Screenwriting

10 Story Structure Events That Will Level Up Your Script (with GIFs)

You do not need any formula to tell a good story. That said, understanding the basics of story structure can unlock the freedom to be original. Let’s get after it!

At its core, a story is simply a series of events. An event is when a character faces off against an obstacle in pursuit of their ultimate goal. The character wins or loses. “There is no tie” – Yoda, in a lesser-known moment.

Often, stories are structured into three acts. Or five. Or two. I tried nineteen once. But I’m going to talk about the three-act ones because they’re hot right now.

Act I introduces the main character (the protagonist) in their everyday life, known as the ordinary world.

In “Toy Story”, Woody is established as Andy’s favorite toy and has a duty to keep the other toys organized

After a norm is established, in comes the inciting incident!! This is an event that completely upsets the balance of the protagonist’s life. This incident is often caused by the antagonist: the primary opposing force. Dun dun dunnnnn.

Hans Gruber’s arrival in “Die Hard”

Then someone (or something) tells the protagonist to do something about this upset in what is referred to as a call to adventure.

Harry receives a letter to attend Hogwarts in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”

It’s not that simple though, because the protagonist is hesitant and resistant to change. This is the refusal. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Simba retreats to the desert in “The Lion King”

When the protagonist finally agrees to the adventure, that kicks the story into Act II. This act often introduces new characters in a subplot, also known as B story. The B story always supports the main story in some way. This is the part that makes the rom-com worth watching, where the best friends have a bunch of hilarious and romantic moments.

Inigo Montoya seeks to avenge his father’s death in “The Princess Bride”

The midpoint is exactly what you’d think, the middle(ish) point of the story. This moment is the inverse of the story’s resolution. So if there’s a happy ending coming, this is where things go horribly wrong. The protagonist might even complete their goal–BUT it’s not what they expected. Blast!

Luke and his companions arrive at Alderaan but it has been destroyed and they are trapped by the Death Star’s tractor beam in “Star Wars: A New Hope”

Things start to get really intense for the protagonist now, at an ever-rapid pace, pushing them toward their darkest moment where all seems lost.

The Joker tricks Batman and kills Rachel Dawes in “The Dark Knight”

Sometimes this is followed by a breakthrough, where the protagonist sees one last chance or a glimmer of hope.

Trinity confesses her love to Neo and brings him back to life in “The Matrix”

In Act III, the protagonist faces their greatest challenge yet in the climax. He or she finally defeats the antagonist (or if you’re going for an Oscar, the protagonist loses in the most tragic possible way).

In “Jaws”, the shark eats Quint and almost sinks the ship before Brody blows it sky high.

The protagonist returns back to their world but is forever changed in the resolution.

The hobbits return to the Shire in “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King”

Boom. That’s all it is. Stories don’t have any other elements.

I’m obviously kidding… they also have magic. In any case, I do encourage you to hold your story up to this basic outline. Where does it match? Where does it deviate?

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