Not everything I write follows a tight five act outline structure, but every piece I write starts with a five act outline. This is where the initial structure is created and where you see your story's strengths and weaknesses, and how to punch it up.
I am huge on structure for a number of reasons.
First, it helps create the flow of the story and how it will play out.
Second, it provides a road map for you as a writer to follow, which enables you to better understand when and where you have taken a detour and whether it is worth the reader's while.
Third, it makes the writing more efficient. A bit of work upfront saves a huge amount of work on the back end fixing all the stuff you didn't anticipate because you were winging it without a road map.
Fourth, thought it is a road map, it is not written in stone so you can make changes to the structure as you write and understand how those changes affect earlier and later scenes.
Fifth, it allows you to see how plot points and pinch points can create compelling scenes and set pieces.
Sixth, there's a lot more...
Below is the very basic five act outline I work from. Feel free to copy it and use for your writing:
Five Act Outline
Act I: What’s at Stake
- Inciting incidents/conflicts
- What’s at stake for character(s)
Act II: Rising tension
- Characters begin to understand their primary motivation
- Complications/reversals stand in the way of achieving motivations/goals
- Pinch Points
- Protagonist may be at the point of losing everything.
Act III: Greater Complications
- Turning point for character(s) where things get worse and are at brink of losing all as additional complications arise
- The antagonists are winning
- Additional pinch points outline or highlight what is at stake for the protagonist(s).
Act IV: Catharsis
- Moment of insight creates an implication that compels the protagonist to action, which leads to the final action or climactic scene (set piece)
Act V: Denouement/Conclusion
- Smaller complications/reversals, but character(s) begin to live their lives as they have been changed by the preceding events.