What exactly goes into Act I anyway? (And a winner!)

Thanks to everyone who tweeted and blogged and entered the contest – or just showed their support! You’re all awesome!

You’ve seen me break down Act I of a movie and a high concept book. But what exactly will I do for the winner of the Act I crit?

What I want to know:

  • Title
  • Logline
  • Genre (YA or MG or adult) (I have seen a difference in structure between the two!)
  • Estimated number of words
  • What author or book would you compare your writing to?
  • Were you trying for high concept or no?
  • What draft will I read: first draft, revised draft, or polished draft?
  • Give me a brief description of the ending climax.

So many questions might seem silly, but the answers will affect how I critique your first act.


I will look to see if your protagonist:

  • offers the most conflict in that situation,
  • has the longest way to go emotionally, and
  • will appeal to a large demographic.

I will look to see if your main character’s motivations can be narrowed down to what Blake Snyder calls a primal urge – love, survival…etc.

Act I:

Opening Image

Tone, mood, style of your opening line and pages. Was I hooked? Did I care about your protagonist? Was the first chapter relevant to the story?

Theme Stated:

Somewhere in the first half of Act I, I will look for a posed question or offhand remark reflecting what your story is really about. If I can’t see one, I’ll let you know!


Hero, stakes, story goal

Six things that need fixing – problems/flaws. These will be mirrored in the third act, showing the change.


This is the game-changing event when something happens to set the story in motion!


Your main character might know what to do but he/she needs to make sure it’s the right choice. In MG this could be a few paragraphs or half a chapter. A question is asked of the hero and in the end they need to say, yes!

Break into two:

This is the defining moment when your main character leaves the old world behind and gets started on his story goal.

There you have it.

And the winner of the copy of SAVE THE CAT and an Act I critique is…..


(I don’t know about you but I’m going to be going over my own Act I to check for these things too!)

Thanks everyone!

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28 Responses to What exactly goes into Act I anyway? (And a winner!)

  1. Kris March 9, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    What an amazing opportunity for Amie! Congrats to her! Great breakdown of ACT 1 elements, Laura. I’m revising today and might be looking at these things…


  2. Jessica March 9, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    I always forget about breaking stories down into acts, but I love the tips above! I need to keep those in mind.

  3. Ansha Kotyk March 9, 2011 at 1:17 pm #

    Man, I should play more often that’s an awesome crit to win! Oh, wait your my critique partner… I get that anyway. How lucky am I? 🙂 You rock Laura! Looks like the only thing I need is to buy myself a copy of Save The Cat! 🙂

    • Laura March 9, 2011 at 1:35 pm #

      Kris – I’m busy looking at those things too!

      Jessica – I think as writers who read, we naturally break down our stories into acts without realizing it!

      Ansha – Thanks!

  4. Matthew Rush March 9, 2011 at 1:40 pm #

    This is awesome. Congrats to Amie, looks like you’ll be getting an incredible critique!

  5. Angela Felsted March 9, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

    Congratulations Amie!

  6. Laura Marcella March 9, 2011 at 2:05 pm #

    Congratulations, Amie!

    This is a great way to easily break down how to critique someone’s first few pages (and my own!). It doesn’t seem so overwhelming. Thanks for the tips. Hope you’re having a great week, Laura!

  7. Jennifer Hoffine March 9, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

    Funny, breaking it down like that makes it seem more overwhelming to me!

    Congrats to Amie. What a cool prize, Laura!

  8. Sherrie Petersen March 9, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    What a great critique list! I’m printing this out when I revise my opening chapters.

  9. Lydia Kang March 9, 2011 at 2:25 pm #

    Hooray Amie!

    Laura, really. You’ve become my plot therapist. You should charge me by the post.

    On second thought…I’ll just graciously accept your help every week for free.


  10. Stina Lindenblatt March 9, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    This is an amazing idea for critting the first chapter. So often we’re clueless when we approach it. This will ensure that our CP have the best possible first chapter. 😀

  11. MG Higgins March 9, 2011 at 3:11 pm #

    Well, I know what I’m going to be doing with my revision today!

    • Laura March 9, 2011 at 3:17 pm #

      I’m sure some find too much analyzing is not for them – especially if they aren’t mega plotters like I am. When I can break something down and see what makes it good then I can more easily learn from that – now applying it still takes a lot of hard work and I’m often still off the mark. Thanks for commenting everyone!

  12. Patti Nielson March 9, 2011 at 3:45 pm #

    Congratulations to Amie and thanks for the break down as I re-examine my first act.

  13. angela ackerman March 9, 2011 at 5:09 pm #

    Gasp! How did I miss this? Amie, you are a lucky girl!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  14. Lisa Green March 9, 2011 at 5:24 pm #

    Congrats to Amie!! Man you are thorough!!! I’ll have to use this as a checklist for myself!

  15. Karen Strong March 9, 2011 at 5:54 pm #

    Oooh, Amie you are in for a treat! Congrats!

    Thanks Laura for the awesome plot posts. With me being a plot chick and all, I have really enjoyed reading them.

  16. Tana Adams March 9, 2011 at 7:56 pm #

    Congrats to the winner! Wish it was me!!! 😉

  17. Julie Musil March 10, 2011 at 12:23 am #

    Yay for Amie! She’s awesome. Now I need to work through my own pages for the same information. Great stuff, Paula.

  18. Elle Strauss March 10, 2011 at 2:56 am #

    Sounds like you really have a handle on the Beat Sheet!

  19. Amie Kaufman March 10, 2011 at 8:46 am #

    Eeeeeee! Excitement! Running in circles like a giant dork! Suffering sudden paranoia that my first act has none of these things! Running in circles again! Woooooo!

    Thank you!

  20. Talli Roland March 10, 2011 at 6:24 pm #

    Whoop whoop! Big congrats to Amie!

  21. Karen Lange March 10, 2011 at 7:38 pm #

    Congrats to Amie! Good info, Laura, thanks!

  22. Leslie Rose March 11, 2011 at 3:00 am #

    Yay, Amie. *shakes pom pom* What a fantastic breakdown, Laura. You’ve given me a fantastic new “fine tooth comb” for my writing. Thank you.

  23. Susan Sipal March 11, 2011 at 3:25 am #

    Looks like a wonderful critique and an awesome prize. Laura, you’re doing such a great job breaking this structure down and giving wonderful examples. Thanks!

  24. Plamena Schmidt March 11, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

    Great questions! I’ll be looking for these in my story.

  25. christine danek March 12, 2011 at 2:35 am #

    Congratulations Amie. I will be using this for my first chapter.
    Have a great weekend!

  26. Susan Kaye Quinn March 14, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

    What an awesome approach to critiquing! I’m totes copying this and adding it to my “Laura Pauling” file. 🙂

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