The 4-Act Paradigm
Reproduced in its original form without permission.
Back to the 4-act structure
Recent discussion on the Screenwriters Listserv about a Four Act Paradigm:

first, from Andrew Ferguson:

Field calls it the "pinch".  Vogler calls it the "second major
threshold".  What they both refer to is the middle of the
traditional second act of the three-act structure.

For God's sake, gentlemen, LET'S CALL A SPADE A SPADE!  It's been
there all along, yet no story structuralist wants to go against the
grain and say that the middle act is in fact TWO ACTS (point C on the

What's the problem with acknowledging that the traditional three-act
structure has in fact been a four-act structure all along?  It's not
going to shake the foundations of Hollywood.  But it might help
screenwriters fix stories that sag between pages 30 and 90 (in the
120-page paradigm).

            REALM 1  .  .  .  . A .  .  .  .  REALM 4
            .                 * | *                 .
            .               *   |   *               .
            .             *     |     *             .
            .           *       |       *           .
            .         *         |         *         .
            .       *           |           *       .
            .     *             |             *     .
            .   *               |               *   .
            . *          ACT 1  |  ACT 4          * .
       p.30 B-------------------|-------------------D p.90
            . *          ACT 2  |  ACT 3          * .
            .   *               |               *   .
            .     *             |             *     .
            .       *           |           *       .
            .         *         |         *         .
            .           *       |       *           .
            .             *     |     *             .
            .               *   |   *               .
            .                 * | *                 .
            REALM 2  .  .  .  . C .  .  .  .  REALM 3


        REALM 1         The hero's Ordinary World.  This is the realm
                        That the hero knows -- he knows the terrain
                        and how to live in it.  But here is just your
                        average Joe Public, although he displays hero

        REALM 2         The Netherworld.  This is the realm the novice
                        hero must pass through to reach the Kingdom of
                        Evil.  This territory is unknown, frightening
                        and wonderful.  Here, the hero is swept along
                        on an inexorable tide that leads to ...

        REALM 3         The Kingdom of Evil.  Here the forces of evil
                        are the masters.  This is their home turf,
                        where they are strongest.  The hero is gonna
                        have to be very clever to avoid capture.

        REALM 4         Back to the Netherworld.  Only now the hero
                        knows the rules and expectations of this
                        realm.  He'll need this knowledge to help him
                        evade the pursuit by the Bad Guys.


      - Each act is the reflection of it's opposite.  Realm 1 is the
        opposite of Realm 3, just as Realm 2 is the flipside of Realm
        4.  Where in Act One the hero feels relatively safe, secure,
        and in control, in Act Three he faces mortal danger,
        uncertainty, discomfort, etc.

      - In Act Four, the flight, the helpers of Act Two reverse to
        become hinderers (revealed to be agents of evil all along),
        the hinderers of Act Two reverse to become helpers
        (swapping sides to join the forces of good).

      - The development of the hero shows a similar opposition between
        Act 1 & 3 and Act 2 & 4.  In Act One the hero is a powerless
        orphan; in Act Three he has become a powerful warrior.  In Act
        Two he is a wanderer in the Netherworld, acting on his
        own behalf and being pulled or lead toward the domain of evil;
        by Act Four the hero has become a Martyr working for society,
        leading the way instead of following.

There is *nothing wrong* with working in four acts instead of three.
You still work with a beginning, middle, and end.  You still work with
ascending levels of conflict and crises.  It will only make your story
stronger by clarifying the middle of your story.

My two cents.

Got change for a dime?  ;-)

Andrew Ferguson.

A response from P. Michael McCulley:
If it works for you, your writing and screenplays, go for it. I've often
felt reading other scripts the middle of Act Two was a critical point in
the story; getting from page 30 to page 90 is agony without page 60, to
my way of thinking, so I try another mini-story in 30-60 and another
mini-story in 60-90 --call them B-story and C-story perhaps.
I enjoyed the graph, and explication on Realms and Acts. Well done.

A response from Pepper-n-Christina:

Welcome to the club!  You're not alone on this one. In fact,
when I was teaching the screenwriters class in Texas, I told
the students there that I was a firm believer in mythic four
act structure as I call it.  They kind of looked at me like
WHAT?  Now there's four of them?
Vogler even divides them into four acts himself. I don't
think he goes into it in JOURNEY but in his class he
flat out told us he looks at them in four acts.  I was
happy to see someone else thought the way I did.
He told us exactly what I told my students that day. Us
writers will just have to keep that little ditty to ourselves.
I can hardly get producers and development people to understand
three act structure. Throwing another one in would just
devestate them. :-)


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