act one: maintaining tension in your writing

“A writer writes not because he is educated but because he is driven by the need to communicate. Behind the need to communicate is the need to share. Behind the need to share is the need to be understood.”

– Leo Rosten

If Act One is feeling thin, or the conflict is weak, it might help to remember that your idea of the story is not the whole story. A series of events need to happen to inform your hero’s decision at the end of the first act. The stakes are rising. What are the situations that conspire to lead to this moment that your hero makes a decision? 

Writing involves about putting our characters in jeopardy and keeping them there. You may notice that there is an inner debate going on for your hero. He is struggling with a question and this struggle will result in a decision at the end of Act One.


The struggle might be between the desire to belong and the desire to be true to oneself; or the desire to succeed might be at war with the desire to take a shortcut. The struggle is universal, something everyone can relate to, and the first act ends with the hero making a decision toward achieving his goal. Notice that there is a reluctance that precedes this decision. The reluctance keeps us connected to the tension between his goal and what he may stand to lose or is saying goodbye to through this decision. Remember that every decision, no matter how positive, involves loss. We are creatures of habit, thus never comfortable with change.


Please share your thoughts on this.