9-Act Screenplay Structure—Plotting Resource

By Jordan Dane

When I was looking for an interesting plot structure for fiction, I found references to the Nine-Act Screenplay Structure. This is the basic framework of today’s blockbuster movies. You’ll see 3-Acts and 12-Acts, but I played with this version below as a format and had some success in conceptually plotting one or two of my earlier stories. It’s my belief that once your brain grasps the concept, you may automatically follow the idea whether you are aware of it or not. As a visual learner, it helped for me to draft this and embed it in my brain, like a time bomb triggered to go off when I sat in front of my computer. (If this is too much drama for you with the whole time bomb thing, get your own website.

The 9-Act structure is similar to the classic Hero’s Journey that you may have seen, but I thought this was interesting and wanted to post it on my site as a craft topic.

Nine-Act Screenplay Structure

Act 0—During Opening Credits First 5 Minutes
What strikes the conflict—sets it up—event years earlier may plant the seed of conflict

Act 1—Opening Image—The Panoramic Crane Shot Next 5 Minutes

Act 2—Something Bad Happens 5 Minutes
In a crime story, it’s usually the murder—Reveal the bad front man, but hold off on the introduction of the bad head honcho until later

Act 3—Meet Hero/Protagonist 15 minutes
Meet hero—give him 3 plot nudges to push him to commit

Act 4—Commitment 5-10 Minutes
The push—Usually one scene that’s a door to Act 5—1-way door, no turning back

Act 5—Go for wrong goal Approx. 30 minutes est.
A series of 8-12 min. cycles called whammos or complications followed by a rest period of 5 minutes or so to uncover some of the backstory. End this act with the lowest point for the protagonist. The dark moment.

Act 6—Reversal 5-10 Minutes—Usually 70 Minutes into the Film
The last clue discovered—Now Act 2 makes sense—It is the low point, a history lesson usually revealed by the bad guy/honcho—but reveals the Achilles heel of the nemesis too.

Act 7—Go for New Goal 15-20 Minutes
The clock is ticking—Hero has a new plan. The action seesaws back and forth with nemesis and hero gaining & losing ground between each other—usually takes place in 24 hours within the context of the movie. Favors are repaid, magic, good luck happens. The new plan is kept secret. New goal is achieved.

Act 8—Wrap it Up 5 minutes
Back to where it all began—a feeling of accomplishment & rebirth—the world restored. Ahh!

© Jordan Dane, 2007