The Invisible Three Acts
• The basic dramatic structure
• Good stories can be told briefly in a few
– Good stories are simple!
– Bad stories go on and on…..
What is Action?
• Action is:
– an internal psychological need
– put simply… What a character wants.
• Action is not:
• Fight scenes
• Eating a meal
– Each character should have an action
• If action is what a character wants, motivation is
their reason for wanting it.
• This is the core of the play.
– If Joe wants a glass of water, it may be because he is
thirsty. But he may have other motives. He may want
a glass of water to throw in Mike’s face. He may want
it because Mike wants it too, and he doesn’t want
Mike to get hold of it. Joe may want it to dye Easter
eggs to hide for Mike. It is all in the motive.
What is Conflict?
• Conflict is the thing that keeps a character
from getting the thing he/she wants.
– External- An inanimate object can provide
conflict. (If Joe is tied in a chair by a rope,
then it is the rope that is Joe’s conflict.)
– Internal- An internal conflict is when a
character is torn between two opposing
actions. He wants to go out and have a good
time but he also wants to get good grades.
• Conflict is not an argument!
• Man vs Nature
• Man vs Man
• Man vs Society
• Man vs Machine
• Man vs Himself
• Stakes are what the character has to gain or
– In low stakes a character thinks, “if I don’t get this, life
goes on, and I am out 50 cents.”
– In high stakes a character thinks, “ if I don’t get this I
• When a character has much to gain or lose, he
will care deeply.
• MAKE THEM CARE
What is an Event?
• The event is when a character either gets
what he wants or definitively does not get
– The event often occurs in the character’s
head. (Recognition of truth?)
– The event must be the result of action and
• One or the other character wins… or gets loose
• Or there is a change of heart
• If Scenes are molecules—Beats are the
• One scene can have 4 to 5 beats
• Beats are the smallest unit of the dramatic
structure that contain:
First Beat: Joe plays nice guy and tries to sweet-talk
Mike in to giving him the water. He gives up when
Mike says Joe is faking.
Second Beat: Joe, angry at his failure, now tries to
browbeat Mike into letting him have the water. This
fails, because Mike says he is not afraid of Joe.
Third Beat: Mike now initiates the action. He tries
diplomacy. He suggests they divide the water evenly.
Joe refuses to share.
Fourth Beat: Mike tries again, suggesting he is ready to
fight Joe. Joe calls his bluff, and Mike is forced to back
Fifth Beat: Joe, now active again, attempts a trade. If
Mike will give Joe the water Joe will pay him for it.
Mike doesn’t trust him and refuses the offer.
• Write a short two to three page play (with 3 to 4 beats)
• Two characters
• 1st Character wants a book from the second character
• 2nd Character wants something intangible from the first.
– Who are the people?
– What is the book?
– Why does the first character want it?
– Why does the second character have it?
– Why doesn’t he/she want to give it up?