Prototype e-book: 3 act structure.

Note: I’ve been meaning to write an ebook for a while, but I’ve had trouble committing to any one thing. As an experiment, I’m playing with linking together a series of articles I’ve already written. This is a sample introduction I wrote.

I both love and hate the three act structure. I like it as a useful framework to hang ideas on. I hate the flame wars that it invites. Those that really could benefit from it seem almost pathologically averse from it, the people that embrace it tend to embrace it way too hard (if you’ve ever had a conversation with a Linux user, you know what I’m talking about).

To me, the three act structure is a natural prerequisite to taxonomy, thought experiments, and archetypal assumptions. There is so much shit you can do once you playfully yes-and three act structure and hack the shit out of it, but it always tends to end up in a mac vs pc flamewar which depresses me.

The three act structure is a way to structure a story. It doesn’t apply to every story, but it’s also way better than nothing. I feel like most books on the subject have a tone of implied authority that rubs a lot of people the wrong way. I see the 3 act structure as a tool. If you want to cut wood, you could use a jigsaw, circular saw, reciprocating saw, miter saw, or a hand saw. There’s no best way, but it’s best to have access to all of them, so you have the right tool for the right job.

POSTEL’S LAW: Be conservative with what you accept about yourself, liberal in what you accept in others.

Most three act debates go like this:

GUY A: People have problems with the second act.
GUY B: The three act structure is bullshit. It’s hacks like you that are ruining Hollywood with your formula crap.What Guy A probably meant to say is, “In my humble experience, a lot of scripts seem to use the three act structure without actually understanding it. This problem might be ameliorated by a greater understanding of the paradigm, particularly how the second act works.

What Guy B probably means is, “In my humble experience, many people miss the point and cling to three act structure and received wisdom at the at the expense of real understanding. Can you confirm to me that you aren’t one of those.”

And it’d be nice if we lived in that world. But also annoying. And kind of boring. The more accurate you make a statement , the less charismatic it becomes.

All communication is inaccurate because all communication is an oversimplification. Without the benefit of the doubt, we are lost. There’s always a more accurate way to say something.

Anyway, onwards to content. The meat of this book began in 2014, with a rant posted on reddit.

Most Second Acts Suck

Published by Matt Lazarus

WGA screenwriter offering in-depth writing instruction, notes, critique, and assistance.

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