Story Structure

Story structure is the framework for scripting a film story to include the character's journey.

Misha Tenenbaum avatar
Written by Misha Tenenbaum
Updated over a week ago

Story Structure is the organizational framework of a story. It includes the relationship between the scenes, the building action and resolution, and the course of the journey the characters are taking.

As the story evolves, the audience learns the Story World, Protagonist, Objective and obstacles; all revealed within the Story Structure.

The essential elements of a story are:

  • Story World - Where and when the story takes place

  • Protagonist - The main character of the story

  • Objective - Something important the protagonist wants

  • Obstacles - Things that prevent the protagonist from getting what they want

  • Climax - The biggest obstacle of the story that puts our main character in a very tough spot, as they usually need to make the most difficult decision yet

  • Resolution - The end of the protagonist’s journey to meet their objective, whether it is happy or sad

Story Structure includes the protagonist's efforts to overcome obstacles in order to meet their objective.

  • In the Beginning of a film, after we meet the Main Character and we learn their Objective, there is typically an Event (sometimes called the Inciting Incident) that starts the Protagonist's journey.

  • In the Middle of the movie, the main character will try to succeed in reaching their goal, but along the way, they will face many Obstacles and close calls. As the story progresses, the obstacles get more difficult. This is called Rising Action. The middle of a film ends with the Climax. The climax is when we find out if the main character will achieve their goal.

  • The End of a movie, also known as the Resolution shares with the audience if the main character Achieved their Objective and How the Journey Changed them.

A simple graph chart showing the traditional story structure of a film.

Three-Act Structure

The most common film story structure is the Three-Act Structure*, the traditional model used in narrative fiction that divides a story into three parts:

  • Act One - The Setup

  • Act Two - The Conflict

  • Act Three - The Resolution

*Three-Act Structure was popularized by screenwriter, Syd Field, when he made this ancient storytelling tool unique for screenwriters in 1978 with the publishing of his book, Screenplay.

Let's look at the details of each part.

Act I: Setup

The setup involves introducing the characters, the Story World, and some kind of ‘’inciting incident" that pulls the protagonist out of their normal day to day, changing their life in some way. After the inciting incident, the protagonist must take action, which propels us into the second act of the story.

Act II: Confrontation or Build

The middle of the story raises the stakes for our main character. It is a series of escalating events, with successes and/or failures, that happen as the protagonist struggles to achieve their goal. This keeps our audience engaged in the story. This is the main portion of the story and often leads the audience to the protagonist's most challenging encounters at the end of the second act, the Climax.

Act III: Resolution or Payoff

As the protagonist enters Act III, they are at their lowest point and wondering if it's even possible to reach their goal. The biggest actions and emotions take place in this act. By the end, the protagonist conquers their goal for the positive (or sometimes negative) resolution.

Did this answer your question?