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The Three Act Structure for a Screenplay

The Three Act Structure for a Screenplay

Plot Structue

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.

The Three Acts to Any Story

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.

Act One

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.

Act Two

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

Act Three is to resolve everything. This includes the conflict for the hero.

Three Act Structure

Basics of the Three Act Structure


The Structure in Relation to the Main Character

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

Using the Three-Act Structure

Once you have decided on the story, the next step is to divide the overall outer motivation for your hero into three segments, each corresponding to the three acts of your screenplay.

"These events turn the story in a new direction and signal a new act" - Syd Field

How to Develop a Main Character for Your Screenplay

How to Develop Other Characters for Your Screenplay

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

StoryO for iOS: Available on the App Store



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