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Issue #166 – August 12, 2015 (The Classic Three Act Structure)

Issue #166 – August 12, 2015
(The Classic Three Act Structure)

Most screenplays have a three act structure, following an organization that dates back to Aristotle’s Poetics and developed with respect to feature films by Syd Field, author of “Screenplay” and “The Screen Writer’s Workbook.”

The three acts are setup (of the location and characters), confrontation (with an obstacle), and resolution (culminating in a climax and a dénouement). In a two-hour film, the first and third acts typically last 30 minutes, with the middle act lasting 1 hour.

When you think of the classic three act structure, think of the movie “Star Wars” (George Lucas used Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey” as his Story Structure Paradigm.)

Joseph Campbell was an American writer best known for his work in the fields of mythology and religion.

His work covers many aspects of the human experience, especially his concepts of universal symbols and stories and his ideas regarding myth and its relation to the human psyche.

ACT ONE (Set Up – Incitement – Separation)

(EX: Boy meets girl – but her father isn’t happy about it)
– Who is the main character?
– What is the premise or theme?
– What are the main character’s needs and goals?

ACT TWO (Confrontation – Setback – Initiation)

(EX: Boy loses girl & fights against impossible odds to get her back)
– What is the dramatic action?
– What are the obstacles?
– What is the main character’s lowest point?

ACT THREE (Resolution – Climax – Return)

(EX: Boy gets girl – and they live happily ever after)
– How does the story end? (What is the solution?)
– What happens to the main character?
– What happens to the other characters?

EXAMPLE:
Question – Titanic: what is the story about?
Answer – Titanic is a tragic love story set on a sinking ship

Here’s another good way of explaining the three act structure by using a very simple plot breakdown from “Write that Novel” by Sue Viders and Becky Martinez. (http://www.writethatnovel.com)

Here is their plot breakdown:

– A character…
– in a specific setting…
– has a problem…
– that s/he has to solve.

– The character tries and fails…
– tries again and fails…
– until all appears lost.

– The character overcomes all odds to make one final try…
– and finally succeeds…
– bringing validation for this character….

Now I took this same plot breakdown and divided it into three parts by using the three act structure. This is what it looks like now:

ACT ONE (The Set Up)

– A character…
– in a specific setting…
– has a problem…
– that s/he has to solve.

ACT TWO (The Confrontation)

– The character tries and fails…
– tries again and fails…
– until all appears lost.

ACT THREE (The Resolution)

– The character overcomes all odds to make one final try…
– and finally succeeds…
– bringing validation for this character.

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