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Lesson #7 Four Act Wheel Structure

Updated: Nov 24, 2019

#filmstructure #acts #theherosjourney

What is your favorite film act structure?

Three, four or five?

I’ll quickly go through them all

and explain why my favorite is four.

And don’t fool yourself to think

That theory is number one

It’s all about the poetry

Where ideas can easily fly.

Or you can also think of it as home

Where all rooms chant their most comfortable tone.

Pittsburgh - Greenfield, Pennsylvania

Everyone in the world knows about the three-act structure, “the beginning, the middle and the end” paradigm, proposed by Aristotle. Throughout the world, students of dramaturgy and screenwriting learn about it, while they take their first step towards understanding storytelling architecture.

Blake Snyder takes it from Aristotle and in Save the Cat he says: “I like to think of movies as divided into three separate worlds. Most people call those three acts. I call them thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.”

If you want to use the three-act structure for your short film, please have in mind:

Act One stands for pity: the part of the film where you have to feel with and relate to the character, obviously because, a problem or wound is introduced

Act Two stands for fear: where you are afraid for the character because he/she is now fighting and might lose, and he/she is afraid as well

Act Three stands for catharsis: the suspension of tension – the character resolves the problem, something/someone wins

I think I spoke about this already, when I was explaining how to write a short synopsis. This is how: write those three sentences and you’ll have your story.

You have also probably heard of Freytag’s Pyramid or dramatic structure. In his book Technique of the drama, the German novelist, Gustav Freytag, laid out the underlying structure of every Ancient Greek tragedy and Elizabethan drama. This model has remained predominant till this day and John Yorke uses it for the five-act film structure in his book, Into the Woods.

1. Exposition

2. Complications

3. Climax

4. Falling action

5. Catastrophe

In The Writers Journey, Christopher Vogler compares the outline and terminology with The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.

Here you can see three acts, corresponding with the Jungian theory of individuation. We can also call this one a mythological structure:

Act One: Departure, Separation

Act Two: Descent, Initiation, Penetration

Act Three: Return

After, in his book, Vogler splits three acts into four:

Act One: Departure, Separation

Act Two A: Descent

Act Two B: Initiation, Penetration

Act Three: Return

While he defines:

Act 1 and Act 3 as the “Ordinary world”

Act 2A and Act 2B as the “Special world”

Pilar Alessandra also teaches the four act model (Act1, Act2A, Act2B, Act3) where every act is 25 pages long (for 110 page long feature film screenplays) and she brings four “T’s” into this equation. Those Four T’s stands for:

Beginning: Trauma

Middle Part 1: Training

Middle Part 2: Trials

Ending: Triumph

This is quite useful and accurate but I don’t believe she mentions it in her book, The Coffee Break Screenwriter. Nevertheless, you can check this book out if you want simple explanations and quick 10 minute guidance on how to structure your feature film.


While having all that in mind (honestly not just in mind, somewhere deep down in my subconscious all of those structures are playing out all the time), let me show you: