An Editor’s life: Why have only 3 Acts when you can have 7? Dawn Field

An Editor’s life: Why have only 3 Acts when you can have 7?

Editor’s Note:

In this short portrayal of a possible scenario between an aspiring author and her potential editor, Dawn Field lays out a concise but potent lesson for writers seeking publication. Her fictional conversation teaches about the “Thee-Act Structure” that so many successful writers use. One example is Suzanne Collins and her The Hunger Games trilogy.  Read on, there is a lot of information packed in this short blog.

By Dawn Field


Author: Hello, I really enjoyed your article “Floppy fonts are all the rage.” I see you do developmental book editing. Would you look at my book?

A friendly stream of general emails ensues. Good editors always want to get to know authors a bit first and only want to do a read if they really think they can help. Eventually, the exchange comes back round to get a quote for a developmental book read.

Editor: I edit against 3 Act structure and 9 plot points.

Author: Yes, yes, I believe in beginning, middle and end.

Editor: I can send you an article on it.

Author: Yes, please!

Editor: Great, if we work together, the first thing I ask for is a list of scenes and the main purpose of each.

The editor knows most authors go silent at that point.

Author: I can provide that, sure.

Editor: Okay, I also ask for a book synopsis. I want to know how it ends so I can help hone the book best.

Author: Okay, sure. But I can’t tell you the ending.

Editor: Why not?

Author: Because there are six and I’ve only written four so far, you just have to read it.

Editor: Okay…

A summary appears that does not summarize the book.  A list of scenes appears that is only the names of each chapter from the table of contents – in seven Acts.


Editor: You have seven acts here, I thought we agreed to work towards the 3 in traditionally structured novels?

Author: How about five?

Editor is not thinking to win on the structural front easily but is now curious how this author writes stylistically. She is always looking for a winner on that front.

Editor: Feel free to send me the first 1000 words of your book.

Author sends the first 85 pages of the book.


Author: So, will you read it?

Editor reads the first 1000 words and makes an internal judgment, quoting a price that is exceedingly high, but fair given the author’s penchant for seven acts and behavior akin to an untamable cat.


Author accepts price immediately and sends manuscript. Editor thinks darn-shoot, but okay enthusiasm and dedication must be rewarded. 


Editor reads and finds many holes, like the crater-sized absence of a good guy in a good versus evil story. Plus, the whole book is focused on the villain, but there is no villain’s monologue at the end. The scene that could make a stellar opening scene is hidden 9/10th of the way through the book. There is nothing akin to a 3 Act structure but could be if more volcano-sized plot points were added and the pace adjusted throughout. Sends back a detailed analysis in a spreadsheet and a textual overview of ‘the findings’.


Author: Wow, you’ve changed my whole view of the story. I will make edits. I’m already writing new scenes. Thanks so much. Inspiring.

Author and Editor happy after all, but author wishing she’d known more writing craft while drafting that book first time round, and Editor thinking ditto.

Editors love to read awesome books. If you have one and would like to have it checked against 3 Act/9 plot point structure, please send it my way! Dawn Field Click To Tweet

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Dawn Field

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Dawn Field is a scientist now writing her second book for Oxford University Press. She has published over 50 articles on writing because she is fascinated by what makes great writing, the writing process, learning how writers create, and how fiction impacts society. She loves reading book drafts at any stage of completion, brainstorming writing projects, and hearing about the diversity of writing experiences. Connect with her to collaborate, or converse, at

Published posts on Two Drops of Ink:

1) Spot on humor: A genius example all writers can learn from

2) 50 Ways to Ensure no Editor Ever Reads Your Book

3) Herding Your Cats in Writing

4) Questions You Want From Readers

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