Every story since the beginning of time has been written by a carefully designed formula. Three acts form the roadmap to pull your heartstrings in a manner which would rival the most expert harp player.
Act one is the setup. This is the part where the story is set up, all the foreshadows are laid out, all of the things that are meant to trigger in your mind later on as important because you saw them somewhere in the beginning of the story are subtly woven.
Act two is what I like to think of as the false ending. Everything looks like it’s going to come out perfectly just as you believe it should, but then something terrible goes wrong and the protagonist is thrown off course in what looks to be an unfixable situation.
Act three, or the magical fix, continues the streak of bad luck or bad choices for the protagonist(s) up until the middle of the act, at which point one of the characters has a great epiphany about what they truly desire or a miracle solution that was right in front of them the whole time that they didn’t see suddenly appears. The world is saved, the murderer is caught, or the girl falls for the magnanimous gesture, some larger-than-life, last-ditch, sure-fire event that wins the day.
That is the magic formula. It’s a tried-and-true formula for every story or movie ever made. It’s been proven by science and experience that human beings want to end on a good note. You see life is usually like this: Things start out really well and eventually something goes wrong, it always does, it is inevitable, but in real life that’s often where the story ends. There is no supporting cast that helps you see the light, fix your problems, or shows you the roadmap to what you wanted all along, even if it was right in front of you on the first page.
No. We want a happy ending; that ending that was supposed to happen in our own lives but never did. The fairytale comes true. But that curriculum makes a horrible combination of factors that make us believe this is how life is actually supposed to be. We’re supposed to find happiness, nearly lose it, and then use a magic potion to bring it back.
I like watching and reading some romantic comedies, the ones that are well-written and teach you something beyond the value of just watching two Hollywood A-listers pretend to fall in love, fall out of love, and come back together again. They tend to be heartfelt, usually written by someone who has been through the same roller coaster ride we call love just like we all have.
And then you run into the real situation. You see, Hollywood romances teach us that the guy simply has to prove he is madly in love with the girl and she will fall for him and then live happily ever after. That’s not always the case in real life. What happens in the situation where the girl doesn’t want the magnanimous gesture? What happens if she knows you love her? What happens if she doesn’t fall into the cookie-cutter romance that we’ve been trained to look for and taught how to successfully navigate since we were old enough to stare at the TV and understand a plot line?
Whether you are a writer or a true romantic, you believe in your heart of hearts that there must be that one thing you can show to or do for that person to fix everything and reach your happily ever after.
If you’re in love, the answers aren’t so simple. I don’t have and can’t pretend to have the answer, that’s why I’m a writer and not a magician. All I can say is maybe that’s why those of us who write, write. You can write that perfect speech for the closing act or the larger-than-life scene that wins over the girl. We can script what the love interest truly desires and walk the characters down the path to happiness.
If you are a writer the answer is simple. These are the kind of stories that turn into bestsellers. People can identify with your protagonist and they understand where they’ve been. They’ve loved, lost and desired that 3 act formula. The tried-and-true formula is called the tried-and-true formula because it absolutely, without a doubt, works.
Your characters must start off in a bad situation, get better quickly, take a huge turn for the worst and end up better than ever. When your story has these elements you’ll reach your reader’s emotions and that’s when you know you have won. You just made someone sad, mad or glad-hopefully enough to cry–which lets you know you told the perfect story.
Life isn’t perfect and it never will be, maybe even shouldn’t be. You don’t know what the perfect thing is to do because there isn’t a perfect thing. All you can do when you meet that one special person is to act out the story the same as one of your characters, without any knowledge of what’s to come and hope for the best. If the one you love doesn’t want that larger-than-life gesture, she already knows you love her and she doesn’t need saving…
All you can do is try not to mess up, apologize when you do, and show her how you feel–as often as you can. You can’t write this story, you have to live it.
(photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dzoro/)