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What is the three act structure for film?

What is the three-act structure?

Originally the three act structure is a narrative model used in writing to separate the story into three acts – Act 1 (The beginning), Act 2 (The middle) and Act 3 (The end). These are also defined as the setup, the confrontation and the resolution.

Writing a film can be a daunting project but using the three act structure to break up the story can be incredibly beneficial. It’s also a great element to include in your film treatment as it combats writer’s block amongst multiple other obstacles.

Table of contents:

  • The beginning
  • The middle
  • The end

The beginning

The beginning (Act 1) is an integral part of the script. It allows us to enter the world of the characters, introduce us to them, who they are, what they do.

It has to be packed and interesting – you need the reader to be gripped by the get-go. Don’t look to pad any of the scenes out and revert back to your film treatment if you get stuck.

Then look to add in the inciting incident to keep the readers hooked, how ill the protagonist jump this hurdle? Will they fall? Keep them hooked.

READ MORE: 7 essential short film ideas

The middle

The middle (Act 2) is one of the most difficult parts to write, you enter through the end of the inciting incident through to the rising action. You want to keep the readers engaged and the action slowly building higher and higher throughout the act. Act 2 is how you navigate through the story from start to finish.

You find this is the core of the film, your characters dive into the unknown and mystery of the story. It’s a great place to add a couple of obstacles for your characters to hurdle and multiple failures until they reach their goal. This creates the suspense and alters the direction to keep your audience engaged until you reach the finale. The build-up adds to the excitement and your audience will feel every frustration and failure and want the protagonist to win. The action will continue to rise into Act 3 as we navigate to the climax.

READ MORE: 6 essential camera angles to tell your story


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The end

The end (Act 3) – we’re nearly there! This is the climax to everything that has been building in the previous Act’s.

The characters facing their fears, the obstacles that have to be removed from their directions, approaching their feelings and reaching their goals. This what Act 3 is about, a head on collision with their individual confrontations.

In this act your character faces their biggest dilemma, this is the climax to everything happening in the previous act’s. It’s tense, it’s frustrating, it’s terrifying but most importantly it MUST be gripping for your audience.

This finally leaves the characters dealing with their consequences and a much changed world they must live in. It must naturally progress from the previous two act’s to ensure the audience navigates their journey with the characters.


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