Help Needed With Structure - Act 3



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  • Help Needed With Structure - Act 3


    I am attempting to write my second screenplay - a drama/thriller - and I have hit somewhat of a block. I wouldn't call it writers' block, more of a where-do-I-go-from-here block. If that makes any sense. lol

    Anyway, here is my problem:

    My screenplay is about a family who is forced to deal with the abduction and death of their young daughter. Her body is never found and the story focuses on how the family deals with the loss and how the father will stop at nothing to find her body. In the process, the police begin to think he committed the crime (which he didn't).

    Act 1 was no problem. Act 2...well I am stuck about 10 pages from my Turning Point and Act 3.

    Act 1 has the aduction, search and wait.

    Act 2 is about the family dealing with it, the husband losing his job, the wife sliding into depression and smothering their other daughter and the father coming to the conclusion that he knows his missing daughter is dead, much to his wife's disgust.

    Act 3....well I'm stuck.

    Any ideas how I should thrust the story into the final act? What should I focus on in Act 3? I want the father to find his dead daughter in the end, but do I base the entire final act on his search? Should he hunt for the killer as well? Should he find the killer?

    Normally I don't need prodding but the more I agonize over Act 3, the more confused I get.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Quintin :rolleyes

  • #2
    a few thoughts

    1 - you need to decide whether this is a drama or a thriller. Splitting the difference will cause you problems. If you are writing this to try and sell it or get repped, you need to commit to one or the other.

    how the family deals with the loss and how the father will stop at nothing to find her body. In the process, the police begin to think he committed the crime (which he didn't)
    At the end of act two a) the family can't deal with the loss b)the father has given up OR is willing to wreck his life in order to continue the search and c)The cops have evidence that proves he did it

    3. Act 3 therefore deals with a) the family coming together and finding closure b)the father finding the killer or finding peace with not knowing and c)the father being exonerated.

    I find that when I'm stuck, I just need to look more closely at the loose threads in my work and begin twisting them together, expanding when necessary, until all the holes are closed.

    My question to you is - who is your villain? You can't have a thriller without a cool villain. Can't have a detective story without a reveal of who did it. If this is a drama, which it sounds to me like it really is - then the father's obsession is also a villain. But if act one has the abduction, shouldn't act three be about vengeance and justice?

    lastly, your paragraph that outlines the whole story, doesn't quite match your act breakdown. If "the story focuses on how the family deals with the loss" then news of her death needs to come at the end of act one, not in act two.

    What is the question you ask in act one - answer it in act three.


    • #3
      I've used this structure breakdown on my last two scripts and they've been the best paced and least frustrating to write. (Thank you Hamboogul)

      act 1: introduce character, their routine, their hopes and fears within the first 15 pages
      next 15 introduce character/environment that creates an imbalance in his world.

      act 2: first half of act 2, his desire is to return to the status quo with the antagonist (himself, person, environment) getting in the way
      second half of act 2, realization he must forge a new road because of these obstacles and that he cannot return to his old world.

      act 3: lowest point, character fels he cannot accomplish his goal
      final sequence, he either succeeds or fails in his new quest and in the process has become a changed person

      Hope that helps.


      • #4
        I like that breakdown, Geevie.

        When I read what you are blocked about I sense that you are concentrating on the father and forgetting what is going on off screen that will effect him and the family.

        The police are out there doing something.

        The kidnappers are out there doing something.

        News media is out there, and people they influence are out there,and so is Great Aunt Matilda.

        What they do or do not do will have an effect on the father and on the family.

        What if you concentrated on one pov, maybe even a different one. Say the mother's or the other daughter's?


        • #5
          Thanks for the advice. It has given me a much needed brain boost.



          • #6
            My Two Quid

            This sounds like the Jon Benet case and other, similar real life abduction cases if you don't mind me commenting...

            Everyone has given geat advice.

            The only thing I can add is...

            My main concern is who is your target audience and how do YOU want the story to end?

            I say this to get you to consider how conflicting these two things may be, sometimes, and this may actually be the real reason you seem to be (or were) stuck.

            If this is meant for mainstream representation/production...

            You are going to have to decide on an ending that is inevitable, but not predictable as is so often touted around here (and it IS good advice is why I am also bringing it up here).

            This is exactly why others asked you and gave you certain directions to take the script since ALL of these suggestions are inevitable in a story like this, but not predictable if you truly execute it in an original and unique way (or, at least with your own, unique POV as a writer if nothing else).

            What is inevitable?

            If the daughter is truly dead...

            -Who killed her?
            -Will the kidnappers/killers get away scott free?
            -Will the family ever know who did it?

            This is a basic (thematic) question of justice and accountability that will favor heavily into your final act and may possibly motivate what the characters do (the father) to achieve these goals.

            Mainstream audiences, producers et al. will be expecting this (inevitable), but how you execute it is up to you (not predictable).

            If it is a writing sample or geared toward the more independent crowd...

            These same questions still need to be asked and answered... But you DON'T have to actually give them a so-called "happy" ending (I.E. Closure)... Just as long as the ending is emotionally satisfying whicih may be harder in the long run... But that's why you got into writing, isn't it?


            • #7
              Help Needed With Structure - Act 3

              Hi Quintin,

              Why not let the turning point to act three actually turn the whole story on its head. Maybe the 'smothered daughter' killed her sister for some jealous sibling reason, and the father now gradually begins to realise the truth of this bit by bit from the things the other daughter is now saying. The use of flash backs in act 3 and preset motifs throughout acts 1 and 2 can establish this. Maybe the sister made the whole thing look like an abduction after hiring for money, or giving herself sexually, to the town bully in return for the killing of her sister. Who knows? Its your script.

              I haven't read your script so I am not sure that any of this this will be of any use to you, but here it is for what it's worth anyway.

              Good luck.



              • #8

                one problem you have is act I itself - too much stuff happens. the abduction, search and wait all happen in act I? no way. move the search and wait to act II and then just roll into act III. for all that stuff to happen, act I would have to be about 60-80 pages. insert a turning point and move the search and wait to act II.



                • #9
                  Act 3 - the family comes together, they find the scumbag who took their kid and they kick ass.


                  • #10
                    or you could put a WALKING TALL spin on it --- for whatever reason the cops stop searching (ie determine it's a suicide), but the father/family knows it's not and takes matters into their own hands during Act 3