Rodeo #3: Three-Act Story

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

October 17, 2019

What is a story? We all tell them, and as writers, we craft them in the written word. A story is about Something that happens to Someone, Somewhere. It’s plot, character, and setting. A story has a beginning, middle, and end. Because we are hardwired for stories, we retain data better from narrative. Storytelling is in my blood.

When I was a kid, my mother ran a general mercantile in a town of 99 people. One of those 99 was Eloise Fairbanks, a one-eyed shut-in born in 1908. Her father operated the water mill, and when she was a young woman, she rode the backcountry of the Sierra Nevadas as a telegraph lineman. Weezy, as she was called, would call the store and order a six-pack of Coors. My job was to pedal the brown bag over to her house. She’d holler for me to come in when I knocked, sitting at her kitchen table. I’d sit, too, anticipating what followed the popped tab of her first beer — stories.

See what I did there? I slipped in a little story about stories. It has a beginning and is about someone, with me as the narrator (first-person POV). The Someone is Weezy. She’s from Someplace in time (when I was a kid, the Sierras, my implied hometown). Something happened — she’d tell stories once she got her beer. The end.

According to Greeks, stories happen in Three Acts.

Act I, the beginning, the story rises. It’s marked by pity, or what we would now consider empathy. If a story is about someone, we have to feel something for that character. Literature can teach empathy because writers and readers practice it. When we care what happens next for or to this Someone, we come to the middle.

Act II shifts to fear, according to the Greeks. We can interpret this as the emotion that drives the writer and reader to worry about what happens next. Or be curious about what comes next. The driving emotion doesn’t have to be fear, but the middle holds an important shift or build-up of tension or expectation. The story is in motion.

Act III is when that motion comes to an end. The Greeks called it catharsis. The action falls; the story has arrived at an exit. A good ending is not canned, but one that lets the reader think about the story and the Someone long after the conclusion. A twist is when a writer ends with the unexpected, and it can be humorous or dramatic.

When I teach storytelling to engineers, researchers, and entrepreneurs, I like to show them the science of a three-act story mapped out in a graph. This video is worth watching. Kurt Vonnegut graphs stories, and once you see their form, you’ll also understand how versatile story structure can be.

Now it’s time to craft a story!


  1. Write a story that has Three Acts (they do not need to be labeled).
  2. The story must have a discernible beginning, middle, and end.
  3. The story must be about someone, set somewhere, and something happens.
  4. The story can be fiction or BOTS (based on a true story).
  5. It can include any tone or mood, and be in any genre, and there is NO PROMPT.
  6. Make the judges remember your story long after reading it.


  1. Every entry must be 99 words, no more, no less. You can have a title outside that limit. Check your word count using the Entries that aren’t 99 words will be disqualified.
  2. Enter this contest only once. If you enter more than once, only your first entry will count.
  3. Do your best to submit an error-free entry. Apply English grammar and spelling according to your country of origin style. As long as the judges can understand the language, it is the originality of the story that matters most.
  4. If you do not receive an acknowledgment by email WITHIN 3 DAYS, contact Charli at
  5. Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST on October 23, 2019.
  6. You may submit a “challenge” if you don’t want to enter the contest or if you wrote more than one entry.
  7. Refrain from posting your contest entry until after November 28.
  8. Use the form below the rules to enter.



Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo at Carrot Ranch, will collect stories, omitting names to select the top ten blind. Please refrain from posting your contest entry on your blog. A live panel of judges from the Keweenaw will select three winners from the top ten stories. The blind judging will be a literary event held at the Roberts Street Writery at Carrot Ranch World Headquarters in Hancock, Michigan. After selections are made, a single Winners Announcement with the top ten in each category will be posted on November 28. All ten stories in each contest will receive a full literary critique, and the top winner in each contest will receive $25 (PayPal, check, Amazon gift card, or donation).

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  1. cindy knoke

    Kurt is one of my most favorites of all time.

    • Charli Mills

      He remains relevant and I love his teaching style, too!

  2. Chelsea Owens

    Awesome explanation, Charli!

    I thought last week was tricky, but now you’ve opened it up to any subject. 😀

    • Charli Mills

      A prompt-free contest with focus on craft!

  3. floridaborne

    This was a hard one.

    • Charli Mills

      It can be hard focusing on the mechanics, but it’s good practice or at least a pause to recognize story structure. Thanks for giving it a go!

  4. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    “Hey, Pal. What’s the story?”
    “Same ol’, Kid. Jist ridin’ the range, livin’ the dream.”
    “I’m real glad we got dreamed up Pal. Makes us someone. Reckon the story’s ‘bout us?”
    “Hmmf. Kid, it ain’t about you. ‘Sides, a story has ta evoke empathy, carin’. All I care ‘bout is you gittin’ yer chores done.”
    “I pity ya Pal. Ya got imagined but ya lack imagination. I fear yer the most borin’ person I know. Well here’s a story. I ain’t gonna do my chores. Ain’t shovelin’ shift today. Gonna write my story instead.”
    “Hmmf. Thet’s still shovelin’, Kid.”
    A BOTS, by A. Kidd
    *Once upon a dark and stormy night in the far east a kid was flounderin’, directionless. Was the kid’s story headed south? The kid had a wild dream ‘bout headin’ west. Courage packed, fears stowed, the kid caught a westbound train, which oddly enough was on track with the kid’s north star.
    The kid landed out west, an’ got taken in at a ranch, despite bein’ greener’n frog snot on a lily pad. A cantankerous ranch hand called Pal showed the kid the ropes. An’ Pal was saddled with the kid fer ever after.*

    • Charli Mills

      Kid’s shift-shoveling serves him well. We all know Pal has a soft spot for him. Loved this: “Ya got imagined but ya lack imagination.”

  5. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Reblogged this on ShiftnShake and commented:
    What’s the story? The third rodeo event would have you tell it in three acts, 99 words. No entry fee, cash prize. Write on!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for carin’ and sharin’!

  6. joanne the geek

    I thought this would be tricky, but then I wrote one a few minutes after reading this…

    • Jules

      I’ve got two… now I have to choose which to enter and which is a challenge piece…

    • Charli Mills

      Sometimes we have to unpack how something is done and once we see it, it comes to us! Glad you had a swift inspiration.

  7. Jim Borden

    this looks a bit easier than the last one (famous last words); and thanks for the Vonnegut video!

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! It is less tricky than the last one but holds it’s own challenges. Yes, that Vonnegut video is classic — best teaching tool for story structure.

  8. Liz H

    I love Kurt, on tape or in print!
    Not sure how to limit enough to come up with a credible BME, but will sure give it a try.

    • Liz H

      In case anyone was wondering (I sure did when I read that this am), BME = Beginning- Middle-End.

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha — love it! BME. Get your BME constructed. Oh, yes, I would take Vonnegut with green eggs and ham. Or at least a conversation over coffee.

  9. Sarah Brentyn

    Well, I hope this goes through. I can’t seem to comment. Which…could be fun. I can write anything and there’s a good chance no one will see it! Or… The WP gods could have a laugh and publish this one and none of my others. Hmm. Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo!

    Limerick for Rodeo #3

    Carrot Ranch has a contest today
    Three acts kind of like a ballet
    In ninety-nine words
    It seems so absurd
    But, really, it’s easy–just play

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Haha! It went through. Bloody hell, of course it did.

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! The WP gods were with you, Sarah! This was the fun comment and I love the limerick!

  10. Norah

    This one sounds fun. I hope I get to join in. How difficult can a story be? ????????????

    • Charli Mills

      Not difficult at all! 😀

      • Norah

        That’s all right for you to say! ????????????????

      • Charli Mills


  11. Norah

    Reblogged this on Norah Colvin and commented:
    The third Carrot Ranch flash fiction challenge is up. Write a three-act story in 99 words. What fun. And a great prize to boot!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Norah!

      • Norah

        My pleasure, Charli.

  12. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    A Truish Story in Three Sets of 33, by Pal N. O’Round

    It was mighty quiet aroun’ the ranch. Somethin’ or someone was amiss. Mebbe thet greenhorn finally give up an’ went away. I leaned aginst the poet tree an’ thought the quiet was bliss.

    But Shorty ordered a search fer the Kid, aginst my bitter judgement. Dang Kid always got inta fixes an’ brought trouble. Kid could sure shovel shit but could sure step in it too.

    Like thet so-called think tank Kid thunk up. Jist thinkin’ ta git outta chores. But Shorty’s boss, so I plunked down on the overturned stock tank an’ thunk on where Kid might be.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      So I set a’thinkin’ on thet overturned stock tank thet Kid had drug outta the corral, thinkin’ thet if Kid’s Think Tank was runnin’ I could jist ask ‘where would Kid go?’.
      I set and thunk till a bunch a ranch hands showed up. Ranger had searched high an’ Aussie had searched low, but no sign a the Kid. The Poet Lariat wundered, in seventeen syllables, ‘bout the sound a one Kid nappin’.
      I still wundered if a Kid leaves a ranch an’ we no longer have ta hear it whine, who cares?
      But Shorty cared.
      We kep lookin’.
      Kid wasn’t up ta Ornery Ernie’s. Wasn’t cookin’ up trouble with Pepe LeGume. More ranch hands, the wild and the mild, showed up ta hep in the search. It was a worldwide Kid-hunt. Aussie thought ta waft fresh cooked bacon aroun’ ta try in bait the Kid. Still nuthin’. No one had seen the Kid. The Poet Lariat told us all ta jist shush.
      We shushed. Then we heard it. Snores from under the overturned stock tank. The sound a one Kid napping. Thet dang think tank musta fell over with Kid in it.
      Shorty said, “May Kid rest.”
      We lifted the tank real careful, let Kid rest. All thet thinkin’ ‘bout thinkin’ musta been tirin’. Shorty seemed mighty relieved thet the Kid hadn’t retired from Ranchin’, hadn’t gone back east.
      But Kid is troublesome. I tried talkin’ ta Shorty ‘bout thet, asked her if havin’ Kid aroun’ was sech a good idea. But Shorty jist said she reckoned thet my prime responsibility on the ranch was ta keep Kid outta trouble. An’she admitted thet what some folks’d been thinkin’ was snuffling cattle an’ whinnyin’ hosses was really her. Snort laughin’.
      An’ thet’s Kid’s main job aroun’ here.

      • Liz H

        “The sound a one Kid napping.”
        I find this hilarious!! (trots off on slippered feet to brew more coffee..)

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Glad you liked this Liz, and thanks for the silence of slippers. Once Pal started in on storytelling, it just kept rolling.

      • Jules

        Oh, my thanky much for my inclusion in this wonderfilled pail… um tail. I’m with Liz… Coffee, and with Kid on napping 😀 Zzzz

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        I thunk ta thank ever’one fer heppin’ find the Kid who’d gone a’missin’. Shorty jist said:

        *Takes a village, Pal
        Another day at the ranch
        All hands heppin’ out*

        Shorty said ta git back rodeoin’, let the Kid rest.

        *Wild rollickin’ ro-
        de-o Third act’s a sleeper
        Sandman kicks up dust

        Found one kid nappin’
        Hollerin’ and stampin’ hooves
        Drownin’ out Kid’s snores
        Best ta let sleepin’ Kids lie.
        ‘Cuz Kids git tired now and zen*

        Mebbe it’s from leanin’ ‘ginst thet poet tree, but dang if I didn’t buckaroo-ku too:

        *Takin’ stock
        Thinkin’ what matters
        Tanks ta Kid.*

    • Charli Mills

      The arena filled up with Ranch Yarns, and that’s a good thing to see, the whole village gathered in words and verse and play. Good to learn Pal’s full name.

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Jeezuz, Boss, I tried to stop, I swear.
        Welcome back, and Pepe LeGume showed up earlier this evening.
        Yep, ten yarns fer this prompt. So totally breaking the rules and not paying attention to three acts- more of a three ring circus.
        Good luck to real contestants and remember, quality, not quantity.

      • Charli Mills

        Three-ring circuses can have three acts! Thanks for the welcome back to ten yarns!

  13. Liz H

    Because my blog page is getting lonely, and my own lawn could use a little help, too…

    And Then the Sun Shone (Challenge)

    The yard was covered, leaves bright yellow, and wet from last night’s rain. Randall shook his head, tipped his cap to scratch his balding pate, and looked up to the sky. No help there. Rainclouds fisted up again overhead.
    [Continue ]

    • Charli Mills

      Catch you over at your place!

  14. denmaniacs4

    A Challenge entry…


    Even as twilight settles, I stroke her coppery skin. She has always tarried in my mind’s heart, a luminous Hebe. I hear her wild brushfire laugh, see her teasing fingers lift the cigar to her lavender lips.

    Yet, between her enchanting alchemy and spirited mystery, I succumbed to a canker of cowardice, a slither of uncertainty that wormed its debilitating way into my insipid adolescence.

    I was left with my modest measurements, for I was never a cocksure youth. My margins marshaled against me, their precincts predicting who I was and who I was not. These calculations crushed us.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      That’s some pretty powerful languaging.

    • Liz H


    • Jules

      Top notch!

    • Charli Mills

      Beautiful writing, Bill. Thanks for the challenge entry.

  15. Ritu


    • Charli Mills

      Yeehaw! Thanks, Ritu!

      • Ritu


  16. Jules

    These are two challenge pieces that belong together. So I wrote two other pieces to chose from for a contest piece… (yet to be submitted)…


    Lycorma delicatula

    We are immigrants. Yet we expect no aide. Can we help it if we camouflage ourselves so that others will believe we are to be left alone?

    We like to drink, so do lots of other beings. Bees drink of flowers in your garden turning the nectar into golden honey. If only we too could find such respect.

    Yet we like all new things are feared. The vintners seek to destroy us. Spouting rumors that we destroy their harvests. Well yes that may be true, but we need to eat too. Could you possibly love us; Spotted Lantern Flies?


    Arilus cristatus

    Straight from the summer concert of lively Steampunk. Passing with ease into autumn, haunting our favorite hangouts. Parks and neighborhood backyards, we are already dressed for all Hallows Eve.

    Be aware that we come from a family of assassins and kissers. We’ve also been described as cannibalistic! But we are more like praying mantis in that regard, only hurting those who are kin.

    What we really enjoy devouring are invasive pests that like to drink and destroy, the Spotted Lantern Fly from China. Careful if you handle us. We Wheel Bugs might inflict a painful bite into human flesh!

    • Charli Mills

      Stories of biology! Thanks for the challenges, Jules.

  17. Jules

    Another challenge piece…

    Coursework or Coarse Work?

    Acme constantly delivers to Wile, who thinks he will succeed in his quest of catching his nemesis. It is an old story of chasing one’s dinner. Being the mighty hunter. Yet the coyote seems to only have a series of unfortunate events repeat. Most often damaging more than his ego.

    We root for underdogs because we desire the right recognition. Dreams though seem to be elusive, like the Road Runner that escapes unscathed. Are our human wants just a different hunger that can only be sated by hard work?

    Where’s the fairy tale ending? You gotta write it yourself!

    • Liz H

      And yet.., and yet…Wiley was never given credit die for his amazing train tunnel paintings!
      (Can’t take credit–or blame!–for this observation.)

    • Charli Mills

      Nicely done, Jules! And an unlikely protagonist, mashed up cartoon, fairy tale and a BME story.

  18. Jules

    One more challenge piece… yes I do have a contest piece to submit… it was hard to choose between them…

    Bare Facts

    Looking through her rear view mirror she spied the driver behind her dangling an unlit cancer stick from his mouth. Her internal thought dripped with sarcasm that he could not hear; My isn’t that attractive.

    Cancer has become a dreaded word. Often becoming the elephant in everyone’s living room. Survivors, abound everyday due to those skilled in various treatments.

    Three males in her family were being treated for three different cancers in the same month. She only knew the full circumstances of her man. And he was going to make it because of early detection and a skilled surgeon!

    • Charli Mills

      You are getting into the flow, Jules! Cancer in three acts.

  19. Jules

    OK… I submitted the contest piece! I think I need to stop now or I’ll not get anything else done 🙂

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Whoa. Stop. Prolific, ain’t’cha?
      I only chucked one wee story into Charli’s challenge hopper this week, but had three characters get out of hand with their own story telling. It’s entirely possible it’s too much. But they don’t listen.
      Good luck to you and yours.

      • Jules

        I was a tad busy them other weeks. So I only got one challenge and one contest piece.

        I just couldn’t decide which piece to use – I didn’t want to separate the ‘bugs’ then I ended up writing more…

        Yeah Pal and Kid can get themselves carried away with their words 😉 But they are good ranch hands!

      • Liz H

        I found all three Rodeo events really challenging, so have only been able to squeeze out pretty much the bare minimum.
        And yes, some of those characters have a lot more to say than I have allowance to write in this October crunch-time. Lol!!

    • Charli Mills

      Sometimes it feels good to get in some binge writing.

    • Charli Mills

      Stories are grabbing a hold of the mind this week!

  20. Caitlin Gramley

    If I have words in my story that need to be italicized how can I do that in the form? Can I just add a note on the bottom of the story? or should I use html code?

    • Charli Mills

      Good question! After each word insert (ITALICIZE).

      • Caitlin Gramley

        If it’s a whole sentence ?

      • Charli Mills

        (ITALICIZE SENTENCE) after the sentence.

      • Caitlin Gramley

        Thanks! Sorry to be a pain!

      • Charli Mills

        Not at all, Caitlin!

  21. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    “Keed. ’Ello. You are awake now, no? After your deep sleep?”
    “Pepe LeGume! Yep. Had m’sef a fine nap. Ah’m all refreshed an I thunk up a real good idea whilst sleepin’ unner my Think Tank.””
    “Oh ho, Deed you dream a scheme, Keed?”
    “Indeed I did, Pepe. Could say you inspired ma latest idea.
    “What eez eet, Keed?”
    “Lotsa folks aroun’ here write an’ git books tagether. But I’m gonna write biographies.”
    “But Keed, lotsa people write biogaphies. What makes your idea so special?”
    “Mine’s gonna be scratch’n’sniff books! You smellin’ what I’m steppin’ in?”
    “Eez deep, Keed.”

    • Charli Mills

      I’m not sure I’d buy a scratch and sniff book from Kidd. Definitely not from Pepe unless it was about Quebec strawberries.

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        I’m worried they’re talking biography. A scratchnsniff about has beans? It’ll get stinky reviews.

      • Charli Mills

        Le phew!

  22. Miriam Hurdle

    I just entered Rodeo #3, Charli. It’s been a busy week.

    • Charli Mills

      And you got it done! Good job, Miriam!

      • Miriam Hurdle

        I’ve been writing several ones in my head while doing other things. My Christmas preparation and rehearsal… start this coming weekend. I may have to write in my head first if I could enter for the next Rodeo.

        Thank you for the great work, Charli!

  23. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Chelsea!


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