Advice to novice writers is that Acts One and Three should take no more than 25% each of the novel, with Act Two comprising 50-80%.
The Bible is once again right on target with Act Three significantly shorter than the other two acts. Act One is about 15 chapters in length but covers about two thousand years in time. Act Three is about 3-4 chapters and covers just over a thousand years. Act Two covers the rest (a conservative estimate is about four thousand years).
Let's take a look at the Climax, Dénouement and End of Act Three.
As you recall, Act One is all about the set-up. We’re introduced to the characters and what drives them and we get a first glimpse of the bad guy because a problem arises that forces the protagonist into action. He may waver a little at first, but by the end of Act One, he’s committed to a plan of action that he’ll carry to completion.
In the Bible, Act One is about God’s loving relationship with his human creatures going awry when they disobey his one rule and choose to believe a lie that they can live independent of him. God wants to win them back and we get a glimpse of his plan when he calls Abraham out of his polytheistic culture and promises to bless all the nations of the earth through his offspring.
Act Two is all about the obstacles to this plan of action. Over and over again, we see covert enemy forces trying to destroy this people and their fragile relationship with God. There are many obstacles, but I’m going to focus on three big ones before we get to the surprising Mid-Point Twist.
I’ve been studying the three-act plot structure as I try to shape my vague ideas for a story into a cohesive, writable novel and I have concluded that there’s something universal about this storyline. In fact, every page-turner I’ve ever read, and many Pulitzer-, Nobel-, or Man Booker- winners, follow this same path to structure their beginnings, middles and ends.
And the more I look at it, the more I see the Bible is set up along exactly the same lines. Because it’s an inventive, artful compilation of texts designed to trick us into thinking it’s history, when in fact it’s just a story? You know I don’t think so. The Bible was written by about 40 different writers, in three languages, on three continents, over a period of 1500 years. For it to be so internally consistent is nothing short of miraculous. I’m convinced the reason the three-act structure resonates so deeply with us is because it reflects the greater reality of human history, which the Bible so accurately records.
But crack the Bible open at random in a few places and the one long story is not apparent. Perhaps you landed in the book of Judges and Jael has just driven a tent peg into Sisera’s temple. Or Song of Songs, “Your hair is like a flock of goats, leaping down the slopes of Gilead.” Or Paul’s impassioned words: “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” The storyline isn’t obvious, even if you read the Bible cover to cover.
So if you’ve ever wondered how the apparently disjointed pieces fit together, come along for the next three posts as we look at Act I, Act II and Act III of the Bible’s story.
For a lot of people, the Bible is either art or truth. For me, it's both, and I hope to persuade readers in both camps to see the other perspective.