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Three Act Treatment

©2010 by Robert J Ray and Jack Remick

Three Act Treatment:

Aristotle laid down the rules for drama: a three-act structure (beginning, middle and end) that rises to a climax where the audience experiences a purging called catharsis. To reach that point near the end of Act III, writers build a structure with lesser climaxes at key points along the way. Think of curtains falling, commercial breaks, bathroom breaks.

The three act structure is a handy way to allocate story material.

  • Act I is where you bring on your main characters.
  • Act II is where you dig up the past to create complication.
  • Act III is a suspenseful race to the climax.

Writing the Three-Act Treatment: Set your timer for five minutes per section.

1.     I am writing a story about
2.     Act One opens when
3.     Act  One ends when
4.     Act Two opens in a scene called…
5.     At the middle of my story, my protagonist
6.     Act Two ends when
7.     Act Three opens when
8.     My Story climaxes in a scene called
9.     My Story ends with this final image….

Hint: Lay Pipe. A phrase we picked up from the screenwriters. When we wrote The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery, Bob and I found that a good entry point to the rewrite is Act Three. Act Three is a template for rewriting Act One. Logic–what survives in Act Three has to be foregrounded in Act One. So, look at Act Three. What’s left there? Rewrite Act One laying pipe to connect to Act Three. If this sounds odd think of it this way: If someone, something, some object shows up in Act Three that you didn’t lay the pipe for in Act One, you’ve got a deus ex-machina and that isn’t going to work in the 21st Century–ever.

deus ex ma-chi-na             (das eks mak-n, -na, mak-n)n. 1. In Greek and Roman drama, a god lowered by stage machinery to resolve a plot or extricate the protagonist from a difficult situation. 2. An unexpected, artificial, or improbable character, device, or event introduced suddenly in a work of fiction or drama to resolve a situation or untangle a plot. 3. A person or event that provides a sudden and unexpected solution to a difficulty.[New Latin deus ex machina : deus, god + ex, from + machina, machine (translation of Greek theos apo mekhanes).]

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Excerpted from American Heritage Talking Dictionary
Copyright © 1997 The Learning Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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