Accelerating And Then Releasing The Tension: Act III

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Accelerating And Then Releasing The Tension: Act III

Act III gets the hero out of the tree by accelerating the action. Now we're on a downhill ride as the hero makes a new plan and goes for broke. All the complications the screenwriter established during Acts I and II come together in Act III. At the climax, the hero will either land safely or he'll crash and burn. In the aftermath following the climax, the tension releases. Any threads that are still left hanging are resolved, and we catch a glimpse of the hero's future. We finally find out if he gets the girl, or if he lands in jail.

The third act of Thelma and Louise accelerates the action: Thelma robs a store; the girls blow up a semi; they refuse to turn themselves in even though the law is closing in on them. At the climax, a chase scene involving multiple cop cars ensues—and leaves the girls hanging on the edge of a cliff. In this film, climax and resolution happen almost simultaneously when the girls decide to go over the cliff rather than turn themselves in.

Act III covers the last 25 or 30 pages of the screenplay.

The overall movement in a three-act screenplay can be stated as first setting tension, then building it, and finally accelerating and releasing it.

The lengths of the acts as stated above (a ratio of 1:2:1) are flexible. In fact, it is often dramatically advisable to shorten Act III. Ideally, Act III should give the audience a sense of acceleration up to the final conflict and finish with a resolution that is short and sweet. An Act III that is too long will drag the story down.



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