Storytelling in depth: The trouble with acts

The Hulk - The Avengers

Film Crit Hulk explains how to fix stories with weak middle sections.

Part of a series on the intricacies of storytelling, and how to harness it for your brand …

Hulk smash! More importantly, Hulk smash bad movie structure, the three-act screenplay.

Film buffs and screenwriters have used, studied and debated the durable three-act form for movies. In essence, it breaks the story into three parts, with the climax coming at the end of Act 2.

The Hulk, specifically, Film Crit Hulk, tears this apart in an analytical essay on Badass Digest. Our green hero says that this vaunted three-act structure leads to shoddy second acts in which characters mark time till the big climax.

Instead, he argues that each act break should come when the protagonist chooses an action that cannot be undone. It propels the story forward, and, as such, a movie can have three acts, five acts or even nine acts.

As corporate storytellers, you will not always have such neat structure, especially in long forms such as blogs or seemingly random forms such as social media. But you will have opportunities to tell neatly packaged stories: within blog posts, videos, annual reports and even slide decks.

To engage your audience, characters must not only be relatable in some respect, but also make decisions that have consequences.

If I were to dramatize the story of how I got into consulting, an act break would not focus on being laid off at a publisher. That is something that happened to me, but doesn’t propel the narrative because it’s an occurrence, not a choice.

I decided after soul searching to leave journalism, my home for many years, to strike out on my own as a communications consultant risking all my life savings and my house. Ta da … act break.

Tell the story of your brand through the eyes of those who made it happen: the founders, the leaders, the inventors, the dreamers. Explain the stakes behind each decision, and how it made the company better … or worse. Earn that act break.

Even the Hulk understands that acts don’t make a story, but actions do.

Video: Superman’s funeral. Jump to 4:40 to see the Hulk’s eulogy.

See more posts in our “Storytelling in-depth” series.

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About Wade Kwon

Wade Kwon is conference director for Y'all Connect. See his full bio.

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