Introduction to Story Structure What Happens in Act I act I



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Introduction to Story Structure


What Happens in Act I

Act I comprises the first quarter of the screenplay. (For a two hour movie, Act I would last approximately 30 minutes.)What happens in Act I (Setup)?

Exposition--The part of a story that introduces the characters, shows some of their interrelationships, and places them within a time and place.

This part of the story introduces the main character, the dramatic premise, and the dramatic situation.



  • Main character--the person in the story who has a need/objective to fulfill and whose actions drive the story

  • Dramatic premise--what the story's about

  • Dramatic situation--the circumstances surrounding the action

  • Inciting Incident--an event that sets the plot of the film in motion. It occurs approximately halfway through the first act.

The "Plot Point"--According to Field, the three acts are separated by two plot points. A plot point, often called a reversal, is an event that thrusts the plot in a new direction, leading into a new act of the screenplay. Later screenplay gurus have built on Field's theory by stating that Plot Point #1, which leads into Act II, is the moment when the hero takes on the problem.

What Happens in Act II

Act II comprises the next two quarters of the film. (For a two hour movie, Act II would last approximately 60 minutes.)What happens in Act II (Confrontation)?


  • Obstacles--In the second act, the main character encounters obstacle after obstacle that prevent him from achieving his dramatic need.

  • First Culmination--a point just before the halfway point of the film where the main character seems close to achieving his or her goal/objective. Then, everything falls apart, leading to the midpoint.

    • Midpoint--a point approximately halfway through the film where the main character reaches his/her lowest point and seems farthest from fulfilling the dramatic need or objective.

The "Plot Point"--According to Field, the three acts are separated by two plot points. A plot point, often called a reversal, is an event that thrusts the plot in a new direction, leading into a new act of the screenplay.

What Happens in Act III

Act III comprises the final quarter of the film. (For a two hour movie, Act III would be the final 30 minutes.) What happens in Act III (Resolution)?

  1. Climax (Second Culmination)--The point at which the plot reaches its maximum tension and the forces in opposition confront each other at a peak of physical or emotional action.

  2. Culmination --The brief period of calm at the end of a film where a state of equilibrium returns.

  3. Note: Some movies do have twists at the end instead of a resolution.

As you watch this film, please use the attached sheet to begin to analyze the story structure. Fill in ALL questions.

Name: _____________________________


Film Title: ______________

Screenplay Genre:  
For this project, please fill out all parts. THIS IS YOUR MOVIE so you should know it inside and out. Please be as descriptive as possible. I should be able to understand your WHOLE STORY including characters by the end of this worksheet.
Act I

Please describe a little about the main characters that are introduced in Act I:
Name:____________________

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Name:____________________

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Name:____________________

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Inciting Incident: 

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Act II

Please summarize ALL obstacles they face in Act II.

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Act III

Second Culmination (climax):

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Resolution (or Third Act Twist)

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