Writing 101: A Simple Breakdown of How to Structure Your Screenplay

Navigating the monomyth is a tedious, arduous, and confusing endeavor for any hero on their journey, but it's even more so for screenwriters.

One seemingly straightforward but surprisingly complicated things about writing a screenplay is story structure. Plenty of screenwriting gurus have offered their two cents on what a well-structured script should look like, but Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, or monomyth, is perhaps the most widely known and template for crafting stories, and is arguably one of the most accessible for new writers. If you want to get a real handle on story structure, Film Riot has shared an excerpt from Seth Worley's Writing 101 online screenwriting course that will really help you out.

Even though the excerpt is just an introduction to screenwriting basics, it breaks down the most important and fundamental elements of the craft. Not nailing down your story's structure is like dropping your audience in the middle of nowhere without a map and expecting them to make it all the way home. It can be done, but 1.) it probably won't, and 2.) if it is, your audience will be super pissed when they get there.

Now, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to any part of screenwriting; if you don't like the monomyth, you don't have to follow it. Not all monomythic scripts are good and not all good scripts are monomythic. For some, the Hero's Journey template is the answer and works like a charm, but for others it may be Syd Field's plot points paradigm or Robert McKee's story beats that gets it done. Maybe you don't like the three act structure and you want to go with five, six, eight, or nine.  

The most important thing is that you provide your audience with a clear roadmap of your story so they always know where they are and can navigate from beginning to end, and sometimes that means being flexible with whichever paradigm you're following.

If you're interested in learning more about screenwriting from Seth Worley, his Writing 101 course is $55 at the Triune Store    

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Your Comment


The toughest job... script.
Thanks for this article.

July 9, 2017 at 8:03AM

Sameir Ali
Director of Photography

One important point is that, generally, the hero has some tragic flaw or pattern that is preventing a genuine victory/breakthrough/love. Act II is all about trying to solve the problem using the same old flawed mentality. The breakthrough at the end of Act II is about overcoming this flaw and doing things a new way - more enlightened, holistic, transformational, sensitive, strategic. And that is the super power that allows her or him to triumph in Act III.

Once in a while the hero doesn't have a flaw, and in that case, it's the world that has to catch up to the hero. The breakthrough, in that case, is that the world/society accepts her or him, making space for the hero's true power to express itself.

July 9, 2017 at 9:41AM

Sandy Chase

Occasionally we also have the hero that remains flawed and that makes him all the more human. I thought the story that made up "The Last of Us" game and the ending was simply perfect and a sting in the heart... :)

July 12, 2017 at 5:20AM

Torben Greve

Great article and video. So many indie films do not follow this structure - and that's okay if the film works, but usually it doesn't.

July 11, 2017 at 11:01AM

Greg Green

I've been looking for films that doesn't follow the structure. could you give an example?
Thank you

August 26, 2017 at 12:16AM

Emil F. Skanning
Writer, Director, Editor

Would you like to really learn what Harper Lee was told when she took her lot of disgusting drivel to a friendly editor ? That editor sat her down and taught her DEEP LITERARY THEME THEORY.
Would you like a good massively paged ebook full of useful info and sympathy in being rejected ?
Would you like all your niggles to go away ?
THE SIGN OF 4 has been written for you.
Without this knowledge you will never make it as a professional writer. This is what the professionals clearly do not want us to know. Never mind rubbish courses and books.
They are all utter garbage.

January 19, 2020 at 7:18PM, Edited January 19, 7:21PM