Three act structure used in movies and books comes from plays

  • has been used for more than 2,000 years
  • also used in novels
  • adapted for movies

As authors, or playwrights or screenwriters, we need to follow this structure because readers – our audience – expects it.  We deviate from it at our peril.

Part of this structure is to have regular climaxes that are genre specific that turn or change the action.  There can be a mini one part way through the Act and then a major one at the end of the act.  In comedy plays and in film, Act 2 really has 2 parts (but don’t try to call it a 4 Act structure, noone will buy it!)

An act climax can be used to provide spectacle to the viewer or reader – that is give immense visual experience, what the world looks like.  It is a chance to give specificity of details particularly in non standard settings (eg paranormal, fantasy, steampunk).

When watching a movie, there is no right or wrong answer as to which bit is the climax.  When you watch something, the climax is what you think it is, and if you like it and want to include that kind of climax in your story then go ahead.
Some movies are genre mash ups (eg Romancing the Stone – romance, intrigue, action adventure), and they do rolling climaxes that touch on each genre.

Using index cards:

Movie:  40 – 60 scenes
Novel:  40 – 60 chapters (depending on your structure)

Index cards – you will know some scenes right away, and no idea about others.  Count out 40 – 60 index cards.  Write done the scenes you already know on index cards.  As you do this process other scenes will occur to you, and it snowballs from there.

Note:  end with the black moment at the end of Act 2, to kick the action into Act 3.  It also means there is a contrast to end on a high in Act 3 (rush of exhilaration).   Unless you end on a down like Chinatown but tends not to happen in Romance!

Index cards can then be put on the story grid with the acts / scenes in the places that they will maybe go.  Put the ‘boarder’ pieces first – start and finish, bits around the edges etc.  Put the set pieces where you know they should go.  Experiment with other elements and see where they fit best.

Ask the question of your creative brain, and let it get to work (sleep on it).  You know you don’t work alone (the elves get to work).   This works as a visual process for those who work well with that, and it is also a kinetic process for those who need to be doing things and moving.

Set pieces:
In a romance, every kiss, every sex scene needs to be a ‘set piece’. (one of the  8 climax sequences?)
– unlimited production budget when writing, unlike in movies where there are often location and budget constraints

Author: Philippa

I make arty mixed-media things, & write fantastical things (with kissing), & do musical & dancing things, & play gaming things, & do weightlifting things, & organise fabulous event things. But mostly I wrangle cats. Renaissance woman.

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