The standard screenplay structure is 3 acts, which is actually 4 parts.
- Act 1 - 25%
- Act 2 - 25% + 25%
- Act 3 - 25%
When you learn and understand the form, there's something smooth and clean about it. It's even, well-spaced, and structured. When you see a well-built story, you can respect the shape.
But this isn't the only approach.
A story can break into multiple parts. One, two, three, five, six, seven...the possibilities are endless. Even better, you can play with the percentages of those divisions:
- Act 1 - 10%
- Act 2 - 20%
- Act 3 - 30%
- Act 4 - 30%
- Act 5 - 10%
This creates a looseness and tension in the storytelling. It feels off-kilter and can have the effect of being chaotic, drunk, and out of control.
But the truth is, as writers, we can remain in control. The story seems misshapen only because we don't understand the hidden logic.
Because beneath the acts are sections or sequences that also govern the story, and the pattern of those also defines the shape of our story. And beneath them is the pattern of our scenes.
You can play it straight or with a little swing, but either way, you, the writer, are in control of the stories you tell.
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