Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Victoria Lucia

Examples of 5-Act Structure

Story structure is like a faithful old friend; for many of us, we find one way of structuring a story and stick to it. Most often, it's the three-act structure that we lean on. But learning about new narrative structures can be a helpful way to shake up your writing! Have you given a five-act structure a try? It may end up being the perfect way for you to tell your next story!

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Today, we're examining the five-act structure and providing some famous examples of stories that have used this story structure with great success.

Examples of 5-Act Structure

What is a 5-Act Structure?

A 5-act structure is a narrative structure that breaks down a story into five acts. German playwright Gustav Freytag is famous for developing what is known as Freytag's Pyramid- a pyramid-shaped 5-act structure guide.

How Do You Write a 5-Act Structure?

A 5-act structure is just an expanded 3-act structure! A guide like Freytag's interpretation of the 5-act structure can help you understand each act's purpose.

Freytag's Pyramid breaks down the sections of a 5-act structure as follows:

Act 1: Exposition

We're introduced to the characters and the world of the story. The primary conflict or issue is established.

Act 2: Rising Action

The conflict is further developed, and the protagonist faces challenges and obstacles.

Act 3: Climax

Not a climax in the way we normally think of the term. Act 3 is made up of a turning point that occurs in the middle of the story. If things have been going well, this is where things take a turn for the worst. If things have been going bad, there might be hope.

Act 4: Falling Action

The protagonist must face the results of their choices and what the story's action has led them to. The stakes are at their highest, and the protagonist will bring an end to the final conflict

Act 5: Denouement

The resolution! What's done is done! Storylines are concluded, and loose threads are tied up.

What Types of Stories Use a 5-Act Structure?

All types of stories can utilize a 5-act structure. Shakespeare's plays are often given as popular examples, as all of them consist of five acts. Novels, novellas, and nonfiction works can also use this structure.

Can a Movie Have 5 Acts?

A 5-act structure can be used in many different forms of writing, including novels and plays. It's a particularly popular structure for writing TV and movies! A 5-act structure is often utilized by TV shows that must contend with commercial breaks.

Examples of Movies With 5 Acts

"The Godfather" screenplay, written by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, is a great example of a movie that uses a 5-act structure! Here's how it lines out.

Act 1: Exposition

We meet the Corleone family. The protagonist, Michael, a war veteran, is trying to separate himself from his criminal family. An attempt is made on the head of the family (and father to Michael) Don Vito's life. The attack on his father brings Michael home to be with his family.

Act 2: Rising Action

While their father is recovering, Michael's older brother, Sonny, is put in charge. Together they come up with a plan to take out their rivals.

Act 3: Climax

Michael kills those behind his father's attempted assassination. He flees to Sicily to lay low. His new wife is murdered by those seeking revenge. Back home, Sonny is also murdered.

Act 4: Falling Action

Michael returns to New York and remarries. He promises his second wife that he'll make the family business legitimate in the coming years. Don Corleone is warned about a traitor but soon dies.

Act 5: Denouement

Michael discovers the traitor and kills everyone involved. Michael becomes the new head of the family.

For more examples of movies and TV shows that utilize a 5-act structure, be sure to check out the following scripts:

Final Thoughts

A 5-act structure can help you further break down and understand your story. You might find the structure particularly helpful if you're writing a play or a script for television. A 5-act structure is not all that different from the commonly used 3-act structure; it just adds more depth. Like all story structures, the 5-act structure should be considered a guide to help your writing. Feel free to play with it and put your stamp on it! If you've never used a 5-act structure, try it on your next story. Happy writing!

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