Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Myth of the Three-Act Screenplay Structure

I'm delighted to present a guest blog post from Rob Tobin, author of The Screenwriting Formula and the recent novel, urban fantasy e-novel God Wars: Living with Angels:


Feature film screenplays fall naturally into four acts, not the traditionally accepted three acts. In fact the three-act structure comes from the “traditional” theater and was imposed on the film world even though it entailed ignoring the mid-second act break that in effect breaks a feature film screenplay into four acts, not three.

This accounts for the well-known difficulty writers have with the second act -- writers get bogged down in trying to write from page 30 (approximately) to page 90 (approximately).

Most feature scripts have a first act in which the hero, the hero’s flaw and the hero’s world are introduced, and ends with a life changing event (usually instigated by the opponent) that throws the story in a new direction.

The second act begins the process of the hero and ally trying to overcome the hero’s flaw in order to be able to respond to the opponent’s challenge.

There are usually two struggles going on here: the hero and ally trying to overcome the hero’s flaw; and the hero trying to hold onto to his or her flaw because usually the hero views that flaw not as a flaw but as a defense against some kind of hurt or danger. So while the ally is trying to help the hero overcome that flaw, the hero is resisting letting it go.

About halfway through the second act the struggle between the hero and ally comes to a head and the hero breaks, giving in to the ally so that from that point onward they work fully as a team to overcome the hero’s flaw and prepare the hero to meet the opponent in the traditional third act.

Then comes the third act in which the opponent and hero go at it fully.

Thus you have four segments, not three. Knowing this makes it easier to write that second act, writing from the life changing event at the end of act one, to the mid-second act break in which the hero and ally’s struggle peaks, and then from the mid-second act break to the end of the second act at which point the hero has overcome his or her flaw and is ready to confront the opponent in the final battle scene.

If you have questions about the three-act vs. four-act structure, feel free to contact me at robtobinwriting.com. Feel even freer to buy my screenwriting book “The Screenwriting Formula,” which discusses the four-act structure among other things. And in the meantime, good writing to you!

If you like action-filled, darkly humorous fantasies about witches, demons, angels, zombies and three-foot-tall aliens with really bad attitudes, Rob's urban fantasy e-novel God Wars: Living with Angels is now available to download from the following sites, for only $2.99: amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, omnilit.com and smashwords.com. View the first two Book Trailers at http://www.youtube.com/user/robtobinwriter.


Krissy Brady, Writer said...

Thanks so much for this post! I'm currently taking part in the Script Frenzy Challenge, and am slightly behind due to the act two struggle. I feel refreshed after reading this. Now it's time to catch up. :)

lawritersgroupdotcom said...

Hi Krissy,
Perfect timing, then! Thank you for the comment, it made my day to know we've inspired someone! Yeah, Rob Tobin is very special and a highly talented screenwriter and script consultant. Sending creative and winning vibes your way....!