Traditionally, either a Three Act or Five Act structure has been utilized by scriptwriters to set the framework for their work. While not necessary, Acts allow you to mentally organize your script into logical sections.
THREE ACT STRUCTURE
As denoted in its name, the Three Act structure breaks the story into three key sections:
Act 1 - Setup
- This is when you’ll introduce your characters, give context about what’s currently happening in their world (Exposition), and introduce a potential problem that your protagonist is facing (Inciting Incident). At the end of this Act, your characters will be faced with their first hurdle (Plot Point #1). This part of the story is important as it establishes relationships, hooks your readers, and keeps them wanting more.
Act 2 - Confrontation
- As the name denotes, this part of your story will include your characters “confronting” the issue you’ve introduced in Act 1, with Rising Action leading into the Midpoint. At the Midpoint, your protagonist understands what the challenges they’ll face will be, and this Act tends to end with the introduction of another turning point (Plot Point #2), leaving the readers questioning whether the protagonist will be successful.
Act 3 - Resolution
- Within this Act, your characters will enter into the Pre-Climax phase as you build toward the Climax of your story. Following the climax, the tension will unwind, and you’ll bring your story to its conclusion - whether it’s a happy or sad ending, if you’ve written effectively, your reader will be as invested in the outcome of your characters as you are!
FIVE ACT STRUCTURE
In the Five Act structure, the five key sections are:
Act 1 - Exposition
- The first part of your script will include character introductions, background information, and an indication of trouble on the horizon.
Act 2 - Rising Action
- In this Act, the conflict will increase and your characters will begin to notice that it’s harder for them to work toward their goals.
Act 3 - Climax
- The action in your story will reach its peak and your story will take its most dramatic turn.
Act 4 - Falling Action
- You’ll begin building towards the end of your story, cluing up story lines, unveiling any remaining plot twists, and playing out the aftermath of the climax. While this Act appears to be anti-climatic, feel free to use your creative license to include suspense around whether it’s going to be resolved in the way your readers are thinking it will!
Act 5 - Dénouement
- This Act brings your story to its conclusion and any lessons learned are revealed.
While these story structures allow you to organize your thought process, there’s no need to feel constrained by the suggestions and framework. Think of them as guidelines, not rules, and ensure that you stay true to your creative vision and process.