In your Arche Year video on the three-act structure, you say that it divides a story into thirds (which I found true during the movie assignments). However, K.M. Weiland writes extensively about how the second act is twice as long as the first and third acts. She says the Rock Bottom and Epiphany moments come at the 25% and 75% marks instead of roughly the 33% and 66% marks, and gives many examples of stories that follow this pattern. Are you familiar with her work, and do you have any thoughts on this?
Great question, Timothy!
I’m familiar with K.M. Weiland and it seems like she has some good stuff, but I haven’t read what you’re specifically referencing.
It is fairly common for the W-shaped story (which is very similar to the three-act structure in the Novel Matrix method), to be taught as four equal parts. I think this borrows from the academic tradition and what’s typically taught in some MFA programs.
I guess in this case K.M. and I just have a different opinion on the matter. As it turns out, Socrates, who first observed the three-part structure, would agree with me. 😊
I built the Novel Matrix from the ground up, without relying on any previous conclusions or traditions. As I observe novels and watch movies with a stopwatch in hand, the preponderance of evidence seems to support approximately equal thirds. I believe that equal thirds is also the most considerate of human psychology and how we experience story over time.
In fact, when stories deviate from equal thirds, most commonly the first act is actually extended (rather than shrunk to 25%), especially in genres that require extensive world building. In this case, the third act is typically faster. A common deviation looks more like 40%, 35%, and 25%, for the three acts, respectively.
Ultimately though, I think we can become too academic in the way we approach this. As I explain in the Novel Matrix courses, I recommend starting with an even thirds approach, but with a loose hand that allows the acts to stretch and shrink (within reason) to tell your particular story.
Many of the four equal parts advocates will even prescribe exact numbers of scenes in each part, and that’s far too stringent and the data doesn’t support it. We live in such a story rich culture, though, that we could gather a handful of stories to make a case for virtually anything.
Also be aware that sometimes even if the concepts are similar, the terminology is different, which can lead to confusion when comparing different models. For instance, depending on who you’re talking to, an “inciting incident” may be the same point that we call the “rock bottom moment” in the Novel Matrix method, but usually it’s not. But that “inciting incident” language isn’t even used consistently between different models that employ the exact same terms.
I think what’s notable is that most novel writing theories include the same basic arcs. I wouldn’t get too caught up in the exact percentages. I think that puts the cart before the horse. We want to hold the framework loosely. Our goal is to create a skeleton for the flesh of the story, not a coffin. 😊
One big thing that I tell everyone is commit yourself to one model. There are a lot of ways to approach this that will work, but trying to mix and match is a recipe for confusion and poor outcomes. If a different model makes sense to you, stick with it.
I hope that helps! I have a lot of respect for K.M. Weiland and all of the resources she puts out, and again, I haven’t read specifically what you’re talking about. I don’t want to misrepresent anything she’s teaching, but I hope these thoughts help to provide some direction and clarity.