The 3-Act Structure

The three-act structure has been one of the most influential tools for screenplay development. An understanding of its history and applicability is essential to the burgeoning screenwriter.

The Exercise

Write a four-page essay on the three-act structure. Where did it come from? What is it and how is it used? What are some of the challenges against it? What are some of the movies that use it? Has it developed over time? How?

Happily Ever After

Let’s use the ending of a film to practice creating scenes. Your Task: Pick a movie – any movie. After watching it, jot down 4 alternate possibilities for an ending. Now, pick one of your 4 new finales and use standard screenplay format to write out one of these endings.

Brainstorming Structure

Explore structure.

The Exercise

Create a mind map to help you brainstorm the structure of an idea. Place your story idea in the center of the mind map, and see what comes out.

Take Someone Else's Word for It

It’s time to listen.

The Exercise

Poll a few people with the following questions:
What’s your favorite action movie?
What are two specific things you like about this movie?
What’s your favorite scene?
What’s your least favorite action movie?
What are two specific things you disliked about this movie?
What scene(s) made the movie bad?

Find and watch a couple of these movies. Pay close attention to the specific scenes mentioned.

Journal

What are your impressions of the movies you saw?
Do you share the opinions of the people you polled?
What have you learned about writing action?

How To Write A Scene

One of the best ways to learn is to practice! Your Task: Read Screenwriter John August’s blog entry, “How To Write A Scene.” Following the instructions (minus step 11), grab an article from today’s news and write it into a movie scene.

Letting It Get to Me

How do movies influence, change or effect us? How can 1 scene have so much staying power in our lives? I’ve seen it many times. Friends will refer to a specific scene from a movie to relate experiences in their lives. They’ll use scenes in movies to justify a decision. It goes on. Your Task: Watch your favorite scene of a movie. Freewrite for 20 minutes on anything that comes up.

Outside

Let’s change place around and see how it affects everything.

The Exercise

Write (or find) a two-page scene that takes place outside, in the sunshine.
Rewrite it three times — once while it’s raining; once while it’s snowing; and once at night.

Turning Point

Usually, a movie’s plot is what draws me to it and its’ plot twists are what keep me there. Your Task: Watch 10 movies and identify the turning points in the plot. Answer these questions: How did these turning points happen? Was there a consistent theme from movie to movie?

Passion

Sometimes, seeing where other people have taken an idea can inspire us with new ways to develop our own. Your task: Make a list of five things you are passionate about. Identify as many movies you can think of that cover the first item on your list. Do a 5-minute free-write with the starting sentence, “Stories can be…”

Rewriting Genre

Taking a movie out of the genre it was written for can be an excellent lesson in understanding what a genre is.

The Exercise

Re-write your favorite scene from a movie as if it were part of

  • A western
  • A horror film
  • A science fiction film.
  • creative screenwriting exercises (Get the book for all 101 exercises)