A friend of mine had an idea for a screenplay and during the months of writing, I participated in an online screenwriting course, mainly to workshop the script. Having taken numerous college and online fiction writing courses, I found the Introduction to Screenwriting, at first, fairly easy with little new information until the instructor described the screenplay paradigm (coined by Syd Field in his book Screenplay). This concept reworked my own paradigm on to how to develop plot in any story.

The classic paradigm breaks screenplays into three acts:

  • Act I: Setup
  • Act II: Confrontation
  • Act III: Resolution

Each act has parts to it, which all contribute to the development of character, building of conflict, and the climax.

In act 1, characters are introduced, and they are typically developed through action or dialogue. Relationships between characters are displayed. During this act, the major dramatic premise is explained. This is the central question the main characters need answered, and therefore the central goals they need to achieve. Here are examples from popular movies:

  • Star Wars: Will Luke Skywalker become a Jedi and save the galaxy?
  • Rocky: Will Rocky win the big fight and in the process become a better man?
  • Die Hard: Will John Connor put a stop to the terrorists and save his wife?

Answering the above questions, or reaching their goals requires conflict, which is built throughout the screenplay.

There are two major plot points in the three-act structure, and act 1 contains the first. A plot point is the first major development incited by the main character or to the main character. It ramps up conflict and leads to the end of act 1.

Act 2 has a variety of obstacles to overcome and is where all of the conflict ramps up. Conflicts should build as the story progresses. Luke starts training but cannot learn fast enough; the rebel alliance  suffers major casualties; Luke and friends must save Leia. All of these dramatically create tension and suspense.

Act 3 starts with another plot point. Luke’s mentor, Obi Wan, dies. Rocky is losing the fight. John Connor’s wife is discovered to be a hostage.  The conflict ramps up until a climax which is directly followed by a short period of resolution.

In a future article, I will explain how I use the screenplay paradigm in my story development.