basic structure of a 5 act play - literative

Five Act Play Structure

Jennifer Mendez Writer's Resources

Playwriting via the five act structure has been around for centuries. What began as an art form that kings and queens enjoyed, ended up being an art form for the masses. This dramatic structure of a play can be seen in many places — from real life to the silver screen to broadway to small community theaters; and everything in between. Including the fancy, red velvet curtain ones…

But how does one write a play? Does the five act strucure convert well into a novel? How does a script’s structure work anyway?

Ultimately, it depends on how many acts there are in the play or story, and what kind of play it is, but there is such a thing as a basic structure for a 5 act play, which is the minimum amount of acts within a play (which is commonly used to set the structure of a book or modern day movie.)

Let’s take a look at them:

Act I: Prologue

The prologue is part of a five act play where the characters and setting are made quite clear. All major characters should have a role here, to introduce everyone. Nothing majorly terrible needs to happen here, it just needs to be something that transitions well into act II. For instance, in Hamlet, ghosts are a topic, and later, the ghost is made into a central focus point.

Read more about writing a prologue of a five act play

Act II: Conflict

Now we introduce the conflict. In a five act play, conflict is when the villain(s) first appears. Remember, it is crucial to make it a focus now, the issues at hand, but there is more to this later. Don’t go completely overboard, but don’t fully hold back either. Make sure the audience knows the conflict is a major issue, but don’t make it intense until the next act.

Learn more about writing the conflict of a five act play

Act III: Rising Action

Rising action, the ultimate climax in a 5 act play is when you add the intensity that was lacking during the previous act. The conflict is still very much there, only now it has the audience on the edges of their seats. Everything, absolutely everything, needs to connect, and lead to something of value here.

Get more details about about writing rising action a five act play

Act IV: Falling Action

Falling action should be a resolution at work in this part of the five-act play, where things reach their conclusion. No deep points should be made, it should focus on actions. Perhaps a villain becomes a hero, or maybe the hero turns to the dark side. Maybe everyone dies, except your version of Horatio.

Read more about crafting the falling action while writing a five act play

Act V: Denouement

Denouement, where you establish the tone and morals. Remember, when plays first began, they were meant to prove a point, or make the audience question their logic over something. This is when things are made pretty clear: the overall message you’re trying to send. Perhaps a character talks to the audience, or talks to himself/herself. Maybe there’s a line that says it all, or a conversation that ties up loose ends, or shines a light on the substance behind your script.

Read more about how to end a story and where morality comes into play

basic structure of a 5 act play 2 - literative


Being a playwright isn’t something long lost in the past: it is something that can help you share a story as a visual medium, but in a raw, human way. It’s a collaboration, and a joy when it all ends up coming together as you intended. Next time you feel like taking a step, and writing a script, remember to start with a five act play. It’s basic, packed with meaning, and rather short, so all the details incorporated into each act have a substantial purpose.

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About the Author

Jennifer Mendez

Jennifer Mendez has brought insightful articles to From author interviews to how literature meets gaming to expert insight into tools and writing processes, her dedication to helping our author community is quite inspiring. You can find more of her writing at