Acts I and III

The typical three-Act structure of a screenplay makes sense — right up until you try to write your own screenplay. Since Act II represents the biggest chunk, here’s an idea initially. Just skip it.

The three-Act structure of a screenplay makes sense theoretically, but is much harder to put into practice in the real world. First, divide Act II into two equal 30-minute segments to make it more manageable. Before doing that, just omit Act II altogether.

Look at Act I and III of any movie and you’ll notice that they tell an almost complete story. In Act I, we meet a hero who wants something and in Act III, we see the hero going out and achieving (or not achieving) that goal. Of course, the hero is a different person between Act I and III, but the basic storyline remains the same.

Act I shows us who the hero is and what the hero wants and Act III shows us a changed hero going out and achieving his or her original goal.

By focusing on your story strictly through Act I and III, you can see if the beginning and ending of your story idea makes sense. If your hero has a goal in Act I but that goal isn’t directly solved in Act III, you’ve probably lost your way. Likewise if Act III shows the hero achieving a different goal than that set up in Act I, you’ll need to change Act I or III to make sure they both match.

Act I is basically a mirror image of Act III. That’s a basic guideline you can check to make sure your story remains on track. Then Act II is all about how your hero changes so he (or she) can pursue the final goal in Act III.

In “How to Train Your Dragon,” the hero wants to win the girl and fight a dragon. In Act III, he gets a chance to fight a dragon and win the girl.

In “Die Hard”, Bruce Willis wants to get back with his wife in Act I. In Act III, he finally gets a chance to get back with his wife by limping into a confrontation with Hans, the head terrorist.

In “Star Wars,” Luke wants to have an adventure in Act I and leave his uncle’s farm. In Act III, Luke gets the adventure of a lifetime by trying to blow up the Death Star.

In “WALL-E”, WALL-E wants to find love in Act I. In Act III, WALL-E is fighting to survive so he can experience that love in Act III.

By focusing on Act I and III, you can define your story’s progression. Then you can worry about how to make that happen in Act II, but take one step at a time and even the toughest project can be tackled with enough patience.

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