steering the craft

third acts that work


It’s the eleventh hour. The big finish. The grand finale.

In other words, it’s the third act!

We writers know that a lot is riding on the ending of our tales. It’s where all the threads we’ve woven into our story must coalesce into a coherent pattern of meaning and resolution. We want to give our reader the deep satisfaction of watching the puzzle pieces fall into place in a way that’s both surprising and inevitable. 

This is no mere solving-the-Rubik's-cube exercise. Great third acts satisfy emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. The third act is where our hero demonstrates, through word and deed, that she is not the same person she was at the beginning of the tale. This story has meant something, not only for our fictional protagonist,  but for the reader who’s taken the long and difficult journey with her.

Sounds easy, no? I kid. Third acts are long in the making and...

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the aftermath

We’ve been eating leftovers for two days. It’s the happy aftermath of the excess of cooking I succumbed to on Thanksgiving.

What can I say? I like to cook and it’s been a long year of no entertaining. Give me an inch and I took a mile. 

In your story, your hero too has overdelivered in the third act — and she too has something to show for it. She was willing to risk it all and sacrifice herself for the sake of others. She’s almost certainly had some kind of brush with death, either literally or symbolically.

She left it all on the field. And it has made a difference.

The struggle was not for nothing. Your hero’s journey of transformation was fulfilled. The change is irrevocable and full of meaning. What was lost has been found. That which needed healing has been healed. 

This is true not only of your hero, but of the larger world. A kingdom has been put right, a false or bad ruler has...

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