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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

You've talked about how most readers aren't necessarily going to be fanatics of the show you're speccing, so you don't necessarily have to be completely up to date on where the characters' stories are in the show. But what about act structure? Like HOUSE. It used to be teaser and four acts, this season is teaser and six. Is this a change i need to re-write to?
I think you do. There has been a big movement towards 5 and 6 act structure. A four act drama is going to feel old hat to a lot of readers. And HOUSE in particular is a show that everyone specs, so your readers, even if they don't watch every HOUSE, will for sure know that the show has gone to 6 acts.

Coming up with new act outs is going to be a pain, but it's something writers have to do often enough, so consider it a worthwhile exercise, too.

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9 Comments:

Interesting advice. I tend to go for a three act structure.

TEASER
ACT 1 - establish everything, set up mission for ep etc

ACT 2 - longest act. Most of the investigating and development takes place. End with point of no return or 'we're off to save the day'.

ACT 3 - Come through in the end and wrap up all loose ends.

This is how Joss Whedon seems to do things, so I figured it would be a pretty good idea. BUt then you mention about how times are changing. Maybe I should re-evaluate how I write my specs...

By Blogger Neil, at 11:59 AM  

Um, no. Joss used a four act structure for BUFFY. And the DOLLHOUSE spec has four acts.

Check out my chapter on act structure in CRAFTY TV WRITING.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 1:07 PM  

Sorry, I meant DOLLHOUSE pilot script, not spec.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 1:08 PM  

Huh. Apologies indeed, must be mistaken. I was so sure it was a three act structure. I'll definately be checking out the chapter in your book.

I see where I'm going wrong I think - need to break more down at the end. Finale in one act, then resolution in another. Come to think of it, in Whedon's work, that's exactly how it works. Silly me eh?

Would explain why the pilot I'm writing (the first I've ever written) looks like it'll come up a little short.

A great thing you mentioned acts again here, thaks a lot! Oh well, got some reworking to do.

But I'm interested - do you think the 3 act structure (that I'm sure I couldn't have invented) would work at all? If I included the resolution or catharsis in the 3rd act?

By Blogger Neil, at 1:13 PM  

Neil, the act structure is there FOR THE COMMERCIALS.

Act structure is NOT OPTIONAL in TV. The network tells you how many acts you have. You fill them.

These days, it's usually 5 or 6 acts, depending on the net.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 1:29 PM  

What about a spec pilot? If you are not targeting a specific net do you take a middle ground? If you are targeting pay cable (gee, let's really limit our already tough chances) does act structure become a little more flexible?

By Blogger OutOfContext, at 1:36 PM  

Of course. Don't know what's wrong with me today. Would be good if writers had power over where to put act-outs etc, but like you say - adverts.

Thanks for answering though, appreciate it.

By Blogger Neil, at 1:37 PM  

There's no middle ground. You can write for 5 or for 6. You have to make a choice.

If it's pay cable then you don't have act outs, but you're better off planning for 5 acts, say, and then hiding the act outs. That way you can revamp it for network if pay cable doesn't work out.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 2:02 PM  

I'd go right back to the outline if I were in his shoes. Attempting to condense all the scenes in your spec and then imposing 2 more cliffhangers is something I'd never think about trying.

Regarding Dollhouse, is that the only show left in the 08/09 season on a big 4 network that still has 4 acts and a teaser? If House has succumbed, I can't imagine the DH structure will last.

By Blogger Will, at 3:42 PM  

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