I began PART 1 with an overview of the 3-act script structure and its purpose — to lead your audience on a seamless and fluid journey.
In this post, I’ll introduce the mechanics of structure as it relates to your characters.
There are several approaches to structure. In many ways they’re similar. I like to think the writer finds their own “best way” from the many options available to explore.
I approach structure in terms of three elements: symmetry, stakes, and layers.
Symmetry = A balance in timing and emphasis of plot points
Stakes = An increasing urgency toward the main problem/plot’s solution
Layers = A multi-function for each turning point, which includes plot, character, theme, etc.
This is a linear plot-line for a 110 page screenplay.
The 3 squared boxes are the dominant braces of your script. As you can see, they’re evenly spaced from front to back. Their functions are as follows:
- The 1st act break (p 25-27.) This is generally the core concept of your movie, and often the event on which your log-line centers. For example, “After (1st act break event happens,) the main character begins a journey to solve the problem of the 1st act break (and changes/solves/learns X.)” This moment is THE major plot impact that sends your story into its tailspin and your main character on their arduous journey to solve it (while beginning their inward journey to become a new person.)
- The midpoint (p 55 of 110.) From the 1st act break to the midpoint, your character is exploring the terrain and rules of the world/circumstances they’re propelled into by the 1st act break. They’ve made the choice to confront the main challenge of the plot, and during these pages, they’re learning to adapt to them. This apprenticeship could come in the form of exploration, education, training, detective work, or an emotional upheaval/thrust into a set of previously avoided circumstances.
The midpoint often results in a major discovery or a change that propels the character from exploration mode into decision or “fight mode.” From fight mode on, the main character faces the core problem with more certainty, more will, and a better skill-set (which could be internal or external) until they are taken down to their knees at the…
- 2nd act break (p 75/85.) This comes in 2 pieces: (p 75) The death/failure of the character who began their journey and (p 85) 2. The rebirth of a new character from the ashes of the first. This new character has learned/acquired something that will enable them to vanquish the problem that the initial character set out to defeat. While this rebirth/realization may come as a fight skill, it’s more monumentally played as an emotional turn – and often something the main character has resisted for their entire journey. This realization is the character’s entire reason for needing (on a core/soul level) the journey to begin with — and the last emotional piece of the puzzle required to prepare them for the final battle in the 4th quarter of the script.
These are the main pillars on which plot is built. The most successful plots mirror the main character. That is, the plot provides the main character with the most appropriate challenge to force their growth.
In Part 3, we’ll explore the mini-points between the main turning points…
If you’d like to schedule a read/analysis of any of your acts, don’t hesitate to contact me.