The Perfect Three Act Structure


A good drama establishes the world, the characters and the story-to-be-told in the First Act, then it develops those characters, explores that world and reaches a point of drama in the Second Act, and in the Third the drama is played out and the story resolved. The resolution may not, of course be final, or even satisfying – that may be the message of the drama.

The three act structure makes sense of my world when I apply it to just about everything; books, dramas, sermons, lessons, journeys, romances, life.

The new born child comes into the world full of potential and possibilities, and childhood is the First Act, as the personality emerges and the potential of that life is discovered, and the world explored. The Second Act is the bringing together of the personality, potential and world, delving into the inevitable conflicts that will emerge from these three elements. And there’s the heart of the drama, ‘the rub’ as a goodish writer might once have said. The Third Act is a resolution of sorts, a moment of understanding, when everything revealed in the first and second acts results in something new. It may not be earth-shattering, but it will make sense of the story, fulfil it.

There’s a five act structure too, but I’m not so keen on that. I tend to think in threes and if at the end of your life’s Third Act you still have story to tell and conflicts to resolve, then maybe your last Third Act becomes your new First Act, and you go on to another, newer story, another plot.

I love good drama, and I’ve spent the last 30 years trying to write them. But far far more than that, I have come to love a good sermon. Message. Oh, call it what you like. ‘Message’ seems a bit folksy to my Anglo-Saxon ears, and ‘Sermon’ seems a bit stuffy while  ‘lesson’ catapults my imagination back to school. So I’m stuck. I’ll try again: I love to listen to someone, anyone, who has something he or she needs to tell me. It’s the need that’s the thing. If you need to tell me something, I’m all ears. If something drives you, makes you passionate, I want to hear from you. I particularly want to hear you when you say to me ‘Hey, Luce – listen – you’re getting it wrong again!’  and I particularly want to hear you when you are saying ‘Hey , Luce, here’s something new for you to chew on!’ and I particularly want to hear you when you say ‘Hey, Luce, this is a fabulous truth and even if you already know it, just thinking about it again will fill you with wonder and joy and hope and just blow your socks off with the goodness of God.’

There’s a really tired old cliché, comparing life to a journey, a sermon to a journey, a thought process to a flipping journey…  everything gets compared, at some time, to a journey,  but there’s truth in the oldest and weariest adage so here goes, my personal view, not right, not wrong, just my view:

For me, a good message, or sermon, should take me on a journey.  I want to hear a crisp and clear establishing of the subject in the First Act, a look at the potential of the subject as we prepare to set out, a promise of where you’re going to take me so that I can follow the road, recognising the landmarks as we pass them. I want to know the dramatic drive of the message and, whatever little distractions there are along the way, the heart of the it should always be unmistakeable. Then in the Second Act, we will explore the route together, as you point out landmarks, some familiar and some that I will never have noticed before because I’ve never been on exactly the same path as you. If I’ve seen those landmarks, I’ve always seen them from a different standpoint, in another perspective. I don’t always expect you to deliver me to an amazing panorama, but even an unremarkable amble is rewarding if it’s walked in love. And in the Third Act, the journey should come to a crisp and satisfying end, reaching the very point you talked about way back in Act One, whether it’s new to me or not. So that I will have followed your thought-path, and  we can sit together on a bench and drink a sparkling shandy as the sun sets over… sorry, I got lost in my metaphor there.

That’s the Three Act journey I love to go on.

Here’s a tiny internal drama for today:

ACT ONE: when I walked on the beach, shrouded in a sea fret this morning, I was deep in thought about God’s nature. Yesterday I was asking myself why He feels the need to create man and asking too if God does feel a need. I gave up on that. So today I was asking myself why, if I accept that God does love mankind, did He send His Son as a humble man to this Earth to be killed and rejected? Why didn’t He send Jesus in clouds of glory, amazingly beautiful, terrifyingly powerful? Why didn’t He come as someone so obviously perfect, so shining and radiant that we would know Him to be God immediately? It’s a pretty obvious sort of question to ask, but sometimes we can’t avoid the basics, we need to ask, to seek. Why did Jesus come to earth as a humble man?

ACT TWO: I tried to imagine how the world would have reacted to a mighty powerful incarnation of the omniscient and omnipresent God. I saw the world falling to its knees in terror, abject and broken. And I saw some clinging onto the illusion of power themselves, jockeying for political or military power against this unassailable God, sycophantic self-serving men and women aiming for position alongside the God of creation.  And I saw some others trying to love Him but too overawed, too dazed by the revelation of Deity to love Him as we are able to love the revelation of God in Jesus, our Servant-God, Jesus-the-man-God. I saw humanity desperately trying to appease the righteous God with their flawed and empty sacrifices. And if He came as a perfect being, shining and radiant and magnificent, a sort of supra-gigantic colossus, so obviously ‘other’, so overtly unreachable,  how would we ever relate to Him?

ACT THREE: As I turned away from the sea, towards the land, I could see nothing but mist. Behind me the waves whispered, but I couldn’t see them. I was the only person alive on the Earth, as I realised that only a loving God could have given His only Son as a perfect sacrifice. And that a loving God could give only His Son as a perfect sacrifice, because only His Son is the perfect sacrifice. And I realised, my feet freezing in the shining sea, that no other drama could ever have redeemed mankind. If the Almighty God of Power and Eternity had come to earth in all His glory, I would not be standing at the edge of the Irish Sea, loving and adoring Him. I would be grovelling in fear and shame. And He wants neither my fear nor my shame, He wants my love. And so….. Jesus.

Jesus the man, Jesus the God I can relate to, and love with all my heart and all my soul and all my understanding. Well, in my own flawed way.

ACT ONE: Psalm 8:3&4 (NIV) When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? 

Isaiah 53: 3 (NOV) He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Philippians 2:2-10 (NIV) Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 

ACT TWO: Hosea 6:6 (TLB) I don’t want your sacrifices—I want your love; I don’t want your offerings—I want you to know me.

Hebrews 4:15 (NIV) For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.

ACT THREE: Romans 8:38 & 39 (NIV) For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Matthew 22:37-39 (NIV) Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 


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