Friday, December 28, 2012

3-Act Structure Has Been Declared Dead - Once Again

Tom Lazarus has a new book out, The Last Word: Definitive Answers To All Your Screenwriting Questions. Just got my hands on it, so it's too soon for a review, but while browsing through my copy I stumbled upon the section called 'Rising Action'.

In this chapter, Mr. Lazarus claims that Three Act Structure is dead. Instead, it has been superseded by the Rising Action principle - which is exactly what the name implies. You hit the ground running and things keep building from the word go. In the past, the argument goes, writers were taught to slowly build their world, revealing characters one step at a time, and only getting to the meat of the story's developments in act 2. For contemporary audiences, that's just too slow.

I have absolutely no problem with Rising Action as a screenwriting concept. But it is not a substitute for TAS (cool, I invented an acronym!), or any other story structure. And TAS (ooh, I like the sound of this!) was never intended as a 'slow burn' approach to storytelling. Sure, some people will take a lot of time to put all their pieces on the board. And some teachers or manuals may have advocated or at least presented this slow introduction as the best way to write a screenplay. But mostly, people have been told to get their story up and running as quickly as possible. The very fact that the usual 'place' for the inciting incident is within the first 10 to 15 minutes of the narrative is proof enough of this. As is the fact that the usual 'script graph' always portrays a steeply rising line of action, and that more current depictions of the model point out that every act ends on a climax. What this means, is that every act (whether you have one, two, three, four or maybe more) is structured in a similar way to the entire screenplay. And will, of necessity, consist of rising action all the way.

So, no, I do not agree that 3 act structure has gone the way of the dodo. What IS true (as explained in the Thor-post), is that the structure is mutating, and not in a way which is necessarily conducive to good screenwriting and storytelling. And what is also true, is that the field of screenwriting structure should be opened up to include far more models, to suit different types of story. But that's a topic for another post.

In the meantime, if you'd like to read Tom Lazarus' take on this and dozens of other topics, you can get the book here: