When it comes to constructing plots, whether it be for a screenplay or a documentary film the ‘three-act structure’ is one of the oldest tricks in the book, having been invented by the ancient Greeks. It may seem super boring at first, but it’s a great guide to ensuring  direction, interest and tension are worked into your plot, so feel free to change it up a bit.

The Three-Act Structure

Act 1: The Setup; establishes the environment, situation, characters, relationships and the ensuing dominant problem/s faced by the key character/s.

Act 2: Magnifies the complications in relationships, as the key character/s deals with arising difficulties, preventing them from solving the main problem.

Act 3: Intensifies the situation until climax or confrontation occurs, which the key character/s will resolve. Whether this be a good or bad resolution, or how dramatic the resolution is, is up to you. A squiggly example is shown below.

Three Act Structure


The Dramatic Curve

Another concept from the Ancient Greeks is the dramatic curve. The ‘dramatic curve’ represents the progression of dramatic elements as time passes: first problem > develop tension > scenes of added complication & intensity > apex/climax > resolution/change. An example can be seen below, it’s more of a ‘dramatic triangle’ but you get the drift.

Dramatic Curve

Catch you later, Louise Alice Wilson



Extract from Michael Rabiger, 2009, Directing the Documentary, 5th Edition (Focus Press) pp.283-291