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.
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.
Catch you later, Louise Alice Wilson
Extract from Michael Rabiger, 2009, Directing the Documentary, 5th Edition (Focus Press) pp.283-291