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The Three Act Structures


Structure with three acts: the thing you probably remember from English class in middle school.

This is the format that almost all narrative fiction follows.

Traditionally referred to as “setup,” “confrontation,” and “resolution,” each act covers roughly a third of your story. I came across a graphic that seems to be fairly accurate, but I wouldn’t be too rigid about this kind of thing:

You establish your characters, themes, setting, and central conflict in the first act.

Your protagonist tries to resolve the central conflict in the second act, but obstacles and your antagonist stand in the way. In addition, the protagonist is able to resolve the story’s central conflict in the third act through personal development, possibly by defeating the antagonist if one exists.

Your acts will typically not be of equal length. The third act is usually the shortest (almost always) and the second act is usually the longest (not always). Lots of screenplays Manuals say that you have to get to your act breaks by a certain page, but I think it depends on how you’re telling the story.

The first act, which included the cold opening, was approximately twelve pages long in my previous original pilot; the second act was ten pages long, and the third act, which included the tag, was eight pages long. In a pilot, I think it’s pretty typical to have a long first act that sets up everything. But could it be that I did it wrong? I probably shouldn’t be hearing from you .

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