Category Archives: Alexandra Sokoloff

Nanowrimo Prep: The Three-Act, Eight Sequence Structure

By (Alexandra Sokoloff)

Today we talk about maybe the most useful thing you can ever learn about story structure. If you read any post in this Nanowrimo Prep series, this is the one!

(If you’re just joining us today, here’s the first

Alexandra Sokoloff
So today we’re going get conscious, and talk about everyone’s favorite subject. You know it’s true! What’s not to like about a climax?
Early playwrights (and I’m talking really early, starting thousands of years ago in the Golden Age of Greece) were forced to develop the three-act structure of dramatic writing because of intermissions (or intervals). Think about it. If you’re going to let your audience out for a break a third of the way through your play, you need to make sure you get them back into the theater to see the rest of the play, right? After all, there are so many other things a person could be doing on a Saturday night….
So the three acts of theater are based on the idea of building each act to a CLIMAX: a cliffhanger scene that spins the action of the play in such an interesting direction that the audience is going to want to hurry back into the theater at the warning chime to see WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. Many plays have just one break, at the middle, so the Midpoint Climax is equally important.
This climactic rhythm was in operation for literally thousands of years before film and television came along and the need for story climaxes became even more, um, urgent. Not just because life was faster paced in the 20th century, but again, because of the technical requirements of film and television.
In a two-hour movie, you have not three climaxes, but seven, because film is based on an eight-sequence structure.
The eight-sequence structure evolved from the early days of film when movies were divided into reels (physical film reels), each holding about 10-15 minutes of film. The projectionist had to manually change each reel as it finished, so early screenwriters incorporated this rhythm into their writing, developing sequences that lasted exactly the length of a reel and built to a cliffhanger climax, so that in that short break that the projectionist was scrambling to get the new reel on, the audience was in breathless anticipation of “What happens next?” – instead of getting pissed off that the movie just stopped right in the middle of a crucial scene. (If you get hold of scripts for older movies, pre-1950’s, you can find SEQUENCE 1, SEQUENCE 2, etc, as headings at the start of each new sequence.)
Modern films still follow that same storytelling rhythm, because that rhythm was locked in by television – with its even more rigid technical requirements of having to break every fifteen minutes for a commercial. Which meant writers had to build to a climax every 15 minutes, to get audiences to tune back in to their show after the commercial instead of changing the channel.
So what does this mean to you, the novelist or screenwriter?
It means that you need to be aware that your reader or audience is going to expect a climax every 15 minutes in a movie – which translates to every 50 pages or so in a book. Books have more variation in length, obviously, so you can adjust proportionately, but for a 400-page book, you’re looking at climaxing every 50 pages, with the bigger climaxes coming around p. 100 (Act I Climax) p. 200 (Midpoint Climax), p. 300 (Act II Climax), and somewhere close to the end. Also be aware that for a shorter movie or book, you may have only six sequences.
If you put that structure on a grid, it looks like this:Looking at that grid, you can see that what I started out in this article calling the three-act structure has evolved into something that is actually a four-act structure: four segments of approximately equal length (30 minutes or 100 pages), with Act II containing two segments (60 minutes or 200 pages, total). That’s because Act II is about conflict and complications. While plays tend to have a longer Act I, because Act I is about setting up character and relationships, the middle acts of films have become longer so that the movies can show off what film does best: action and conflict. And books have picked up on that rhythm and evolved along with movies and television, so that books also tend to have a long, two-part Act II as well.
You don’t have to be exact about this (unless you’re writing for television, in which case you better be acutely aware of when you have to hit that climax!). But you do need to realize that if you’re not building to some kind of climax in approximately that rhythm, your reader or audience is going to start getting impatient, and you risk losing them.
STEALING_HOLLYWOODOnce you understand this basic structure, you can see how useful it is to think of each sequence of your story building to a climax. Your biggest scenes will tend to be these climaxes, and if you can fit those scenes onto the grid, then you already have a really solid set of tentpoles that you can build your story around.
So here’s the challenge: Start watching movies and television shows specifically looking for the climaxes. Use the clock on your phone or the counter on your DVD player to check where these climaxes are coming. It won’t take long at all for you to be able to identify climactic scenes.
Your next task is to figure out what makes them climactic!
I can give you a few hints. The most important thing is that the action of your story ASKS A QUESTION that the audience wants to know the answer to. But climaxes also tend to be SETPIECE scenes (think of the trailer scenes from movies, the big scenes that everyone talks about after the movie).
And what goes into a great setpiece scene?
Well, that’s another post, isn’t it?



All the information on this blog and more, including full story structure breakdowns of various movies, is available in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks. Any format, just $3.99 and $2.99.


This new workbook updates all the text in the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors ebook with all the many tricks I’ve learned over my last few years of writing and teaching—and doubles the material of the first book, as well as adding six more full story breakdowns.
STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries


Writing Love is a shorter version of the workbook, using examples from love stories, romantic suspense, and romantic comedy – available in e formats for just $2.99.
Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns


HUNGER MOON, Book 5 of myThriller Award-nominated Huntress/FBI Thrillers, releases October 24. The books follow a haunted FBI agent in pursuit of a female serial killer, and it really is a series that needs to be read in order, so Thomas & Mercer has put the first four books in the series ON SALE for $1.99 US, 99p UK, and 1.49 AU.

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff


All Huntress books now on sale in US, UK and AU: 1.99, .99, 1.49

By (Alexandra Sokoloff)

Book 5 of my Thriller Award-nominated Huntress/FBI Thrillers, following a haunted FBI agent in pursuit of a female serial killer, releases October 24.

This really is a series that needs to be read in order, so Thomas & Mercer has put the first four books in the series ON SALE for $1.99 US, 99p UK, and 1.49 AU.

Special Agent Matthew Roarke and mass killer Cara Lindstrom return – in

Book 5 of the Huntress/FBI Thrillers.

College rapists better watch their backs.

Book 5: out October 24, 2017 in print, ebook and audio. Pre-order here.

In the new book, Roarke and his FBI team are forced to confront the new political reality when they are pressured to investigate a series of mysterious threats vowing death to college rapists… while deep in the Arizona wilderness, mass killer Cara Lindstrom is fighting a life-and-death battle of her own.

For thousands of years, women have been prey.

No more.

Enter to win one of 100 print copies on Goodreads.

If you are caught up with the series, HUNGER MOON is also now up on Netgalley, if you have an account. Blogger/Reviewers, please message me for the direct link or a pdf! alex AT alexandrasokoloff DOT com

You’ll find out what’s been happening with some of the other characters while Roarke was off in the desert in Bitter Moon. It’s – complicated.

As always, you’re in for a road trip: the book takes Roarke and Cara (not together!) to the canyons of Arizona; the wealthy coastal enclave of Santa Barbara; the gorgeous campus of my alma mater, UC Berkeley; the Santa Ynez wine country; and the surreal desert wasteland of the Salton Sea.

And speaking of surreal – there’s the political… roller coaster. Imagine trying to write a realistic contemporary FBI series with all of the current madness going on. (Actually, imagine how hard it is to write ANYTHING with all of the current madness going on. My publishers had to ask me if they could move the book out a month because none of the authors who had deadlines before me had gotten their books in on time. Yeah. That bad.)

So no, I haven’t backed off from writing about the unreality of it all, and I’m not sorry. I know that readers are already loving this book for telling it like it is. I’m also anticipating death threats. (Like that’s anything worse that what’s happening everywhere.) I will happily repost and distribute any trolling and disgruntled emails to all relevant media, so bring it on. 🙂

Best of all, no matter what Betsy DeVos is trying to do, or undo, some college rapists are going to learn that no matter what complicit judges or moronic Secretaries of Education say – they’re not going to get away with it any more.

—————– SPOILERS —————

Special Agent Matthew Roarke is back from his desert sojurn to head an FBI task force with one mission: to rid society of its worst predators.

But when the skeletal symbols of Santa Muerte, “Lady Death,” mysteriously appear at universities nationwide, threatening death to rapists, Roarke’s team is pressured to investigate. Then a frat boy goes missing in Santa Barbara, and Roarke knows a bloodbath is coming.

Meanwhile, avenging angel Cara Lindstrom is in hiding in the Arizona wilderness, still on her own ruthless quest – until an old enemy comes after both her and the FBI team, forcing her back into Roarke’s orbit. This time, the huntress has become the hunted . . .

Out October 24, 2017 in print, ebook and audio.



Via: Alexandra Sokoloff