I've recently come across the three-act structure, and it seems pretty helpful. My only confusion is that a few of the points in each act look fairly similar.

Here is the version of the three-act structure I'm referring to:

ACT I - Setup

  • Hook: an exciting event that grabs your reader's attention & hints at the coming conflict.
  • Inciting Incident: an event that completely disrupts your hero's everyday life & starts the conflict.
  • Turning Point 1: the point when your hero decides to take action & reclaim their everyday life.

ACT II - Conflict

  • Rising Action: a series of dramatic events that increase the tension of the story.
  • Mid-Plot Point: a plot twist or failure that causes your hero reevaluate their choices.
  • Turning Point 2: in the aftermath of the mid-plot point your hero will recommit to their journey

ACT III - Resolution

  • Climax: the highest point of conflict, a figurative or literal bat with the antagonist.
  • Falling Action: the story's tension begins to unwind, but the conflict is not resolved.
  • Denouement: a resolution of the conflict & tying up of all loose ends.

(image version)

My two main confusions are:

  • What is the difference between 'rising action' and 'mid-point'? Could I please have an example?
  • How would one make 'climax' and 'falling action' work? Again, examples would be great.

2 Answers 2


Q: What is the difference between 'rising action' and 'mid-point'?

Think of action as complications; additional problems to deal with.

The story begins with the "Normal World", the hero is fine and stable in their normal world. Perhaps there is a minor problem to deal with, but it is normal.

This is how we learn about our hero, and like that person, and get some idea of how they think.

Inciting Incident: The hero has an unusual problem. This is a complication. The hero tries to resolve this problem quickly, but fails. The problem is more complicated than they thought.

They may try again, but whatever they do, the problem gets worse. In fact, by the end of act I, the problem is so bad, their "normal world" is disrupted, they cannot carry on as they were. They must leave their normal world (either literally or metaphorically) in order to pursue a resolution to this problem.

In fact, the problem compounds and gets worse and more complicated, all the way to the story midpoint. The hero, due to their bad assumptions and mistakes, utterly fails in an attempt to solve the problem. Completely.

They have misunderstood the threat, or under-estimated it. Perhaps they were betrayed by somebody they thought was an ally.

But then, after licking their wounds and mourning their losses, they rise back up. They understand how things work now. (or think they do).

This is the essence of a hero: They get kicked, cut, blown up, shot, beaten, but no matter how bad their ass gets kicked, they get back up. The essence of a fictional hero is that they would rather die than lose. And you need need to prove that in your story. Hurt them! (This is why beginner "wish fulfillment" stories fail; their heroes never lose, never face any adversity, self-doubt, or despair.)

Q: How would one make 'climax' and 'falling action' work?

The term "falling action", in the second half, refers to simplification. After the midpoint defeat, we stop adding complications, and start resolving them. Basically, we are tying up all the open questions.

The midpoint corrects a major misunderstanding, and that misunderstanding was the cause of the hero's big loss. There can be others. Most stories have multiple plot threads, romance, mystery, secrets to be exposed perhaps.

Scene by scene, we want to resolve the complications we introduced in the first half, without introducing more. In fact, there can be a kind of domino effect: The resolution of question 3 explains something that helps explain question 4. For example, Mary was never in love with Evil John, the secret is Mary and Evil John are siblings and nobody knew that except them. That is why she saved him. But if Mary and Evil John are siblings, then Mary is actually the daughter of ...

In the third act, nearly all mysteries are resolved. Our hero, beaten and broken, now knows enough, even if they are not sure of that. But, true to hero demands, they will make one last do or die attempt. And this time, they prevail.

Following that is the "denoument", which is basically, the "new world", for the hero. They may return home, or if that is impossible, take their place in the new normal for them.

Luke becomes a real Jedi. In Die Hard, John McClane (Bruce Willis) defeats the terrorist and saves his wife, with whom he is rejoined. (Die Hard is a good example of the best kind of hero: They kick the livin' sh*t out of John McClane!) Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) completes the Impossible Mission.

In the movie "RED" (Retired and Extremely Dangerous), the bad guys are dead, the mystery solved, and Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) are together in romance.

Note the movie opens with Frank making excuses to talk with Sarah on the phone, there is a clear unrequited attraction between them: so the final scenes of the movie resolve Frank's 'problem' of unrequited romantic interest we saw in the very first scenes. And this is an example of a "New Normal" for both of them.

It is much easier to identify the 3 acts in movies, because they are time constrained. But the principles apply to novels, and even series.


The three-act structure as you have found it seems to refer to Syd Field's ideas as he has expounded them in his bestselling 1979 screenwriting guide Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting.

If you search for "syd field three-act structure" in your favourite search engine, you'll find a couple hundred thousand results, among them many that explain Field's ideas in much detail and with all the examples that you want.

Here is one: https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/three-act-structure/

If you are really interested in studying plot structure, I recommend that you buy the book and work through it. You can get a used copy for two dollars.

As to your questions:

What is the difference between rising action and mid-point?

Your diagram explains this rather well:

Rising Action: After plot point 1 ("Turning Point 1" in your graphic) the hero confronts the antagonist and this confrontation increases in intensity. Syd Field calls this not "rising action" but "confrontation".

Example: In the movie The Fellowship of the Ring the ringwraiths get ever closer to Frodo and the other hobbits, the escape becomes ever narrower, until at the Ford of Bruinen only the magic of Arwen saves them. After Rivendell the dangers become even more dramatic, continually increasing in scope and danger.

Mid-Plot Point: At this point, the hero begins to see what is happening under a new light.

Example: In the movie The Fellowship of the Ring the midpoint happens when the council at Rivendell decides that Frodo, who until then thought he was bringing the Ring to Elrond and was now free of it, must go on and destroy it. The movie changes from "Frodo brings the Ring to Rivendell and others will take care of the problem" to "Frodo commits himself to saving the world". Up until that moment, the movie was just a fun little adventure. From that moment onwards it becomes fraught with that responsibility and turns increasingly darker psychologically, climaxing, on the psychological level, in the betrayal of Boromir.

How would one make climax and falling action work?

That question is both too vague and too vast to be answered in an answer on this site.

To limit the scope of the question, you would have to explain what you are trying and why it doesn't work. Without that frame of reference, an answer would require a lengthy essay – an that is what you will easily find if you read Syd Field's book.

As for examples: The (outer) climax of the movie The Fellowhsip of the Ring is the escape from the mines of Moria, from when Pippin accidentally pushes a bucket down a well and alerts the orcs to their presence until the narrow escape from the Balrog where Gandalf seems to get killed. What follows is the falling action, marked by relief over the escape and devastation at Gandalf's loss. It includes the time in Lothlorien and the development that the characters undergo there. The denouement begins after the conflict between Boromir and Frodo is resolved through Boromir's death in what you might call the "inner or psychological climax" of that movie. Commonly this is called the resolution: this is the point where the character arc of the protagonist arrives at its end. What follows is basically a glimpse into the future of how life will go on after the end of this story: the new status quo is described that mirrors and replaces the status quo before the story as it is portrayed at the beginning of the narrative. (In the case of The Fellowship of the Ring, of course, two more movies follow, but you can imagine a story that ends with the fellowship being dispersed and their quest having failed.)

  • Funny that he describes the denouement as 'tying up loose ends', when the word actually means 'un-knotting'! Commented Mar 29 at 9:31
  • @KateBunting In English (!), dénouement means "Unravelling; spec. the final unravelling of the complications of a plot in a drama, novel, etc.; the catastrophe; transferred the final solution or issue of a complication, difficulty, or mystery" (OED). And Syd Field believes that this unravelling requires the tying up of loose narrative ends. He doesn't claim that "tying up" is the meaning of the word dénouement, but that tying up the loose ends is necessary – among other things! – for the "unravelling" of the narrative complication to take place.
    – Ben
    Commented Mar 29 at 10:38
  • Yes, I know all that - I was just making a passing comment! Commented Mar 29 at 11:24

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.