Personal growth—in three acts

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stories are about struggles—successful or not—to grow in wisdom and understanding.

In a HAPPY story, the hero starts from a position of relative weakness or vulnerability, decides to face his fear, struggles to overcome his concrete problems, and eventually succeeds in doing so because of an increase in personal wisdom.

The three-act structure is built to support the notion of personal growth. The protagonist often refuses the Call because of a perceived weakness (“I’m not brave enough”, “I’m incompetent”, and so on). But the Intervening Mentor convinces the protagonist that the protagonist is the only one who can do what must be done. Despite being afraid, the protagonist crosses the first threshold. He pursues his Act 2 Goal, but experiences defeat at the end of that act. The hero realizes that he wasn’t addressing the problem on a sufficiently fundamental level, so he readjusts his goal in Act 3. In the Act 3 Climax, the hero faces his fear directly, proving that his struggles have taught him bravery, competence, or whatever he needed to learn. And, because of that internal change, the hero triumphs.

If there is a negative outcome—to be reductive, if the story is SAD—it will be about a failed struggle to grow in wisdom or understanding.

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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