Home » Three Act Structure and the Hero’s Journey in Novels and Movies

Three Act Structure and the Hero’s Journey in Novels and Movies

3 Act Structure and the Hero's Journey in Novels and Movies-featured image

The Hero’s Journey is a pattern of story that was first developed by Joseph Campbell and popularized by Christopher Vogler in his book “The Writer’s Journey.”

This pattern can be seen in many novels and movies, as well as some short stories. The three act structure is a more common film-making technique than the hero’s journey, but both are important to understand for writers who want their work to appeal to audiences.

In this blog post we will discuss how these two techniques work together, what they mean for your writing process, and which books or films use them.

Now I don’t know about you, but when I go see a movie my favorite part is the climax scene where everything gets wrapped up.

I like to think of the three act structure in movies as a journey: starting with an impossible situation, then getting into trouble and finally overcoming it at the climax.

How to begin writing a story using the 3 act structure

The Hero’s Journey begins before the protagonist is even aware that they need to go on one; once they actually embark on their adventure, there are many steps along the way that mirror the three act structure.

In a novel, there are typically five parts in total:

  • introduction
  • complication
  • climax/revelation of what was wrong and how to fix it
  • final battle for resolution, and conclusion.

What is three act structure?

The three-act structure has been around since Ancient Greece with Aristotle’s “Poetics” and it has been used in every medium for storytelling we now know of.

In movies the first act sets up who our protagonist(s) are as people;

  • what their world looks like before they embark on their adventure;
  • any major characters or antagonists that will be important throughout the story;
  • where we’re going to spend most of our time both geographically and emotionally through each phase of the journey.

The second act contains all sorts of complications and conflicts that our protagonist has to overcome in order for the story to be resolved.

The third act is where we reach the climax of what was wrong, how it can be fixed, and then a final battle as resolution.

What is The Three Act Structure? No Formulas Necessary

Exactly what is the three act structure in stories?
How does the 3 act structure work with the Hero’s journey?

The Hero’s Journey in Novels

Three-act structure also overlaps with one of Joseph Campbell‘s most famous ideas: “the hero’s journey.

Every good novel follows this pattern whether they know about three-act structure or not—some scholars even believe three act structure came before Aristotle because Western literature is rooted so deeply in storytelling through narrative arcs like these.

In novels, you get your first taste of the world outside normal society; enter into conflict against an antagonist who will create all sorts of turmoil, meet with a mentor who will teach the protagonist how to solve their problems and what they need in order to succeed, have an epic victory that changes everything for the better.

Writing 101: What Is the Hero’s Journey?

How does the 3 act structure work?

The three act structure is a tried and true method of organizing any story. This is because the three act format has been around for thousands of years, with examples from Shakespeare’s plays to modern day movies like Star Wars.

The three acts are:

  • Act 1- set up,
  • Act 2- confrontation, and
  • Act 3 – resolution.

The first act sets up the situation, introduces us to your protagonist and antagonist.

The second act is when things get really intense; this is where you should introduce any other characters you want to include in order to add more layers of conflict or tension.

Finally, act three wraps everything up nicely by bringing about a resolution for all conflicts introduced during Acts one and two.”

We’ve covered how movies work with the hero’s journey that has: “a beginning (the call-to-adventure), middle (conflict) and end (resolution). But what does it look like on paper?

In novels, you might start with a protagonist who is living their daily life, going to work every day and generally just getting by. They’re not unhappy in the sense that they know there are other problems out there – but all you need to do is look at them and see how perfect everything seems.

The first break from this ordinary existence comes when something happens – your protagonist might have an epiphany about what has been really missing in his or her life, which jolts him into action (or conversely, he/she might get fired).

This event kicks off Act One of our story: The Introduction.”

The Three-Act Structure: 3 Steps to a Powerful Story Structure

What is the resolution of the 3 act structure?

The resolution of the three act structure is when our protagonist finally completes his or her journey to overcome their problem, reconciling with reality (e.g., by accepting that life isn’t perfect and finding something better), which allows him or her to move forward into a new phase in life.”

The resolution of the 3 act structure is one of the most essential parts to a story, and all stories are based on this.

The first act introduces all of the characters in the play, with their lives being intertwined for some unknown reason. In some cases they may even be unaware that they will need each other in order to survive what’s coming next.

By Act 2, things start going horribly wrong for everyone involved until it reaches its climax at the end of Act 3 – which is when you find out how everything turns out.

The hero’s journey is a pattern found in many novels and movies that features one person who goes on a quest to solve some sort of problem. The first act introduces the protagonist’s world, their problem, and all it takes for them to get into this current state.

Act two is where they begin their journey by departing from home with every intention of coming back successful at whatever cost – but instead meet various people along the way that give him or her new insight about themselves or life in general.

This can lead up to acceptance of death, which leads us to Act three: Returning triumphant after overcoming past adversity through perseverance.

Act Three: Resolution – The Script Lab

Conflict in three act structure

Conflict is a key element in any story, and it plays an important role in the three act structure.

The first act builds up to the conflict, typically with some sort of inciting incident that gets things going.

The second act is where we see how the main character deals with this new obstacle and what he does to try to overcome it.

Finally, in Act 3 we find out whether or not our hero succeeds at overcoming his challenge.

Conflict is a vital element in stories because it creates tension which leaves the readers on edge and most importantly, wanting more. It’s so challenging to decide who will win at times that we’re left wondering whether or not any of them can overcome their obstacles.

However, when an author resolves conflict by revealing one force over another–that brings about closure for us.

Conflict creates tension in the 3 act structure

Who created the three act structure?

The three act structure has been around for centuries. Aristotle’s Poetics, which is considered the first work of dramatic theory, described these acts in detail with a beginning point and end point for an effective story.

He also outlined how to tell good stories by using character development, dialogue that reveals emotion instead of telling what happens, and when possible–a reversal or twist at the climax.

Acts are important because they divide up your plot into manageable chunks so you can focus on one thing before moving onto the next one.

It makes it easier to see where everything fits together when you have different sections each working towards achieving something specific.

The hero’s journey is a pattern in stories which follows this structure:

  • A character who lacks something important–usually related to their identity or role in society–sets out on a quest;
  • they have some initial success but are then confronted with an obstacle;
  • after overcoming many difficulties, they finally reach the goal that will make them whole again.

This archetypal narrative has been found across cultures as well as within religions including Christianity (the life of Christ) and Hinduism (the Bhagavad Gita).

It also appears across various fiction genres such as Greek mythology (Odysseus), The Iliad by Homer, One Thousand and One Nights/Arabian Nights, The Odyssey by Homer, The Golden Ass/Metamorphoses of Apuleius and the Arthurian legend.

The term “three-act structure” was coined in 1915 by American screenwriter Syd Field to describe how a screenplay should be structured into three parts: Act One introduces the story setting and main characters; Act Two is where most of the plot occurs; Act Three wraps up events that are left unsettled from earlier on.

This pattern has been applied to novels throughout history as well as modern literature–although some authors such as Ernest Hemingway have dispensed with it entirely for narrative effect.

Aristotle and Three Act Structure 

How does the hero’s journey reflect real life?

Just like the hero in a story, we all face challenges in our own lives. We must go on an adventure to overcome these obstacles and return home as heroes.

The journey is always worth it because we learn valuable lessons that help us grow into better people.

In a moment of life-threatening danger, one becomes the hero. Ordinary people are forced to face their worst fears and when they survive this ordeal, they’re rewarded with knowledge or insight which is not always desirable.

One must return back to ordinary world where things started off once again after being transformed by experience into an extraordinary person now that you’ve been through it all in order for adventure stories like these to exist at all.

Movies that have hero’s journey:

  • – The Matrix
  • – Star Wars
  • – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
  • Books with hero’s journey:
  • Harry Potter series by J.K Rowling
  • – Lord of the Rings trilogy by JRR Tolkein or Fellowship of the Ring, Two Towers, Return of the King movies (all are good unlike horrible Hobbit movie that was made in 2013 which has nothing to do with story other than it being one long flashback) – Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins.
The Hero’s Journey – the basis for novels and movies

The hero’s journey film examples

Star Wars is a classic example of an epic hero’s journey film that follows all three stages closely as they’re laid out within Campbell’s monomyth.

It begins with Luke living his happy life on Tatooine until he’s thrust into the world of a hero when his family is killed by the evil Empire.

Luke then meets Obi Wan Kenobi who tells him about The Force and presents to him an opportunity: choosing between two paths in life, one as farm boy or another as Jedi knight.

The first stage ends with Luke making this decision but before he leaves Tatooine on his journey, it becomes clear that more challenges await – namely Darth Vader himself.

This second act brings us back home again for our protagonist to face off against their greatest challenge yet and learn from it too (yes there were many times where things might have seemed hopeless).

It climaxes at the end with Skywalker doing battle with Vader just like Anakin did years ago; after all these trials and tribulations, Luke gets his day of reckoning and comes out victorious.

Why is the hero’s journey so popular?

The hero’s journey is one of the most popular narratives in literature, film, and television.

There are many reasons that this narrative has endured for centuries however the three main ones are its universality, its accessibility to readers and viewers, and its ability to tell a story through any genre.

It provides a way into narratives which might otherwise seem inaccessible because they are either too complicated or deeply rooted in ancient history (like Star Wars).

This type of storytelling also deals easily with complex topics like religion without alienating audiences who may lack some knowledge about these subjects because much of the exposition takes place within conversations between characters rather than narration by a third party.

The Hero’s Journey is the most important story structure there is. Readers instinctively know it because they are humans and readers also expect to see this type of story as a result of reading other stories that use the same plot line.

They have read books or watched popular films, but all these pieces incorporate some sort of journey with an ultimate goal in mind – whether to save their family from warring tribes or rescue someone from death row.

No matter what you’re writing about, your reader will feel satisfied when he/she finishes reading it if you include The Hero’s Journey on purpose in order for them not only enjoy your book.

The Hero’s Journey: What is it and why is it so important?

Do all novels have a 3 act structure?

No, not all novels have a three act structure, most epic stories do, whether the author is aware of it or not.

The best example I could give would be Harry Potter by JK Rowling. There are seven distinct parts (or acts) in her story: Hogwarts letters from Professor Dumbledore, flying car ride with Hagrid, Diagon Alley shopping trip, meeting up with some new friends at Platform Nine-and-Three Quarters Station as well as saying farewells to key characters like Mr. Weasley and Mrs. Figg before boarding the Hogwarts Express, the platform battle with the Death Eaters and Dementors who were trying to stop Harry Potter from reaching Hogwarts.

Do all great novels have a three-act structure? – Quora

Resources relating to the 3 act structure and the hero’s journey:

Finding the Hero’s Journey in Crowd Favorite Films

Which movies are the best examples of the Hero’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey in 6 Popular Movies – Parker Peevyhouse

How To Plan Your Novel Using The Three-Act Structure

The Three-Act Structure In Screenwriting – Arc Studio Blog

Three Act Structure: How to Nail This Story Structure in 3 Steps