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?

Character Autobiography

Written/Contributed by Hal Ackerman

Write the full name of your character down the left side of a page, one successive letter on each line. On each line, write a true statement about the character (or from his/her voice) beginning the first word of each line with each successive letter of the character?ǂÄôs name. So for a character named Holmeyer:

He lives with a rabbit
Open hearted
Loves bridges
Means well
Ebbs when he should flow
Yearns for love
Even tempered
Runs from life

Try it with all your main characters. (Try it with your own name)

They're After ME

Go!

The Exercise

Pick two travel methods (boat, car, foot, helicopter or horse).
Write a one-page chase scene.
Switch the method of travel and write the scene again.

Sherlock Holmes And Moriarty

Written/Contributed by Hal Ackerman

Do this with a writing friend. Each of you separately concoct a perfect crime: Circumstances, motive, execution, getaway. Perpetrator. Victim. Write it out in some detail.

Then exchange papers. Create a character who will solve this crime. How will the hole in the plan be discovered? By what means of detection?

Being The Writer I Want To Be

What internal or external forces impede your ability to write? Our capacity to understand and permeate these forces can build our power as a writer.

The Exercise

List 10 things that stop you from being the writer you want to be.
Brainstorm three possible solutions for overcoming each obstacle on your list.
Plan a date on your calendar to work on one of these solutions.

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.

From My Life

Use transformational moments in your life to explore screenwriting structure.

The Exercise

List three transformational moments in your life.
Pick one incident and answer these questions:
What was your life like before the transformation?
What took place during the transformation?
What were the obstacles to transforming (both internal and external)?
How did you face these obstacles?
Name the people involved in this transformation.
What were their roles in your transformation?
What happened to them because of this transformation?
What was the outcome for you?

Create an outline of the specific incidents that occurred before, during and after this transformational experience.
Visualize a movie with each of these specific incidents as a scene in your movie.

Journal

What do I think about my movie? What am I leaving out? What can I add to make it more powerful?

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.

Character Descriptions

Here’s a test on creating effective character descriptions.

The Exercise

Pick ten characters you’ve seen in movies.
Write a 1-sentence description for each of them. Make it as accurate as possible.
Bring these descriptions to friends who have seen these movies. Can they guess who you’re referring to?

Tarrantino Exercise

Written/Contributed by Hal Ackerman

1.Open the phone book Yellow Pages to two random pages, and select two businesses. Move two characters from Point A to Point B by whatever means you invent. Invent a good reason for the journey. Reveal that intent skillfully. If it’s huge, understate it. If it’s trivial, exaggerate.

2. Pick one of the following topics and write a dialogue scene between those two characters, exploring and disputing the topic fully.
a. Standard shift vs. automatic transmission
b. Leaf blowers
c. Teeth
d. Class seating on airplanes
e. Vegetarianism
f. Paying for cable TV
g. Burning CDs
h. Any other mundane topic in the world.

As in every good scene, use the interchange not only to explore the issue, but in doing so, reveal who the characters are, individually and in their relationship to each other.

3. Orchestrate part 2 into part 1 and write a sequence of scenes.

creative screenwriting exercises (Get the book for all 101 exercises)