The Nine Act Structure

One thing I learned through writing the Assured Destruction Series was that it’s possible to write what is essentially one long YA novel in three parts. I hadn’t planned on doing so, but by having no time elapse between books—none at all—the trilogy really could be read as a single novel. That’s not to say each part doesn’t have a resolution, it does, that’s my point. It’s a nine act novel and it works. I want to repeat the performance.

If I had planned a single novel at the outset I don’t think I could have pulled it off (to be honest I had as little idea as to the outcome of the overarching mystery as the reader—surprise the writer, surprise the reader is one reason to eschew outlining). But it has made me wonder if each Act of a book cannot be divided into 3 Acts creating a 9 Act structure that has greater impact.

The real question is, if a character needs to change from pole to pole in a book to give the reader a good payoff then how do you go from pole to pole to pole to pole? This could be said of any trilogy really.

The answer is escalating stakes. It really is the only way that I can fathom, you have to keep layering on the pain. What’s the difference between a trilogy and a nine act novel? Debateable. Length and gaps in time. Many trilogies do have some break between books, some lapsed time. They also run anywhere from 180K to 500K words.

In my current work in progress, cleverly called UNTITLED, I want to draw readers into a world in which the bizarre seems normal. To do so, I have three layers, each with a defined goal.

1. Discover what happened to a teacher and gain entry to a gladiatorial style Olympics for enhanced humans. Here our characters are fringe hackers that are blown away by other athletes to the point that they see their own bio-hacks as downright conservative.
2. Succeed in finding the teacher, and competing against other athletes in order to win thereby satisfying their monetary goals. Taking on new enhancements and learning that there is a far more advanced and illegal sport going on in the bowels of the smart city which is the athlete’s village.
3. Entering into this new near-scifi world, recruitment by a cult of enhanced humans, betrayal of one of their party (who wants to stay for additional enhancement), saving their teacher and needing to escape for an AI controlled smart city, with one further reversal at the end.

If I think of this as a trilogy it’s not quite enough. If I think of it as a single book, it’s a bit too much. So I’m going to plan on a 9-act book.

Note also that if I started with a competition of super enhanced humans, I’d have a scifi novel. By layering I’m hoping to keep this novel more contemporary and more mainstream—a bunch of kids that get way in over their heads who need to determine what it means to be human.

Categories:   Writing Tips