Monday, June 05, 2023

Three-Act Structure in 11 min episode

A typical length of a children's TV episode (animation) is 11 minutes. Some shows are 7 minutes or 5 minutes, but 11 minutes is the standard. Over the years, I've learned to adopt the three-act structure within this episodic time frame. It's served as a useful checkpoint when a story isn't working, or as a springboard for brainstorming plot. Anyway, here's how it breaks down (as a general guide, not any kind of rule or join-the-dot storytelling):

Act One:
Premise set-up. Pages 1-3.
  • One or two scenes that quickly set-up the premise of the episode.
  • Premise of the episode should contain a clear character goal for the protagonist.
  • Bonus: establish any stakes.
  • By no later than page 3, certainly not past page 4, the protagonist should be ready to tackle the premise of the episode.
  • The protagonist's decision to tackle the premise of the episode helps to facilitate the end of act one moment, and pushes the action forward into act two.

Act Two: 
Turning Point One. Pages 4-5. 
  • The action develops into a significant turning point.
  • It follows the protagonist's efforts to take on the premise of the ep but things backfire or don't go as planned.
  • It prompts a different course of action or re-think.
  • 'Turning point one' is a significant story beat but it's not necessarily one scene.
  • A couple of scenes or mini-story beats should lead us to 'turning point one' no later than page 5.
Turning Point Two. Pages 6-8.
  • The stakes and jeopardy are raised.
  • A midpoint, if you like.
  • All story turning points are generally led by the protagonist. They drive the story with their character goal and objectives.
  • A lot of fun and action will be occurring around this section. The height of audience engagement.
  • But things are increasingly getting worse in the story. And 'turning point two' occurs no later than page 8. 
Turning Point Three. Pages 9-10.
  • This is the action that leads us to the end of act two.
  • Everything develops to a seeming defeat or disaster. The 'all is lost' moment, if you like.
  • It doesn't look like the protagonist will achieve or overcome the premise of the ep. 
  • This key moment should be despite the protagonist's best efforts. They should ideally never be passive in the story. 
  • The end of act two is no later than page 10, as a guide (page 11 at a stretch). The protagonist will probably get an idea that there may be a way to resolve the story after all.

Act Three:
Resolution. Pages 11-13.
  • A swift resolution of the story as the protagonist finally achieves or overcomes the premise of the ep.
  • But not without a twist or fun bit of action. It shouldn't be too straightforward or a quick fix. 
  • The protagonist gets the outcome they need, not necessarily wants. But it can be both!
  • The theme or moral of the episode should play out here. But not in a sickly preachy way, no sir.
  • A comic coda or button to end on is always welcome.

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