First Act – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Screenwriting Glossary Terms

I. What is a First Act in Screenwriting?

In screenwriting, the first act is the initial section of a screenplay or film that sets up the story, introduces the main characters, and establishes the world in which the story takes place. It typically covers approximately the first 25% of the total running time of the film and is crucial in grabbing the audience’s attention and setting the stage for the rest of the story.

II. What is the Purpose of the First Act?

The primary purpose of the first act is to hook the audience and draw them into the story. It introduces the main characters, establishes the setting, and sets up the central conflict or problem that the characters will face throughout the film. The first act also lays the groundwork for the themes and tone of the story, giving viewers a sense of what to expect as the plot unfolds.

III. What are the Key Elements of a First Act?

Some key elements that are typically found in a first act include:

1. Introduction of the main characters: The first act is where the audience gets to meet the main characters and learn about their backgrounds, motivations, and relationships with each other.

2. Establishing the setting: The first act sets the stage for the story by establishing the time, place, and world in which the characters live. This helps to immerse the audience in the story and create a sense of atmosphere.

3. Introducing the central conflict: The first act introduces the central conflict or problem that the characters will need to overcome. This conflict drives the story forward and keeps the audience engaged.

4. Setting up the story arc: The first act also sets up the overall story arc, including the goals and obstacles that the characters will face as they work towards resolving the central conflict.

IV. How Long Should a First Act Be?

The length of a first act can vary depending on the overall length of the film, but it typically covers around 25% of the total running time. For example, in a two-hour movie, the first act would be approximately 30 minutes long. It’s important for the first act to be long enough to establish the characters and setting, but not so long that it drags on and loses the audience’s interest.

V. How to Hook the Audience in the First Act?

To hook the audience in the first act, it’s important to start the story with a strong opening that grabs their attention. This could be a dramatic event, an intriguing mystery, or a compelling character introduction. It’s also important to establish the central conflict early on and create a sense of urgency that keeps the audience invested in the story.

Other ways to hook the audience in the first act include creating interesting and relatable characters, setting up a clear goal or objective for the main characters, and building tension and suspense through foreshadowing or hints at what’s to come. By engaging the audience from the very beginning, you can ensure that they are invested in the story and eager to see how it unfolds.

VI. What are Common Mistakes to Avoid in the First Act?

Some common mistakes to avoid in the first act include:

1. Starting too slowly: It’s important to grab the audience’s attention right from the start, so avoid long, drawn-out exposition or unnecessary backstory that slows down the pacing of the story.

2. Lack of conflict: Without a central conflict or problem for the characters to overcome, the story can feel flat and uninteresting. Make sure to establish the conflict early on and build tension throughout the first act.

3. Introducing too many characters: While it’s important to introduce the main characters in the first act, avoid overwhelming the audience with too many characters at once. Focus on developing a few key characters that drive the story forward.

4. Failing to establish the setting: The setting of the story is crucial in creating a sense of atmosphere and immersing the audience in the world of the film. Make sure to clearly establish the time, place, and tone of the story in the first act.

By avoiding these common mistakes and focusing on engaging the audience with strong characters, conflict, and setting, you can create a compelling first act that sets the stage for a successful and engaging film.