The 7 Minute Division

Trying to write an entire two hour, 120-page screenplay is a daunting task, so the secret is to break it into more manageable parts.

A typical two hour movie runs 120 pages in a screenplay.The first step is to divide those 120 pages into four Acts:

Act I: Exposition (30 pages)

Act IIa: Positive Rising Action (30 pages)

Act IIb: Negative Rising Action (30 pages)

Act III: Climax (30 pages)

The basic four-part structure of a story is as follows:

Act I: Introduce a likable hero who has a problem

Act IIa: Show the hero achieving initial success

Act IIb: Show the hero running into setbacks

Act III: Show the hero confronting the villain and winning or losing

So the way to tackle each Act is to divide it further into four parts. Take Act I, divide it into four parts, and you get four 7-minute parts of a story. Take a look at “The Incredibles” to see how this four-part story structure plays out in Act I alone.

First, the hero (Mr. Incredible) has a problem in that he can no longer be a superhero any more.

Second, Mr. Incredible tries to adapt to being a civilian.

Third, Mr. Incredible’s family is having problems of their own due to their inability to use their super powers.

Fourth, Mr. Incredible’s problems boils over to the point where he decides to sneak out and do good deeds on the side.

The basic problem is that Mr. Incredible can’t be a super hero so the basic solution is to do it on the sly. Each Act is a story in itself and follows the four-part story structure.

Take a look at “Star Wars.”

nFirst, Luke wants to live an adventure and get off his dull planet.

Second, Luke meets R2D2 and through him, gets to meet Ben.

Third, Luke decides against helping Ben and leaving the planet.

Fourth, Luke’s aunt and uncle are killed, so he has no choice.

By breaking each Act into four 7-minute segments, you can tell a complete story with its own problem, rising action, and resolution or climax. Each story in each Act pulls us along until it finally answers the much bigger question of whether the hero will win and get what he (or she) wanted at the beginning of the story or not.

The secret to telling a compelling story is simply to follow this four-part story structure in your whole story for each Act and then within each Act as a 30-minute story divided into four 7-minute segments. Divide and conquer. Focus on your story in little chunks like this and suddenly writing may not seem as intimidating as a 120 page screenplay right from the start.

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