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    1. It does feel formalistic, but I not sure it is. If a lot of writers do it, even if unconsciously, maybe it is more of a trend than a formula.

  2. That’s an interesting question. I randomly picked up Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis, and it turns out that 1/5 of the way through they rescue a dwarf who tells them the story that precipitates their quest. Usually I’m too busy reading to think of when this point happens. I’m going to watch for this!

  3. That’s an interesting point about inevitability. I definitely see that point in my novel, though it’s probably further back that it would usually be.

    I think in action/fantasy/scifi/horror and other genres this Act II transition happens closer to the beginning, but more literary, character emotion focused stories it can sometimes happen much deeper in the book, even close to the middle.

      1. It all depends if it’s compelling. I read a book that I really liked that didn’t have that decisive moment until almost half way through. They had included it in the back of the book description so I was waiting for it. The book wasn’t any less great for that later insident.

  4. That is really interesting and something that I’m sure I’ll be aware of when reading. I’m now going to see if that is what makes some books feel like they are slow to get going. I’m guessing the answer will be yes!

  5. Roughly 1/5th seems reasonable. Beyond 20% is asking much from the reader without establishing the journey and a compelling reason to go on. It seems like plenty of stories get to that door before 1/5th.

    I’d wager that most writers open that door before 1/5th without ever having to think about it. Too much backstory in the beginning could push it late. This advice helps recognize the need to edit a lengthy introduction down, or recognize a better story unfolding for a rewrite, which I believe many storytellers do naturally.

  6. That’s a really interesting idea. I’ve never thought about it, but I guess it’s important for something major to happen and for that to have a major impact on the main character. I don’t tend to write things that long, but I’ll be thinking about the doorway concept next time I do.

      1. I would just think: the character is about to make a life-changing (probably) decision. If he walked away, would his life be the same? If yes, why would he make the decision? In a way you need his experiences to make the decision for him. So he HAS to make the decision to continue the story. Does that make sense?

  7. I think it depends on the situation. The doorway can be used as added drama and visualization but it is not needed in all situation. I guess this would be up to the author to decide.

  8. Yup. The three-act structure is EVERYWHERE – I think if you were to start analyzing most of your favorite books and films, you’d find they fit into that structure. There are always exceptions, of course. I don’t consciously write to that structure, either, but when I get lost and find my plot is foundering, it always helps me 🙂

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