On today’s episode, we will be tackling the art of three act structure. So, let’s get started. So, what is three act structure? Well, to understand three-act structure, we must know each act separately.
Your first act should set up your world, introduce characters and establish strong scene descriptions.
To put it plainly, Act one gets your story moving. And when you skip Act one, you leave your audience confused.
Take this scene for example:
Wasn’t that so romantic? But why? Well, because we’ve seen how their chemistry evolved over the course of the movie. You see, if we saw it first, the scene would not have had the same dramatic effect. Bottom line, you can’t possibly appreciate an ending if you’ve missed the journey.
Get Out is a prime example of how your first act can immediately grip your audience. So, during act one, you want to set up all interpersonal relationships so it can pay off later. You don’t want to introduce Roses’ parents in act three if they’re part of the main cast, right?
So, if you don’t want your audience to fall asleep, here’s what you need to accomplish in the first act.
Number one: establish where your character is. Are we in the Swiss alps? A pub in Ireland? A skating rink in Atlanta? Where you are, we should know.
Number two: what year is it? Are we traveling back in time like Marty Mcfly and Doc Brown? Are we in a cool western where iphones don’t exist? Or maybe we’re in the good ole present day? Figure it out and your script will be a success.
Number three: What’s this movie about? Coming of age? Drama? Comedy? Once you figure that out, it will bring us to our last point...
Number four: Who are these people? Are they a group of teenagers about to go to college? What about a middle-aged mom who just won the lottery? You must know who your characters are so we can root for them and once we do, we can get to our next act!
Now, this is where things get interesting. I’ll explain. Act two is probably my favorite act because it’s where we are literally sitting on the edge of our seats. Take this scene for example.
Now, this scene where Erik kills Klaue and infiltrates Wakanda is the midpoint of Black Panther. This is where the “O-M-G” moment of your story happens - when the audience is pushed forward into your story and where your characters are met with insurmountable circumstances where they’ll either fail or achieve.
This is where we see the plot dramatically shift as Erik forces the conflict and T’Challa is forced to act now. Act two is all about the audience finally getting their questions answered that were set up in act one.
Now that you’ve seen an example, let’s go through our checklist of everything we need for a beautiful act two. Number one: what’s the adversity? This is your moment to throw everything at your character to prove if they really want to achieve their goal.
Number two: Spill the tea! What are these character’s secrets? Does the protagonist secretly love her best friend? Does the antagonist have a soft spot for puppies? Either way, we want to know!
Your last point is to establish how long they have to achieve this goal. We can’t have Erik trying to get T’Challa’s throne forever. We need to know how long they have to fulfil their goal so we can root for them. Once you get these things in order, you can move to the last and final act!
Now, act three is when everything comes together. We see characters confronting their passions, goals and emotions. This is where all the set ups pay off; The emotional beats you created in act one come back and make sense and when Nia Long and Larenz Tate finally kiss under the rain. This is your chance to open tear ducts and create emotion!
Now, following your midpoint breakdown in act two, your characters should face a final challenge that forces them to face their fears once and for all. An example of a third act success would be when Noni finally decides to be her own person and fall in love with her prince... sorry, I mean Nate Parker.
So, to make your three act structure promising, the audience needs to know if they’ve reached their goal, and if not, how are they coping with that defeat; have they reached their peak high or low and lastly, does the ending bring tears of sadness or joy? Once you’ve answered these questions, you have yourself a successful three-act structure.
So, today we learned about the art of three act structure. I hope you learned something today. If you want to help us, please leave a comment on what videos you’d like to see next and make sure to like, share and subscribe for more videos like these! And remember, knowledge is power… the more you know, the better you’ll be. Peace.