Three-act structure

intense point and the dramatic question answered, leaving the and other characters with a new sense of who they really are.[1]

2 Interpretations Three-act structure In Writing , French writer and director Yves La- The three-act structure is a model used in screenwrit- vandier shows a slightly different approach.[2] He main- ing that divides a fictional into three parts, often tains that every human , whether fictitious or real, called the Setup, the Confrontation and the Resolution. contains three logical parts: before the action, during the action, and after the action. Since the is part of the action, Yves Lavandier believes the second act must 1 Structure include the climax, which makes for a much shorter third act than is found in most theories. A short The first act is usually used for , to establish third act (quick resolution) is also fundamental to tradi- the main characters, their relationships and the world they tional Japanese , in the theory of jo-ha- live in. Later in the first act, a dynamic, on-screen inci- kyū. dent occurs that confronts the main (the pro- tagonist), whose attempts to deal with this incident lead to a second and more dramatic situation, known as the 3 Criticism first turning point, which (a) signals the end of the first act, (b) ensures life will never be the same again for the protagonist and (c) raises a dramatic question that will be In Screenwriting 101,[3] the author describes the 3 act answered in the climax of the film. The dramatic ques- model as “the most abominable way to both explain and tion should be framed in terms of the protagonist’s call to instruct . So false in what it describes, so false action, (Will X recover the diamond? Will Y get the girl? in what it achieves, that even though the phrase is used Will Z capture the killer?).[1] This is known as the inciting to near ubiquity... it is essentially a .” They question incident, or catalyst. As an example, the inciting incident what an “act” in this model actually means, and say they in the 1972 film The Godfather is when Vito Corleone usually don't get an answer, but the answers they do get is attacked, which occurs approximately 40 minutes into basically amounts to “chunks of story that usually sepa- the film. rate 'beginning, middle, and end.'" They go on to define the end of an act as “a point in the story where a charac- The second act, also referred to as “rising action”, typi- ter(s) makes a choice and can no longer “go back.”... The cally depicts the protagonist’s attempt to resolve the prob- act break can be a new and interesting development, a lem initiated by the first turning point, only to find him- poignant character realization, a personality , a new or herself in ever worsening situations. Part of the rea- friendship, or even, if handled correctly, something as in- son seem unable to resolve their problems is sipid as "No! The bad guys are here! Run!" act break because they do not yet have the skills to deal with the can be anything as long as it has a significant changing forces of antagonism that confront them. They must not effect on the narrative resulting in the character choos- only learn new skills but arrive at a higher sense of aware- ing an action defined by that change... an act break cre- ness of who they are and what they are capable of, in or- ates propulsion.” More importantly, this dispenses with der to deal with their predicament, which in turn changes the “3-act” structure, as a movie like Malcolm X can be who they are. This is referred to as character develop- defined as having 9 distinguishable acts. “A 3 act struc- ment or a . This cannot be achieved alone ture leads writers to just try to make connecting points and they are usually aided and abetted by mentors and [1] between the beginning and ending of their story... which co-protagonists. means your characters are not moving forward. They're The third act features the resolution of the story and its just waiting around for the 80 minute mark so that they . The climax is the scene or sequence in which can begin the ending... As a result, we hear it all the time: the main tensions of the story are brought to their most “The problem’s in the film’s second act.”


As an example of one different, more successful model, 5 References the author presents a Shakespearean 5-act structure, (not- ing that Quentin Tarantino, often praised as a counter- [1] Trottier, David: “The Screenwriter’s Bible”, pp. 5–7. Sil- example to linear storytelling, breaks up most of his man James, 1998. movies into five acts separated by title cards): [2] Excerpt on the three-act structure from Yves Lavandier's • The first act, consisting of “introductions and the es- Writing Drama tablishing of a preexisting central main conflict.” [3] Hulk, Crit (2013). Screenwriting 101. Badass Di- • The second act, consisting of “some kind of cen- gest. tral event that challenges or deeply worsens the main conflict... basically, this act features the main sur- face plot of the story coming into effect.” 6 External links • The third act, containing a “spurring incident or • action making the conflict infinitely more compli- What’s Wrong With The Three Act Structure by cated.” Often surprising, the middle third act is “a former WGA director James Bonnet, via filmmak- way to hit the with climax-like drama be- fore they're ready for it.” Examples of this include • What’s Right With The Three Act Structure by Yves the slayings of Mercutio and Tybalt in Romeo & Lavandier, author of Writing Drama Juliet, the Death Star rescue sequence in Star Wars, or the suit-building montage and villain reveal in Iron Man. • The fourth act, known as “the spiral” and full of character decisions that cause characters to sink toward the real climax, that are rapid, poorly- conceived, and hugely dramatic. This is the point closest to the three-act model’s “second act,” and it is often the shortest act, as it is, “in truth, the point where you are really arranging and up the cli- max.” • The fifth act, where the audience gets the climax of the story. “The most important thing to remember is that this last act is not just wrapping things up, but is the encapsulation of the story, and should ex- hibit all the points you are trying to make in your movie.” In Shakespeare’s plays and modern movies as diverse as Iron Man, The Wolf Of Wall Street, and No Country For Old Men, this often includes a soliloquy directed to the audience.

The author summarizes by saying the amount of acts “should be dependent on the story you want to tell... and the total number of acts you use is dependent on how much you are trying to accomplish with the story.”[3]

4 See also

• Act (drama) • Act structure • Jo-ha-kyū, three-fold structure in Japanese drama aesthetics • Monomyth • Mythic structure • Syd Field, noted advocate of three-act structure 3

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