Is my linear 3-Act structure in danger?



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  • Is my linear 3-Act structure in danger?

    I want my finished spec script to go only to studio readers and executives. No indies. So I must, among other things, keep my linear 3-Act structure rolling. Will the following strategy kill my chances?

    It's a futuristic epic with time travel to the present and to ancient times... character driven.

    Because the (big) "inciting incident" in Act 1 cannot happen sooner than page 50 (I know you're going to say I'm crazy), I use a lesser "inciting incident," which comes on page 28, to spin the story to Act 2. :eek

    Then I force the big "inciting incident" (and a bunch of setup elements leading to it - actually, action elements that used to run from page 29 to page 50) to appear in flashbacks in Act 2, dramatically and suspensefully mixed, in key places, with the "confrontation proper" so as to reveal and clarify to the reader what's taking place... how things really are and how they connect... along the way. :eek Act 3 is purely Act 3 - the resolution.

    My fear is that this strategy will ruin what we call "linear 3-Act structure"... and consequently ruin my chances of getting studio executives interested in my script. (My understanding is that studios don't bother with nonlinear stories.) :rolleyes :x

    NOTE: It seems to me that my "big inciting incident" is what Trottier calls "the Big Event" and Field calls "Plot Point 1" while my "lesser inciting incident" is what Trottier calls "the Catalyst" and Field just ignores.

    Thanks in advance to any thoughts on this.

  • #2
    Most studio execs and readers don't really have page count in mind in terms of inciting event, point of no return, climax, etc.

    What you should be concerned about is the question that they may raise which is "Where is this story going?"

    And if they don't get that sense within the first 10, 20, or 30 pages, they might not care to finish the script.


    • #3
      Ditto. There has to be an engaging motivation on the part of the protag to push the story through to the end. As long as that is crystal clear by the 20 - 25th page... preferably much sooner, then you won't have a problem holding the attention of the reader.

      Generally the middle of the script is "the point of no return". In this I mean that your protag could've turned back anytime before this and walked away. At page 50 something happens that makes it so there is absolutely no choice but to push through with his goal.

      Perhaps this big inciting incident your talking about is nothing but this "point of no return" and just naturally placed itself within your script. If this is the case then you simply wrote the structure subconsciously while adhearing to the guidelines that are screenwriting.


      • #4

        Just to add... My above post and page counts, like Ham already said, are guidelines... reference points. No one thinks page counts as they read. If they have to, you haven't got an engaging enough script and it's time to rethink the story.


        • #5
          Act Two Is Conflict

          What everyone else said - it's not the page number, it's what's on the page. But if things don't really get started until page 50, there's a good chance your script may be suffering a common malady with new screenwriters - the "Long Act 1, No Act 2" syndrome. 99.99% of the time that translates into a slow-going script that take forever to get started (and nothing is driving the story, so there is no real reason for anyone to keep turning the pages). The writer usually pleads "Keep going, it gets better at page 50"... but the rel answer to that is that the story needs to start on page 50, then... when it gets good. Why start the story wth boring stuff?

          And the word "epic" scares me.

          - Bill


          • #6
            Beginning, Middle, End.

            Ditto to the previous posts.

            The beginning of a story is that part which comes first, and before which is nothing. --Aristotle

            The single most common error in screenplays is for the screenwriter to fail to start at the beginning. Far too often they commence before the beginning and provide elaborate back-stories while presenting an over-complicated world, in what amounts to a false first just ain't needed.

            Start your story where your story starts.

            That may sound like a no-brainer, but it really isn't. It's tough to do that right. Economy is your ally. If your story really starts on page 50, get rid of the first 49. If it really starts on page 30 and page 50 is your act break, get rid of the first 29 pages.

            A lot of scripts would be vastly improved with their false first acts cut out. Just my two cents.

            It ain't a science, it's a crafty art. Listen to the internal rhythms of the story and use your gut instincts...that will help dictate your structure. If it reads and feels fine, then it probably is. Don't worry so much about page counts or plot points, just involve yourself with your story.

            Beginning, Middle, End.


            • #7
              Re: Beginning, Middle, End.

              What makes you think studios aren't interested in non-linear stories?


              • #8
                Re: Beginning, Middle, End.

                If your script has a problem, I bet it has something to do with this;
                Then I force the big "inciting incident"
                . You can't force a story, everyone will notice.