Beyond the more technical aspects of how to write a movie script, Writers must also always be striving towards creating the best story possible—and there are many ways to do it. We’ve already mentioned theme. There’s also character arc. Conflict. Emotional weight. Plot progression.
All these elements and more can support an interesting and dynamic story, but all of them typically reveal themselves within the three-act structure.
(Three-act structure). Again, it’s a term used quite often in the entertainment world, but why is it so important for a screenplay?5
On how to approach the three-act structure, Suttle notes, “Keep it simple, as every story has a beginning, a middle and an end.
That’s your three-act formula. My job as a Writer is to provide the reader with the motivation to keep turning the page no matter which act they’re in.” But how exactly to keep the reader turning those pages?
Let’s use The Godfather again as an example. How interesting would it be if the story was just that a young man takes over the family business from his father? We go from point A to point B with no conflict, thematic value or character development.
But imagine instead that the story was the following: A young man wanting to escape the violent lifestyle that has allowed his father to become a wealthy and influential mafia figure ends up taking it over from him after the father is on the receiving end of an attempted hit and his older brother the victim of a successful one. Now that’s a story! Not to mention the assassination of his first wife and the execution-style hits on his many rivals that set him up as the unopposed mafia head.
At its core, a three-act structure provides the foundation for a writer to create a story filled with conflict that keeps the reader or viewer intrigued, as well as giving the characters within the story the chance to make decisions or be on the receiving end of others’ actions that inform their character growth for better or for worse. Or as Strange succinctly explains, “I’m old school and like the general 1) put your character up a tree; 2) throw rocks at them; 3) get them out of the tree structure.”
As with script formatting, it’s essential that aspiring Screenwriters continue to nurture their expertise by learning all they can about three-act structure, including the rare instances in which they may break the rules! But the reason why three-act structure has such a stronghold in screenwriting is that it works.
The first act provides the inciting incident which gives a reason as to why we’re following this story now and continues with the first major plot point. Moving into the second, the conflict should build, though the protagonist may experience the occasional “victory” along the way to keep the plot moving in a surprising and interesting way.
With the second major plot point, we enter the third act, which is where the climax of the story will take place, as well as the resolution.
Scripts are often referred to as blueprints because the similarities between them are so strong. Within a blueprint, you might have designations for plumbing, electricity, insulation and more alongside the actual building plans. In the same way, a screenplay encompasses many elements, correct script formatting and three-act structure among them.
While it can initially feel overwhelming to the Writer just starting out, the craft of screenplay writing can be so much more than a head-scratching proposition. Instead, it can be a great opportunity to connect with audiences around the globe and make them laugh, cry, shriek or even reconsider their deep-seated beliefs through a captivating story.
With passion, patience, and practice, the opportunity exists for all Writers to have the chance to enjoy this experience and further their craft of how to write a movie script.