No matter the creative height a screenwriter may have attained writing a screenplay, the screenwriter wouldn’t be able to creatively alter the basic structure of a screenplay.

The basic structure of every screenplay believes that a story must have a beginning, middle, and end. In screenwriting, these basic structures are called Acts, and these Acts are named as follows:

  • Act 1 – Beginning.
  • Act 2 – Middle.
  • Act 3 – End.

In the screenwriting world, instead of calling the Acts; beginning, middle, and end, we call them:

Let’s talk about these Acts, but before that, let’s take a look at the diagram below gotten from Movieoutline: Click/Tap on the image for a clear view.

Read: Plot Structure In A Screenplay.

ACT 1 – THE SETUP

As the name implies; “setup”. This means that as a screenwriter, you’re ready to take your reader on a ride with your story, and for your reader to be comfortable on the ride, your reader must know the basic things about your characters.

The setup is where you let the reader know about your protagonist’s likes, dislikes, friends, foes, family background, etc. Do not tell your reader anything that isn’t important for the story’s progression; don’t waste your reader’s time.

Once you’ve succeeded in taking your reader on a ride through your protagonist’s life, it’s time to go to the next Act, but that wouldn’t happen without an inciting incident.

An inciting incident can also be called either a turning point, plot point 1 or a big event, but the most popular name in the screenwriting world is Inciting Incident.

What’s an Inciting Incident?

Let’s know the meaning of the words individually before combining them to see what they mean.

According to Oxford Languages:

Definition of Incite: Stir up.

According to Oxford Languages:

Definition of Incident: An event.

Combined definition of Inciting Incident:

Inciting Incident: To stir up an event.

Using the combined definition, let’s redefine an inciting incident to suit our screenwriting needs.

Inciting Incident: This is a stirred-up event that destabilizes the protagonist.

Read: How To Write A Logline.

Now that the reader knows everything about the protagonist, inserting an inciting incident at the end of act 1 should connect the reader emotionally to the protagonist.

Example of an Inciting Incident:

  • Politics has made a young man’s father and a young lady’s father worse enemies, but young man A without knowing about the friction between his father and the girl’s father falls deeply in love with her.

From the above example, the inciting incident would be when young man A tells his father who his love interest for marriage is and his father says “that will never happen”.

At this point, the protagonist who is young man A is destabilized; this launches the reader who is now emotionally attached to the protagonist into Act 2.

ACT 2 – CONFRONTATION:

This is where the screenwriter heats up everything for the protagonist. Using our example:

  • Young man A decides to marry the young lady without his father’s approval, so he goes to meet with the girl’s father. Immediately he introduces himself to the girl’s father, the girl’s father walks him out of the house.
  • The girl’s father arranges for another young man to marry his daughter, but young man B finds out that she’s in love with young man A.  Young man B joins the girl’s father to stop the love she has for young man A.

After much pressure, the screenwriter decides to give the protagonist alongside the reader a break by introducing Act 3, but that transition wouldn’t happen without plot point 2.

Plot point 2 isn’t as loud as the inciting incident, but it’s also an event stirred up by the screenwriter to help the protagonist out of a difficult situation. Using our example, plot point 2 will be:

  • The young lady’s mother returns to the country to tell her husband that young man A’s father was the one who saved her life.
  • The young girl’s father gives his approval for his daughter to marry young man A, but young man A is nowhere to be found.

ACT 3 – RESOLUTION:

From the name, this is where you tire up every loose end, and to tire up the loose end using our example:

  • Young man A is found.
  • The young lady’s father says no to young man B’s marriage to his daughter.
  • Young man A’s father and the young lady’s father make peace.
  • Young man A finally gets married to the young lady.

Note:

  • The inciting incident has to be really loud.
  • The events you use in your screenplay should stand out. Stay away from clichés.
  • Know when to draw the curtain on your Acts or else, your audience/reader will get bored.

Question:

Why should an inciting incident destabilize only the protagonist?

Answer:

Since the protagonist is our central character, once he/she is destabilized, it affects every other character.

Read: Protagonist And Antagonist.