Everything You Need to Know About Screenplay Structure

So you’re looking to get into writing a screenplay and you want to know how to structure your story for the visual audible medium. The three most popular methods of screenplay structure you need to know are:

Three-Act Structure: This is the most traditional and widely-used method of screenplay structure, which is divided into three acts: the setup, the confrontation, and the resolution.
Hero’s Journey: This method is based on the monomyth structure outlined by Joseph Campbell in his book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” It follows the hero’s journey through the stages of the call to adventure, the road of trials, and the ultimate return home.
8-Sequence Structure: This is a variation of Three-Act Structure but uses 8 discrete sequences.
Each of these methods have its own strengths and weaknesses and it’s important to consider which one is the best fit for your story. Ultimately, it’s important to remember that structure is a tool to serve the story and not the other way around. Let’s take a closer look at each so you can determine which one is right for you:

THREE ACT STRUCTURE:

The three-act structure is a storytelling method that is divided into three distinct acts:

Act One (Setup): This act establishes the setting, characters, and conflict of the story. It introduces the protagonist and their goal, and sets the stage for the events to come.
Act Two (Confrontation): This act is where the majority of the story takes place and the protagonist faces obstacles and conflicts that stand in the way of achieving their goal. The protagonist may experience multiple setbacks and failures, but they will also learn and grow as a character.
Act Three (Resolution): This act is where the conflict is resolved and the protagonist either achieves their goal or not. In this act, the audience finds out if the protagonist was successful in their journey or not. It’s also the time where the final twist or reveal is shown.
Some of the qualities of the 3 act structure include:

1. It’s a clear and easy to understand structure.
2. It offers a clear sense of progression and momentum.
3. It creates a sense of anticipation and tension as the story progresses.
4. It gives the story a clear beginning, middle and end.
5. It helps to create a satisfying resolution for the audience.

EIGHT SEQUENCE STRUCTURE:

The eight-sequence structure is a variation of the three-act structure that breaks the story down into eight distinct sequences, with each sequence having its own mini-arc. The eight sequences are:

Sequence One: The Opening Image, which establishes the tone and atmosphere of the story.
Sequence Two: The Setup, which establishes the characters, setting, and conflict of the story.
Sequence Three: The Theme Stated, which establishes the theme of the story through dialogue or action.
Sequence Four: The Catalyst, which is the event that sets the story in motion and propels the protagonist towards their goal.
Sequence Five: Debate, which is where the protagonist begins to question their goal and whether or not they are capable of achieving it.
Sequence Six: Break into Two, which is the point of no return for the protagonist, where they commit to their goal and embark on their journey.
Sequence Seven: B Story, where a secondary story or subplot is introduced, often used to reflect on the protagonist’s journey and to give it a different perspective.
Sequence Eight: Final Image, which is the final shot of the film and is used to convey the theme or message of the story.
Some of the qualities of the eight-sequence structure include:

1. It’s a more detailed structure that breaks down the story into smaller, more manageable chunks.
2. It gives the story a clear sense of progression and momentum.
3. It helps to create a sense of anticipation and tension as the story progresses.
4. It offers a clear sense of beginning, middle and end.
5. It allows for a deeper exploration of themes and characters.
6. It encourages a balance between the main story and subplots.

HEROES JOURNEY

The Hero’s Journey is a storytelling method that follows the monomyth structure outlined by Joseph Campbell in his book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” It is based on the idea that all myths and stories, regardless of culture or time period, share a common structure. The hero’s journey typically includes the following stages:

The Ordinary World: The hero’s normal life before the adventure begins.
The Call to Adventure: The hero is presented with a challenge or opportunity that prompts them to leave their ordinary world.
Refusal of the Call: The hero may initially refuse the call to adventure, but eventually accepts it.
Meeting with the Mentor: The hero meets a wise guide or mentor who provides them with guidance, training, and/or magical tools.
Crossing the Threshold: The hero crosses a threshold and enters the unknown, supernatural world.
Tests, Allies, Enemies: The hero faces a series of tests and challenges, makes allies, and encounters enemies.
Approach to the Inmost Cave: The hero reaches a pivotal point in the story, such as a confrontation with the main antagonist.
Ordeal: The hero faces their ultimate test or challenge, often involving a physical or emotional crisis.
Reward: The hero emerges victorious and is rewarded with a treasure or a new understanding.
The Road Back: The hero begins the journey back to the ordinary world.
Resurrection: The hero experiences a rebirth or transformation, and has a new understanding of themselves and the world.
Return with the Elixir: The hero returns to the ordinary world, and shares their newfound knowledge or treasure with others.

Some of the qualities of the Hero’s Journey include:

1. It’s a timeless structure that has been used throughout history.
2. It helps to create a sense of epic adventure and transformation.
3. It provides a clear arc for the hero’s character development.
4. It helps to create a sense of anticipation and tension as the story progresses.
5. It allows for a deeper exploration of themes and characters.
6. It encourages the use of archetypes and symbols to add depth to the story.
7. It allows for the incorporation of spiritual, mystical or supernatural elements to the story.

It’s important to note that not every story needs to follow the hero’s journey structure and it’s also important to consider which elements of the hero’s journey to include, adapt or discard in order to serve the story best.

In conclusion, a structural approach isn’t something we believe you should lead with. It’s better to find the story you’re trying to tell, and the world/characters that inhabit the story, and take a more character-centric approach to development. If you develop characters properly, you’ll usually find that one of these structures takes its natural course, and you’ll be more inclined during rewrites to adapt to a type of structure that best suits the type of story you are trying to convey.

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