Script Structure and Sequences: What They’re Not Telling You.

An eye-opening guide on how sequences underpin traditional 3-act screenplay structure.

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by Script Reader Pro in Screenplay Structure
May 29, 2015 48 comments
script structure

There’s more going on in script structure than three big acts.

[The following post on script structure is an extract from our book: Master Screenplay Sequences – Revolutionize Your Understanding Of Screenplay Structure.]

Traditional 3-act screenplay structure goes something like this:

A protagonist is landed with a problem in Act 1 (the set up.) He/she attempts to solve it in Act 2 (the confrontation.) He/she fails or succeeds in Act 3 (the resolution.)

What’s wrong with this? Well, it’s fine as a basic formula but overall it’s too broad. It’s too vague.

There’s actually much more going on in screenplay structure than just three big acts. And that’s what this guide is all about…

Script structure: the boring old formula.

You may be familiar with different terms regarding the structure of a screenplay depending on what books you’ve read, but the basic five major plot points generally go as follows:

• Call to action (Act 1, min 12 approx): This first plot point changes the protagonist’s world forever and sets the story in motion. (In Mean Girls, Kady is invited to lunch for the rest of the week by the Plastics.)

• Act 1 turning point (Act 1, min 25 approx): The protagonist makes a decision that launches them on their journey into Act 2. (In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Joel decides to have all of his memories of Clementine erased.)

• Midpoint (Act 2, min 55 approx): In screenplay structure, this third major plot point cuts the film in half. The protagonist is forced to react from the biggest blow yet delivered by the antagonist. (In Die Hard, McClane throws a dead guy out the window and shoots up a police car.)

• Act 2 turning point (Act 2, min 85 approx): We see how everything either goes horribly wrong or comes up roses for the protagonist. (In Fargo, Jerry flees from Marge’s questioning—the game is officially up.)

• “Climax” or “final resolution” (Act 3, min 110 approx): The most important beat in script structure is the end when the protagonist either triumphs or fails in their Act 1 goal. (In Paranormal Activity, Katie becomes possessed by the demon in her house and kills Micah.)

The problem with this traditional screenwriting structure analysis is that it fails to mention that each of these plot points also signifies the climax to a sequence.

It ignores the seven or eight sequences that underly 3-act script structure. This means there are actually seven major plot points in a script. Not just five.

screenplay structure

How to hack script structure using screenplay sequences.

Before we discuss how sequence script structure works, let’s first get to grips with what a sequence actually is.

The sequence as a “mini-movie” in screenplay structure.

The easiest way to approach sequences is to think of them as self-contained “mini-movies.” This is because they each give the protagonist a mini-story that builds through its own 3-act structure toward a climax/major plot point.

Each of the seven or eight sequences last roughly ten to fifteen minutes long. Put together, end-to-end, they make up the whole movie.

For example, at the start of the film, we’re often shown the protagonist’s “ordinary world.” This first sequence builds its own little story until it reaches a climax when the protagonist’s world is changed by the call to action.

The next sequence then builds in intensity as the protagonist reacts to this event. It ends with its own climax when they make a big decision at the Act 1 turning point. And so on, throughout the film.

Think of a random scene in any movie. Got one? Good. That scene is not just floating around somewhere in the three acts. It’s showing us the protagonist in the middle of a story specific to that sequence.

Script structure example. 

Say you just thought about the scene near the beginning of The 40 Year Old Virgin in which Andy is roped into playing poker with his work colleagues.

This scene is not “hanging in mid-air”. It’s the midpoint of the first sequence, which soon reaches a climax with Andy being outed as a virgin.

Just as in the overall film, the protagonist’s fortunes go from a positive to a negative, or vice-versa, from sequence to sequence as they traverse the screenplay.

It is this back and forth motion of each sequence ending alternately on a positive or a negative that gives a screenplay its feel of a “roller-coaster ride.” If a sequence begins on a high point, chances are it’ll end on a low point.

The protagonist has to traverse all the familiar plot points of a call to action, big decision, midpoint, all is lost moment and climax. Just like in traditional 3-act screenplay structure.

How sequences underpin traditional 3-act screenplay structure.

A big problem with the traditional screenplay structure model is that it lacks a solid base. There’s nothing for the major plot points to be anchored to. And with only five plot points instead of seven, a script ends up a vast expanse of “conflict” that needs filling.

In reality, each of the five major plot points—the call to action, big decision, midpoint, all is lost/all is joy and climax—are anchored in place. This is because they’re also the climax to five out of the seven sequences.

These big plot points aren’t just moments that “have to appear” within the vicinity of a certain page number. They’re the culmination of a conflict that’s been building for the past ten to fifteen pages within a sequence.

Sequence labels in script structure.

We give each of the seven sequences a letter from A to G and break them down like this:

• Act 1 contains sequences A and B.

Act 2 contains sequences C, D, E, and F.

• Act 3 contains sequence G.

Screenplay structure climaxes.

Let’s check out the five sequence climaxes which share a climax with the traditional five major plot points:

• The climax to sequence A is also the call to action plot point in the overall screenplay. In Legally Blonde, Elle spends the first sequence excited about possibly getting engaged to Warner. The end of the sequence is the same plot point as the call to action in the overall structure. Instead of asking Elle to marry him, Warner dumps her.

• The climax to sequence B is also the big decision plot point in the overall screenplay. In The Truman Show, Truman spends the second sequence reminiscing about Sylvia and growing increasingly suspicious of the world around him. The end of the sequence is the screenplay’s big decision when Truman tells Marlon he wants to leave.

• The climax to sequence D is also the midpoint in the overall screenplay. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy spends this sequence finding the Well of Souls and then the Ark itself. The end of the sequence coincides with the overall Midpoint of the film as Indy and Marion are locked in the Well of Souls.

• The climax to sequence F is also the all is lost/all is joy plot point in the overall screenplay. In Collateral, Max hits the gas in this sequence after being goaded by Vincent about his pathetic life. The sequence ends at the end of Act 2 when Max crashes the cab. Annie’s life is now in danger.

• The climax to sequence G is also the overall climax in the screenplay. In The Shining, Jack spends this final sequence chasing Danny through the maze. The sequence ends with the climax to the whole film when Jack is outfoxed by Danny.

Dividing a screenplay up into sequences like this makes conflict that much easier to generate and sustain. This is because you’re able to use each sequence to work toward another climax every ten to fifteen pages.

Thinking of screenplay structure in this way, each sequence becomes a “mini-movie” which either brings the protagonist nearer to or further away from their overall goal established at the end of Act 1.


Do you struggle with script structure? Or are you fine using the Snyder, Truby, Field, etc. method? To learn how to truly master screenplay structure using sequences, check out our book below.

script structure

Enjoyed this post? Read more about script structure…

How to Write a Screenplay That’s Unlike Any Other in 6 Steps

12 Secret Script Beats You Should Include in Act 1 of Your Screenplay

Obsessing over Three-Act Structure? Here’s What You Should Do Instead

[© Photo credits: Unsplash]

  1. G. says:

    What happens in sequences C and E??? You go to great extent explaining that there are seven sequences not five, then only talk about five of them.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Well, we don’t want to give away everything that’s in the book 🙂

  2. Dan says:

    I studied your ScriptHackr course, which is amazing. Do the structure and dialogue books add anything new, or does that course cover all the topics which are discussed in these books?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Yes, the dialogue book has fresh material but the structure one is the same. Cheers!

  3. oscar julian lopez rincon says:

    great-job, guys!!!

  4. Luca Brambilla says:

    This is very interesting, but speaking about his script Teddy Rossio of Pirates of the Caribbean The Curse of the Black Pearl told that there are 26 sequences in that movie. How can it be possible in your opinion? Maybe there are macro sequences and micro?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Yes, there are a lot of systems and methods out there and whatever works for Terry works for Terry!

  5. Jeff says:

    This is excellent info on structure. It really makes it understandable now.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Great, glad it helped Jeff!

  6. Jonas says:

    Sweet! Would you say a movie like Lord of the Rings can be broken down into sequences.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Absolutely, they’ll just be more than seven.

  7. steven thompson says:

    Thanks, you have really got me thinking about script structure in a new way.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Great, thanks Steven!

  8. Pavel says:

    WHere can i find the script to Legally Blond?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Yes, it’s one of our best comedy scripts you can download for free. 🙂

  9. Anna Gilbert says:

    This has opened my eyes!! Thank you so much for sharing. Love from Missy G in Toronto!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Anna – glad it helped!

  10. toni says:

    What’s the script structure in Roma then? You can’t fit everything in a box.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      We didn’t say you could. Sequences are used in most Hollywood movies but arthouse and foreign movies are another matter.

  11. Ollie says:

    Great thank u. Cant wait to get back to tackle my script tonight when I get home.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Good luck, Ollie. We’re here to help.

  12. Sausan says:

    I recently purchased Script Hackr Screenwriting Course. Does it include the content on this book? Or this book is more in depth?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Hi. No, everything in the book is also in the course.

  13. Naomi Philips says:

    Wow this seems very large any way thanks for that guys

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Naomi!

  14. Jordan says:

    Script structure has always been my weakest point. This helps though.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Glad to hear it, Jordan!

  15. Aileen says:

    What’s the midpoint to the movie The Favourite?

  16. Duncan says:

    I’m thinking about buying this book . Sounds very interesting. Thx

  17. Frieda says:

    Does anyone have a clue about script structure really? SO many different points of view and formulas.. .

  18. Gabe says:

    I recently purchased your amazing series of hacks…The structure hack makes sense, that there are 7 big beats(sequences)…within in sequence is a call to action, Big event decision, midpoint, all is lost/joy, climax…but within each of these sequences… there are scenes made up of a setup, call to action, act one turning point, midpoint, climax and Denouement…how do the scenes fit into the sequences? Is each of the sequence beats a scene? just a bit confused how the scenes play within the sequence…


    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Gabe – really appreciate it! Yes, you’re right that the scenes within a sequence act as the Call to Action, Act Break, Midpoint etc. but there are usually more than seven scenes in a sequence. The very best way to get a handle on it is to write outlines of movies as you watch them, and then break down the outline into sequences and then see where the individual “plot point” scenes occur within the sequence.

  19. Bird son bird says:

    Wow I understand now.thanks.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:


  20. Chiemeka says:

    My script is coming along well and I’m using the structure method in the book.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Sounds good!

  21. Karina says:

    This is really timely for me as I’m about to do a structure pass on my script. Thanks for this!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Great minds think alike, Karina 🙂

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  23. Chris says:

    This is super-helpful and clear—thanks! But the headline is confusing: this article doesn’t seem to talk about NON-traditional screenplay structure at all. This is a great, thorough way of looking at TRADITIONAL screenplay structure, right?

  24. Len says:

    Super interesting- i had not thought about structure like this before. I wanted to by your book and will once I get paid. Thanks so much.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Sounds good, let us know if you have any questions.

  25. Ashli says:

    WOW, this has really opened my eyes. I thought structure was just 3 acts haha. Thanks a lot guyz 🙂

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      It’s so much more – thanks, Ashli!

  26. Robert says:

    An excellent and completely thorough breakdown of sequences that imbues the screenplay with stronger narrative progression and character development. You should be commended for such a comprehensive analysis both in terms of intra-structure and scenework.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Robert!

  27. Rico says:

    Wow. This is great info I feel like I understand structure so much better now. THANK YOU!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Glad to hear it, Rico!

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