The 3-act play structure for business writing
I love writing and on my personal blog, which I have been remiss in updating for too long, there was a time when I would post almost daily. Over 5k blog posts and counting, not to mention LinkedIn, Medium, Facebook, etc. The thing about writing is that is a habit, and I recall an interview with a popular author who turned out 400-page novels every year. The interviewer asked, “how do you do it?” and the author commented, “you get up every day and write 3–4 pages, at the end of a year it all adds up.” I love that quote.
Anyone can write, but not everyone can write something that is interesting. Writing is not a gift; it is a skill that is honed over time and practice. The structure of good writing is everything, not just for the reader but also for the author. If you can’t get past the setup, your writing will hit a wall.
The 3-act play format is an unlikely ally, but it is your best friend.
Act 1: The Setup
The protagonist meets the characters, and the main problem is identified, in the case of business writing you are laying out the basic tension in the status quo. You are not solving the story here, it is the setup and relies on excitement and conflict. A guy walks into a bar holding a chainsaw and places three gold Spanish Escudos on the bar and asks for a shot of bourbon and a glass of milk.
Hundreds of enterprise security professionals gathered in Atlanta, GA this week to confront the challenge of being under constant attack by bad actors. SecureAuth and Core Security presented a vision for securing the modern enterprise from criminals, hacktivists, and state-sponsored hackers.
Leading companies in healthcare, financial services, retail, manufacturing, services, and much more industries were in attendance. Security professionals, from red team pen testers to enterprise CISOs attended keynotes, breakout sessions, and peer group discussions. Despite tens of billions of dollars of annual spending on security technology, data breaches continue to make headlines as a result of external and insider threats, causing untold brand damage and executive departures in their wake.
Act 2: The Conflict
There has to be a twist in act two before getting into the conflict that makes this the most interesting part of the story. The chainsaw was used to clear a fallen tree from the road, rescuing a pregnant woman on her way to the hospital and the bourbon is needed to disinfect a nasty scrape sustained in the rescue. The Spanish Escudos are the inheritance from a long lost relative; our hero is a recovering alcoholic who is making amends to the bar owner for having robbed him years earlier while on an alcohol-induced crime spree.
Act two is hard because there has to be a backstory that alters the narrative of the story while also presenting a bigger problem. The heroes plan is destroyed, and he/she is physically or mentally exhausted, or suffering a moral compromise that they must recover from to continue. Rocky is one of the greatest movie scripts ever written, the pivotal scene where he visits the arena the night before the fight and then go home to Adrian is the crux of act two.
Who am I kiddin’? I ain’t even in the guy’s league…It don’t matter, ’cause I was nobody before…I was nobody. That don’t matter either, ya know…It really don’t matter if I lose this fight. It really don’t matter if this guy opens my head, either. ’Cause all I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody’s ever gone the distance with Creed. And if I can go that distance, ya see, and that bell rings, ya know, and I’m still standin’, I’m gonna know for the first time in my life, ya see, that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.
Our hero is not able to follow through on his plan because an armed gang enters the bar and beats our hero, as he attempted to intervene. He sees a familiar tattoo on one of the armed attackers, pulls off the face mask and is shot. In the commotion, he retreats to the freezer and locks himself in where the cold temperatures slow down the bleeding but bring with it the onset of hypothermia. In a state of despair, he confronts his craving for alcohol only to see himself as the armed attacker just outside the doors.
Despite tens of billions of dollars of annual spend on enterprise security technology, the number of data breaches continues to rise. What is worse is that the time it takes to identify compromised systems and formulate an effective response is not in line with the needs of C-level executives who find their jobs on the line. Thousands of security products and companies promise to improve the current state of affairs and fail, not because their technology is failed but because the way companies approach security is silo’ed and it is in the gaps and shadows of the technology landscape that attackers live and thrive.
The attacks and attackers are more sophisticated that at any other time in history, and security professionals feel locked in a vicious cycle of whack-a-mole, always solving for the last attack. Enterprise identity systems are designed for credential authentication, not proving who the person using the credential is; and the rigid policy-based approach has proven flawed in the face of attacks that rely on escalated privileges that exploit the very structure of policy-based governance.
Act 3: The Resolution
The complication of the story in act two makes the resolution that much more interesting. Our hero emerges from the freezer, confronts the armed attackers and in a desperate struggle gets mortally wounded. A remaining attacker has a change of heart upon realizing the hero had previously saved his sister. The hero dies, but the redeemed attacker saves the bar, goes to prison and emerges to return to the bar to make amends.
SecureAuth and Core Security have come together to create a new solution category, identity-based security automation, that closes the gaps that attackers thrive in. With vulnerability, network, and identity security working in concert, customers have in their grasp a complete and unified approach to not only protect against attacks across the threat landscape, but a detection capability to that fuels a real-time response to stop attacks as they are happening. A full week of keynotes, sessions, training, and peer-group interactions have enabled organizations of all sizes with a new and better approach to securing the modern enterprise. Security professionals learned from their peers who are confronting security challenges and attacks daily, coming together as a community.
Writing for business, especially something as dry as enterprise security is a challenge but that does not have to mean we cannot connect to the human elements that underpin everything human beings do. Writing to a 3-act play structure provides everyone from an experienced copywriter to a sale professional constructing an email with a basic outline for how to approach something that requires the recipient to connect and respond to the words as they are written.