3 Act Structure, or, Beating the Wasteland

In screenwriting we are told that there is a 3 act structure that we must adhere to. 3 act structures are easier to shoot, easier for the  audience to understand, blah blah blah. But is that really true? I was reading a book a little while ago (it is now packed, since I’m moving, so I can’t refer to it) called The Way Hollywood Tells It by David Bordwell. Bordwell talks a lot about random things I don’t necessarily care about, but he does spend an entire chapter on structure – how the 3 act structure is actually kind of a myth, and that most films actually come out to be 4 acts. The reason I am elated by this thought is that the 2nd Act is a wasteland for a writer. With between 60 and 90 pages (for screenwriters) the writer must fill with the character leading up to the climax, the task can be extremely daunting.

But this new 4 act structure idea not only helps with my screenwriting troubles, it has helped tremendously with my novel. Novels are structured in much the same way, they’re just longer, and it can be harder to tell. But all books have these:

Act One: An inciting incident, the incident that gets your character off his/her butt and out of the house. The status quo goes bye-bye!

Act Two: Events that become so complicated, a crisis then emerges. Your hero may do something or incite something that causes a snag in the plans, something that sets your hero back before he can reach the end.

Act Three: Now, instead of Act Three being the climax and resolution, Act Three can be considered the consequences, or even just the results, of Act Two – what happens as a result of that snag or event your hero causes? What causes the climax?

Act Four: Here is where you can find the Climax and Resolution. ‘Nuff said.

In a previous post I mentioned writer’s block – I think that having this idea in my head will help so much. Instead of thinking “Ugh, how the hell am I gonna get through Act Two?” and sitting there with hands poised over the keyboard without moving, I will now be thinking that although Act Two is long, it now has some kind of purpose. I don’t normally outline, but I feel that if I wander away from some sort of structure, I get lost.

I hope this helps you as much as I feel it will help me!

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