FOUR ACT STRUCTURE - Complications Ensue
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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

John Rogers has a very thoughtful post about your favorite subject, Three Act Structure, and he makes an interesting distinction between story and plot.

However, whether or not three act structure is a useful tool, most veteran writers like, er, John, are not using Three Act Structure. They've got a 25 page Act One, a 50 page Act Two, and a 25 page Act Three. And there's a big turning point right in the middle of Act Two where, as DJ McC says, it becomes a "different movie."

Well, hell. If you have a big turning point -- what in TV would surely be an act out -- in the middle of your second act, don't you have, in fact, two acts???

So aren't you really writing Four Act Structure?

UPDATE: Well yeah, Paul, my problem is with the label. I also object when a political movement that tramples on traditional constitutional protections, gets into optional wars and racks up huge debts calls itself "conservative." Having the wrong label on things is misleading. Why are we calling something a marmoset when it's clearly a bat?

5 Comments:

Um, no.

If you look at the classic three act structure, act two is supposed to have a big turning point. IIRC, act two should contain two plot points.

Maybe what you've read or "learned" as three-act structure is not?

Or maybe your real problem is with the labels. If you want to call it something other than a three-act structure, Alex, go ahead.

You're like a pitbull with a stranger's leg on this thing, man! :)

By Anonymous Guyot, at 5:18 PM  

yeah, but as I pointed out, the three act structure doesn't refer to plot, it refers to story. No matter how you build the midpoint up, it's still doing the sam JOB as all the other ocmplications in the second act.

I think the trick is that the definition of "Act" is too fluid for this type of precise discussion. Quite specifically, I believe an "act" in television refers to a distinctly different thing than an "act" in film. When I write a television show, I still write it in three-act structure, I just break the plot into four "acts" as they're traditionally called. IN theater the context is different.

Regardless, as long as it gets people to examine how they break story and plot, that's a good thing.

By Blogger Rogers, at 6:27 PM  

I agree with Rogers. Structure is important. Fluid is key. But the paramount thing is interesting, I have had the pleasure of writing with Rogers and he blows me away on a continuing bases…. not by his structure but by his writing. Stop being plumbers (I would have used carpenters but…. a more impressive person did that …who wrote a better script…. However the third act needs work)… just write…. Structure has to be your last worry. If not then you are the idiot network person I have to listen note from. Eugene O’Neil was all about third act brakes on page 23.

Yes, there is a structure, a template, but if that is what you care about go back to selling cars or become a producer and pretend to know what you are talking about.

By Blogger DJ, at 1:25 AM  

My "Um, no" was in reference to Alex sasking "Aren't we really writing a four act structure?"

It is not 4 acts.

TV is (when done right) a three-act structure. Acts 2 & 3 (of TV "4 acts") serve as the second act.

And to what DJ said... absolutely! I know so many studio execs who read like 20 pages of Sid Field's book or something and since they know nothing about real writing/real story telling, they go and on about structure.

By Anonymous Guyot, at 1:14 PM  

I always figured, the whole three-act-structure is just a way of saying that a story has a beginning, where we are told what the story will be about, a middle, where we encounter all the good stuff that makes the story interesting and worthwhile to follow, and an end, where we are told, well, how it all ends. And since there usually is some sort of "tent pole" event in the middle of the second act that's mainly there to keep up the suspense and to re-invigorate our interest after we're halfway through the story, it neatly adds to the "plot points" leading into and out of the second act. Alltogether these break the story into four segments of roughly the same length thus enabling commercial breaks at regular intervalls, with each segment ending on a suspenseful moment to keep the audience from changing stations. So the "three-act-structure" talks about beginning, middle and end of the story, while the "four-act-structure" of ways to include commerical breaks where they least dirscupt the story.

By Blogger Orvil Pym, at 4:15 AM  

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