The Three Act Structure for a Screenplay
After developing your main character for your story you have to start thinking about
the other characters. Each supporting character must add or subtract something to or
from the main character. In other words, each supporting character must either try to help
or try to prevent the main character from succeeding in their quest.
Structure consists of the specific situations in a movie and their positions relative to one another.
Proper structure occurs when the right events occur in the right sequence to stir up emotions from
the viewing audience. Another way to say this is: The Right Thing Happening at the Right Time.
How many times have you sat in the theater and watched a movie knowing that something awesome is
going to happen in just a few minutes? If you do, you anticipate that moment -- you want it to happen, and
you want it to be satisfying. Structuring your story effectively involves dividing your screenplay into
three acts and making use of specific structural devices.
Any film story can be divided into three acts. This division constitutes the first level of
plot structure and is absolutely necessary to create an effective screenplay. These acts must
satisfy the dramatic requirements of the film, and clearly have its own beginning, middle, and end.
The goal of Act One is to establish the setting, characters, situation and outer motivation for the hero.
Usually Act One is the strongest in the screenplay because you as the screenwriter must pull in the reader and
the audience and make them vested in your story. If Act One is weak, don't expect a strong Act Two to make up for it.
The goal of Act Two is to establish the conflict -- the obstacles, the suspense, the humor of the situation, and
the character revelations. This act is the longest and is the bulk of your movie, and can be divided into even more
sections, but the entire goal of Act Two can be boiled down to: OBSTACLE - OVERCOME, ANOTHER OBSTACLE - OVERCOME AGAIN,
YET ANOTHER OBSTACLE - OVERCOME YET AGAIN!
Act Three is to resolve everything. This includes the conflict for the hero.
Basics of the Three Act Structure
Another way to define each act is to track the character's outer motivation. In other words,
each major change in the hero's outer motivation points to the beginning of the next act! In this way,
the main character's growth in the story is directly related to the acts of the screenplay. In a properly
structured 2-hour movie, therefore, Act 1 should last a half an hour, Act 2 for one hour, and Act 3 a half an
hour. In terms of pages of your screenplay, this would conform to:
• Act 1: 30 pages
• Act 2: 60 pages
• Act 3: 30 pages
Check out our iOS app for developing an outline for your story, StoryO for iOS click here for more information
or here for the desktop version.
StoryO for iOS: Available on the App Store