After the great amount of encouragement that you all gave me here, you'd be happy to know that I finally started writing my novel and I'm writing whenever I get time. Special thanks goes to Lauren for that quote of hers. I loved it!

Okay. So I'm following the three act structure for my thriller. And as I read somewhere, according to this structure, the first act should end when the novel reaches around 25% of its length; Here, as most of us know, the protagonist is supposed to start his journey, the story goal is supposed to become clearly visible & concrete along with the story question.

Now the problem that I am facing is this: Although my first act does everything what it is supposed to do, it ends at around 38%. Which, I feel, is devastating. Although I asked a couple of my friends who are avid readers, to proofread my work up til here and they said that the humour (I have used humour in the whole act just to cover up my placing of 'links-in-a-thriller') is very finely written and it kept them going without letting them feel any lags.

So I tried clubbing a few scenes together; keeping what is required. But as soon as I did that, the 'links' that i had placed became visible.

Now i do not know what to do! I mean, If i condense the scenes, the links show up. If i don't then the Act becomes wider. And the conversations, though lengthy, are equally important because it gives the backstory to the readers.

Any suggestions?

  • Delighted I could help. :) Commented Jun 18, 2012 at 10:00
  • Consider extending all the other acts.
    – writing
    Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 13:15

5 Answers 5


Quit bean-counting.

Finish the novel and then go back and worry about whether the first act works. Methods for structuring a story are guides, not laws. The novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is 850 pages. I remember vividly that the first six hundred were a complete slog, and then suddenly something happened and the last 200-odd pages went like a shot. That worked for that book. Who knows what will work for yours?

Put the entire story together, set it aside, and then go back and look at it with fresh eyes. If your first act is the right length, stop worrying. There will be other things to fix.

  • And, as another example, Stephen Lawheads Byzantium (I think) was a bit of a slog, and a build up until the very last page. An awesome conclusion, but a long way to get there. Use the rules as a guide. Commented Jun 18, 2012 at 10:32
  • @Lauren, But that's the problem with me. I just cannot move on to the next chapter until I personally feel that I have written good. And I do regret this bend of my mind. And plus, in light-reads of my country, the wordlimit for a debut author is 50K. So now you can well imagine what kind of a problem this is. Commented Jun 18, 2012 at 10:53
  • 8
    No, no, this is "looking for excuses to stop writing" again. Knock it off. Do not let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Even if you think it is the windiest garbage ever committed to paper, keep going forward. You will never finish if you're hung up on fine-tuning the first act. Give yourself permission to suck. Seriously. Stop tweaking and write the rest. I promise you can go back and trash the entire first act when you're done if you want to. Commented Jun 18, 2012 at 14:30
  • Another quote. haha. Thanks again! I'll keep that in mind! :) Commented Jun 18, 2012 at 21:41
  • 2
    I'll also add that it's more than likely you'll get to the end, spot a theme/concept/underused character that you want to bring out, and have to trash a lot of your 'perfect' writing anyway. Unless you're a genius who can write a single draft and be done with it, of course. ;)
    – Lexi
    Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 0:12

the first act should end when the novel reaches around 25% of its length


the wordlimit for a debut author is 50K [comment to Lauren's answer]


Listen, XORGate, you have a problem, but it is not your writing. You think arbitrary limits are God's commandments. They are not.

Many writers succeeded, because they broke rules intentionally. Don't be a slave of rules other people made up. People you do not know, are probably long dead, and of whom you do not know why they made these rules.

First, after 25% shouldn't end the first act, there should be the first turning point. It really doesn't matter how long your act is. But even this turning point can be somewhere else if it works for your novel. They just say it should be there, because that works for the majority of novels. So it looks like a good idea, but that does not guarantee that it is one.

Second, word limits are one of the most arbitrary limits ever invented by human beings. If you want to publish traditionally and they like your book, if they are hooked by the beginning, if they see that the story flows, they will publish it, no matter if it has 50K or 80K words. Can you really imagine a publisher saying: "Well, excellent book and it would sell well, but sadly it's too long"?

Besides that, in the world of today self publishing is an option. So you can write and publish whatever you want. And now don't tell me, that you know a reader who asks for the word count before picking up a book. The thickness of a book does not tell you anything about the word count. If readers want smaller books in your country (what I doubt), then you can fake that with the correct layout and most won't even notice.

  • Well, John, Its a light read that I am writing. Because the majority of the youth in my country read lightly cooked up stories. And most of them are campus love stories which has a stereotypical protagonist falling in love with a stereotypical girl and having a stereotypical physical relationship which ends up in a stereotypical happy ending. But my genre is thriller. So I thought of writing a thriller in a light-read fashion which can land me well into the masses. But i do get your point. And I want you to know that it will help me. Thanks! :) Commented Jun 18, 2012 at 21:37
  • 4
    FWIW, it's tempting to try and write something to try and pander to the masses. But this is your story, and you should write it how you think it should be written because it is, first and foremost, for yourself. You're writing because there's a story in your mind that simply must be told, right? Tell it. Worry about selling it later.
    – Lexi
    Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 0:09

Expand the other two acts until that the first takes 25% ;)

On a more serious note, why do you feel this is "devastating"? The way I read your friends' feedback, it's working just fine. You'd have a problem if the act felt too long, or got boring, but it doesn't seem to be the case here.

You may want to take a look at the "lengthy conversations that give backstory", though. Is all of that backstory necessary at that point? You could move parts of it to later in the book. Or you could shorten the conversations and give the backstory in a less explicit way (give hints, rather than lengthy exposition). Would the characters say everything they're saying if the reader wasn't listening?

  • Haha I see what you are trying to say but this is my first work. And the publishers are kind of strict when it comes to the word-limit. Commented Jun 18, 2012 at 10:43

When it comes to writing the only hard numbers are in your contract. Don't worry about things like what your word count should be or how long the act is taking. Just sit down and write the novel, once you've written "THE END" you can worry about the rest of it.

To me it sounds like your books is longer then you expected it to be. Not a bad problem all things considered. I bet that once you get the whole book written you'll find that your first act is 25% of the over all length. Still, as I said before, don't worry about it now.

Anyways, you'll find that there won't be a very clear point when you move from act to act. They are just labels for large parts of the story, not fences.


The rules in place are to help writers overcome hesitation to write, or indecision on how to structure the story. Others will give you rules to follow, and as a result you try to club it into submission and force it to be something that it is not. The story is the important part: write it to keep it in its natural form.

You said "I just cannot move on to the next chapter until I personally feel that I have written good." This is a problem that writers have dealt with forever, but it is not a reason to stop writing! "If you want to write" by Brenda Ueland addresses this point exactly, and has been immensely inspirational to me. It was written in 1938, so it was before all the hundreds of books on how to write. Hopefully, you might find it helpful.


Also, if you are worried about following publisher's guidelines so that it is easier to publish, you should self-publish on Amazon's KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). Link for more information:



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