The 3 Things Your Script Misses in Act One (And How to Find Them)

They call Act One the setup. But you could miss those gains.

When you’re writing your screenplay, there are a lot of beats you need to try to remember. When you break them down into actions, it might seem a little less complicated.

The three acts are a way of looking at a story that dates back to ancient Greece, and they inform all sorts of narratives in film and television. It was Aristotle’s theory that a drama must have a beginning, a middle and an end. Well, with all that theory, sometimes you miss writing. So I wanted to break down the things that I see people missing, because often it’s the same thing. I even miss those things, so it’s good to see them again for me too.

Today we are going to review the first act. People call it “the setup”, but I think there’s a lot more to it. Act One also needs a lot of rewards. So let’s dive into the three things I think you’re missing in Act 1 and go from there.

The 3 things your script lacks in the first act

1. A True Character Failure

When you’re working on your character arcs for the movie or TV episode, you want to give us some of their days in act one. We want to know what drives them and what an average outing would be for them.

But when you do all of that, sure, we see them failing as well. We have to see them really messing up something or not being able to get something. Too often, newbie writers don’t tackle our characters enough, so we never really know what we’re looking for when they change. Give us that low point and we’ll inspire them to go on an adventure to overcome it or succumb to it.

2. Time to wallow

Along with the note above, we need to see how this low moment affects them. So many writers simply jump from the low moment to the want-to-change that we miss the weight of the situation. If you let a character wallow and show how it affects them. This is also your chance to write some great character scenes.

Did it affect their mood? Their other relationships? How and why? Let them wallow, and we’ll be there when it’s time to get up.

3. The exact reason why we are taking action 2

You can see that I covered separate times. And the reason is that a lot of people in a first draft just write for the vibes. What I mean by that is that they’re so focused on living in the emotions that they don’t have any real moments where we see something change.

Like, when is enough? It’s not just the low moment, it must be an exact reason to continue the story. Things cannot change in a flash, they must naturally progress via a solid reason.

Once you can identify that, you know you’re ready to write the second act.

Can you think of some examples of these beats? Leave your best ideas in the comments.