How To's | Screenplay Doctor | Screenwriting

Ask the Screenplay Doctor: Script Structure

30 Nov , 2011  

Written by Susan Kouguell | Posted by:

Screenplay columnist Susan Kouguell gives an answer in three acts to explain the three-act screenplay structure. E-mail screenwriter@newenglandfilm.com to have your question answered in an upcoming issue.

Structure is the framework upon which your screenplay stands up, and lack of a solid structure — yes, you guessed it — will result in your script falling down, or, in better terms, getting rejected by film industry folks. A solid structure with strong turning points will demonstrate to readers that you know how to craft a savvy screenplay. Succinctly following your protagonist’s journey will enable you to craft a solid structure. Regardless of your script’s genre, careful assembly and construction of each act is imperative to writing a successful screenplay.

Thanks for posting my inquiry in the last edition. I’m probably getting greedy here, but I was inspired by your last response. What is motion picture industry’s opinion about four-act screenplays, and how do the acts break down in page count?

Thank you,
Kurt Supancic

Didn’t Gordon Gekko from Wall Street infamously say that “Greed is good”? So, no, you’re not getting greedy by asking another question — and in fact, it is a question that is often asked.

The industry-standard screenplay structure is the three-act structure. The following brief overview of the three-act structure is excerpted from my new book Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises:

Whether you are writing a script intended for a Hollywood or independent film, traditional narrative screenplays have a three-act structure. Generally, Act One is about 30-pages, Act Two is about 60-pages, and Act Three is about 20-pages. Screenplays should not exceed 120 pages.

3-Act Structure Example:

Act 1: Protagonist is kayaking

Act 2: A sudden storm strikes, capsizing the kayak

Act 3: Protagonist is rescued.

Generally, the four-act structure can be compared to the three-act structure but with Act Two divided in half. So, the turning point in Act Two (for example the turning point occurs on page 45) would be considered in the four-act model, as Act Three.

Writers should not literally label each act directly on their scripts. So, one can argue, how will the reader know that my script is actually written in four acts? In fact, if the script is well-written, I would argue that it would be difficult to actually tell if the script has four acts, and to answer your question, Kurt, it would not matter to an executive. If the structure is solid and each scene advances the plot, and the script itself is compelling and well written, the “act count” becomes a moot point.

Susan Kouguell, author of The Savvy Screenwriter: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker. Susan teaches screenwriting and film at Tufts University, and is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and film executives worldwide. ( www.su-city-pictures.com; su-city-pictures.blogspot.com).

Susan Kouguell’s new book SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises is available for $1.00 off by clicking on www.createspace.com/3558862 and using DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD. To read an excerpt from the book, go to: https://www.createspace.com/Preview/1089452.

You can follow my Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell Twitter page to receive more Savvy Tips about how to write, structure, and sell your screenplay.

Related Article: Ask the Screenplay Doctor: Behind a Studio's Closed Doors


Susan Kouguell, author of The Savvy Screenwriter: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker. Susan teaches screenwriting and film at Tufts University, and is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and film executives worldwide. ( www.su-city-pictures.com; su-city-pictures.blogspot.com). Susan Kouguell’s new book SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises is available for $1.00 off by clicking on www.createspace.com/3558862 and using DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD. To read an excerpt from the book, go to: https://www.createspace.com/Preview/1089452. You can follow my Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell Twitter page to receive more Savvy Tips about how to write, structure, and sell your screenplay.