HomeFun StuffWhat Should Be Going On by Act 3?

What Should Be Going On by Act 3?


In preparation for Sunday Spotlight Part 3 coming up this weekend, we wanted to take a look at what should be happening by the beginning of Act 3.

Let’s take a look at the questions we’ll be using to judge the next installment of The Playground.

1. Is the process of our identification with the protagonist complete by Act Three?

As we theorized previously, a movie captures the moments when the extraordinary coagulates around the ordinary, then the point of a story is to convince a reader that our protagonist WOULD BE extraordinary in those circumstances.

It’s at this point in the story that our character(s) have searched and found they possess the traits necessary to win out. We’ve seen glimpses of these traits earlier on, but now the protagonist has learned to trust his qualities and himself.

Question 1 is broken into the following parts:

A) Are there universal character traits in relief by this point? Is the protagonist honest, resourceful, caring, or creative? The thing about these adjectives is that they are universal. The audience can relate because they possess all these qualities too (even if they don’t possess them equally).
B) Are the negative character traits which have plagued the protagonist up through the midpoint in full retreat by the third act?
C) In other words, does the protagonist finally TRUST what is best in him/her?
D) Is there a symmetrical loss of viability in the power of the “antagonist”? Have we found a weakness?

Part D focuses on an important point. As our protagonist grows stronger, by an inverse relationship, the antagonist should get weaker. This trade of power can come in a variety of ways, but for those award winning stories the protagonist’s strengths should be the antagonist’s weaknesses, and vice versa.

We, as the reader/audience, should identify with the good of the protagonist while also understanding that we may identify with the bad of the antagonist. Almost like looking in a mirror, and seeing a negative reflection of ourselves.

2. Is there a functional plan in place to resolve whatever issue has been keeping the protagonist from fade out?

A) Does the plan DEPEND ON whatever universal character trait(s) the protagonist has spent the first two acts honing?
B) Does the plan seem like the ONLY possible way to get to fade out? In other words, is it a necessary outgrowth of the plot points—or does it feel convenient?
C) Do we believe the protagonist will succeed or do we know it? We argue that it is better if we believe it. As a writer, you’re working toward your Peter Pan moment.

In a good story, the protagonist is the only one who can do what needs doing to reach their goal. They may need help, but they understand the strength of qualities necessary to overcome the antagonist and reach their goal.

What the other questions are suggesting is that the entire story and plot should be leading to this “plan” for our protagonist get what they want. Be too convenient and your audience will hate you, think too outside the box and your audience will hate you. It’s another instance where we must tread the fine line of great storytelling, making the path the natural next step in our plot.

3. Like Blake Snyder we agree that the momentum arrow from the midpoint to the act three break should be less halting AND detrimental to the protagonist and his goal.

A) Have we been driving pretty much relentlessly toward the defeat of the protagonist?
B) Is the “antagonist” using the protagonist’s flaw(s) to increase this pressure on the protagonist?

For those of us that have been through screenwriting courses a lot of the feedback we receive on early drafts is we’re too easy on our protagonist. I’ve mentioned it on the forum before, but I was lucky enough to have a professor early on who told me I’ve got to drag my characters through Hell.

Same goes here. If anything, before we get to Act 3, we need that dark moment where “all is lost.” Call it what you will, but our protagonist’s biggest enemy is often herself, and this low point is where she almost gives up.

The antagonist seems so powerful that, despite a few wins, he (our protagonist) can’t take that final step because of the great losses. However with the support of other characters, or some thoughtful insight, a plan arises which is what the other questions talk about and carry us through Act 2 and into 3.

4. Is there a clear place in the script where the protagonist points toward his/her trust in what is best about him/her?

A) Is there A SINGLE PAGE where it “clicks” for the protagonist.

As mentioned above, this is the “AHA!” moment where the day isn’t won, but we have a positive feeling it can be and know what must be done.

In closing, the character needs to continue to trace the path set up in the first pages of the script. We’ve experienced some losses, some wins, seen a decent change in our protagonist and are now ready to bring it home.

Act 3 is that journey “home” where we’ll get the girl, save the world, or achieve retribution. We as writers just need to make sure it’s a believable journey getting to and completing our story.

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  1. Very timely article for me. I was just watching “Wrath of the Titans” last night with the family and was marvelling about how awful it was, story wise, thanks to the blind, religious following of the Kitty’s beatsheet.

    “As we theorized previously, a movie captures the moments when the extraordinary coagulates around the ordinary, then the point of a story is to convince a reader that our protagonist WOULD BE extraordinary in those circumstances.”

    Every filmmaker wants their movie to be extraordinary, but cmon. Every movie IS NOT extraordinary. That’s why we have a whole B Movie genre. This statement just shouldn’t be thrown over the script slushpile like a blanket. It simply can’t apply to all films.

    Think about comedies that rely on the flawed characters to remain that way to the end. Like the three stooges. They NEVER change.

    Or what about monster movies? The protagonists don’t overcome anything. They don’t arc. They figure out how to kill the antagonist monster. (And no I’m not trying to revive the arc argument)

    “B) Are the negative character traits which have plagued the protagonist up through the midpoint in full retreat by the third act?”

    Why? Why does every movie have to have a flawed hero, just waiting for his screen time to blossom? That would mean every superhero movie could only be an origin story. There could be no sequels. There wouldn’t be any more James Bonds, Indiana Jones, etc. Once we made a character a hero, that would be it. End of story.

    Argh. I feel like I’m beating my head against the walls of Temple Blake.

    Movies are just too cookie cutter these days. When my wife was watching Perseus get thrashed by his bro Ares, she wanted to know why this was even in the film. I explained that it was because we, the audience, have to be tricked into thinking all is lost. It was act 3. This was formula.

    That kind of blind, rigid adherence to beat sheets and formula is killing movies that could be so much better. It’s not just movie lovers like me that see the formula and have our movies spoiled- it’s the average movie goer as well.

    I know, I’m a heretic for saying this, but cmon guys. Let’s forget the damn cat already.

    • LOL CE you are too funny. I can literally imagine you beating your head against the wall.

      Anyway, have you read the book? Remember, Roy used to hate it too, BEFORE he read it. He didn’t like the idea of a formula for good movies. He’s a convert.

      I’m not saying you’ll be a convert, but Snyder did present a lot of good points in STC, and I bet if you take his beats and compare them to your favorite movie, Predator, you’ll see what he’s talking about.

      It’s not cookie cutter so much as good story telling, which requires certain elements, a lot of which Blake Snyder takes and renames. His book wasn’t really anything new, it was just repackaged in an easy way.


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