The Observant Writer…. 3 Act Structure

Everyone talks about the 3 act structure; but I want to write something completely different than the same old movies we see every day. 

That desire to create something different is going to serve you well in the writing process; hang on tight to that.

First let me ask you a couple of questions. WHO IS YOUR INTENDED AUDIENCE for this film? Are you thinking your film would appeal to an art-house crowd? Maybe you’re planning an experimental film? Or are you hoping for a mainstream distribution deal? The closer your intended audience is to the mainstream, the more thoroughly your story should be grounded in the standard three-act structure — beginning, middle and end (or resolution).

Next, let’s look at your bias against the 3 act structure. It is certainly true some really terrible movies have been created within the context of this format. But WOW, what about the really inventive films that have also adhered to it? Films like Shakespeare in Love, Being John Malkovich, Juno, The Fall, Arrival are all firmly grounded in the three-act structure too. What gives?

Many beginning screenwriters lay some really bad movies at the feet of the three-act structure. But writing screenplays is a lot like writing sonnets (you know, Shakespeare – iambic pentameter) in that it’s a strict format that can produce some absolutely timeless writing… like Shakespeare’s “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer Day.” Or the really horrible piece I wrote my sophomore year in college. I had the format down pat, but Shakespeare would have rolled over in his grave.

Great sonnets, like great screenplays, challenge writers to search for a completely fresh aspect on a timeless theme – and then test their inventiveness in pouring their story idea into a ‘jug’ of specific proportions. The bad movies you’ve seen aren’t a result of the three-act structure – but a result of the lack of skill or persistence on the part of the writer.

I hope this helps. And I do wish you luck with your writing – Wordsmythe would like to help!