When I started learning how to write screenplays, the paradigm of the 3-Act Structure confounded me. Two major act breaks, with a big sagging middle, and I was supposed to figure out what to put in between?
120 pages (on the early diagrams. These days, the standard page-count generally falls between 100 and 110, but in consideration of symmetry, balance, and “ease of math” we’ll stick with 120.)
A ton of empty space. A double-long second act.
And then, one day, I read about the midpoint:
A beautiful turning-point smack in the middle of the script. Suddenly, everything began to feel more balanced. 4 evenly placed quadrants in a standard script:
A major plot-point at the first, a major plot-point at the second, and a major plot-point at the third.
Why structure? What’s the point? Why not just put stuff wherever it “feels right?”
Some writers can. Some writers have an innate sense of pulse, pace, development, unfolding. Sometimes that skill-set comes as a consequence of watching movies. Often it comes as a consequence of writing script after script.
The reason structure is so important:
People have seen hundreds of movies with the three-act-mythic structure embedded in them. There’s an innate cultural (and some would argue, “human”) expectation as to how a story is “supposed to go.” If your movie deviates significantly from that structure, for no other reason than to be different, the audience becomes confused.
As an analogy… think of people.
Everyone’s different, right? Every single person in the world looks different, feels different, smells different, acts different. But underneath each unique and individual personality, every single person has (for the most part)…
The exact same skeleton…
Yes, there are exceptions. But when there are extreme exceptions, we stop. We ponder.
If someone walked toward us, with their head LITERALLY up their ass, would we be able to concentrate on what they were saying?
Structure helps us recognize a movie as a fable. If we use it as a tool, we can use the embedded cultural expectation to create something more unique and compelling than if we were to to toss structure completely aside.
In part two, I’ll explain the function of turning points (macro and micro) and how they relate to your characters.