Why Your 3rd Act Struggles

Confused about how to give your script a great ending? Don’t worry we got the solution, in this video Mike shows you why most screenplays struggle in the 3rd act and what you can do to ensure that you can repair the issue.

What do you do when you get stuck in the third act?

Most of the time, writers struggle in the third act because something is missing in their first two acts. It is due to the lack of connective tissue that needs to be set up in the screenplay story structure. This boils down to the fundamental problem of lack of clear character goals and motivations. Clear goals and motivations are what drive the journey of the script. They are the guiding light from the beginning of the story to the end.

A Typical Script Structure

A general hero’s journey or a three-act structure goes like this:

1. A clear setting to set up the character’s goal.

2. A disturbance to disrupt the setup.

3. A bridge between the disturbance and the second act to establish motivation.

4. Midpoint- the part of the story where the hero becomes really active.

5. Low-point- the character is losing hope

6. Climax- the last scene ties the movie to the motivation.

If you look at the plot of the movie Taken, you will find the perfect use of these steps. The character’s goal is to spend time with his daughter followed by the disturbance which is when the daughter goes to Europe. The bridge is when the kidnapping happens and the character finds out. The midpoint is when the character is actively looking for his daughter and then hits the low point where he gets beaten up. Finally, the climax is when the character miraculously wins his fight and saves his daughter from the bad men.

It is clear in this example how the character’s motivation and goal ultimately comes to a close with the climax. If writers establish this structure format, they will not have much trouble in proceeding with their third act.

Closing The Third Act

People have a hard time closing up the third act because they don’t have a cohesive goal and motivation. Or, most likely the screenplay story structure lacks one or the other. It is possible to get through the first draft without a clear motivation. However, on the condition that it at least has to have a clear goal. The goal guides the writer from the beginning to the end. It is the spine of the story.

If you find it difficult to close your third act, it’s because the character doesn’t have a goal. It is very easy to streamline the story as long as you have a context of the world and a clear goal. With a clear goal, it is possible to formulate a million different ways to get through an entire narrative. It allows creativity to flourish and create different possibilities and ideas.

What is a clear goal?

In the SAN screenwriting classes, the character’s goal is viewed as the central gear. It’s this gear that makes the other gears in the script outline move. So, if the central gear is not functioning properly, then the other elements of the script also don’t really function. This slows down the pace of the script and makes the conflicts come out as weak or unfocused. A clear goal allows the writer to throw obstacles and create conflict in the script.

Unblocking the third act

If your third act feels blocked, then you need to go back to the setup. Identify your character’s motivation in the script outline. What is the physical manifestation of the character’s desires? What is the character’s motivation to chase that goal? All these aspects are addressed in the climax which heads towards the ending. Most of the climaxes come face to face with the motivation in the end. The character may or may not achieve the goal. However, they will transcend the goal and realize some fundamental needs related to their motivation.

So, motivation is like the fuel that allows the car to drive forward while the goal is central gear. Don’t be afraid to reassess your entire story. Screenwriting classes at SAN teach writers to grow in the craft. You can spend months and years trying to understand what’s missing in your story. It is stressful when the story doesn’t work out as you expect. When that happens, the best thing to do at this stage is to go back to the basics.

The Bottom Line

It all boils down to understanding this concept and simplifying the story at its foundation which is done by having clear goals and motivations. Your third act will be much clearer. Everything in the story will flow much easier once you understand how to be creative with your goals and motivations.

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