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January 12, 2023

Breaking Down the Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring Using the Three Act Structure

How do you make a great plot that both stands on its own and makes up part of a wider series of films? 

This question is something that many screenwriters need to contend with. Many story structure theories talk about a single story, but they rarely talk about how those structures work if you’re trying to tell a multi-part story with sequels and prequels

Do you spread the narrative structure across all the films in the series, or does every film in the series need to work on its own? 

Today, we’re going to have a look at The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring as a masterclass in how to use narrative structure in a film that forms part of a trilogy. 

What is The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring about?

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is a perennial favorite of movie fans around the world, in part due to its excellent craftsmanship, but also because of its epic story. 

So how long is The Fellowship of the Ring? The standard version of the film is just shy of 3 hours long whilst the extended version adds roughly an extra half an hour at 3 hours and 28 minutes. 

Despite the large scale and sweep of this story though which is unusually long for modern cinema audience, it’s actually pretty simple when push comes to shove. The story is, essentially, about a hobbit called Frodo, who must bring a powerful magical ring across the world of Middle-Earth and drop it into a volcano called Mount Doom in order to destroy it forever. 

Though there are many more characters and subplots that interweave with Frodo’s journey, the simplicity is never lost. This is one of the defining scripts of the fantasy genre (and you can find more fantasy scripts here

The Fellowship of the Ring, the first film in the trilogy, is even simpler. This film tells the story of how Frodo comes into contact with the ring, his beginning journeys, meeting several key allies, and setting out on the adventure proper. Best of all it follows the three-act structure.

What are the main themes in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring?

Tolkien, the writer of the novels on which these films were based on was a prolific mythologist. He wanted to create a national mythology for England. 

Though this remit has been far transcended and the story is loved by people around the world, the central mythological themes remain.

Like many mythological stories, The Lord of the Rings focuses on the clash between good and evil, warring societies, prophecy, and the corruption of man by elements out of their control. 

Who are the main characters in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring?

Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood)

Frodo is a hobbit, a small humanoid whose people are known for their innocence and quaintness. He’s a generally out-going and friendly man, and therefore an unlikely bearer of the One Ring, the evil artifact that must be transported to Mount Doom. 

Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin)

Samwise (often just called Sam) is a lifelong friend of Frodo who agrees to accompany Frodo on his quest. Sam is a reliable pair of hands who is faithful and loyal to the end. 

Gandalf the Grey (Ian Mckellen)

Gandalf is an ancient wizard who has a cheeky sense of humor and unending wisdom who becomes a mentor and guide for Frodo, and introduces him to the adventure.

Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm)

Bilbo is Frodo’s uncle and at the start of the story is the wielder of the one ring, which he acquired during his own adventures long ago (recounted in The Hobbit book and films). 

Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen)

Aragorn, who initially goes by Strider in this film, is a human ranger and secretly the heir to the throne of Gondor, one of the last great human kingdoms. He is a great fighter who proves a solid ally for Frodo and Sam.

Boromir (Sean Bean)

Boromir is part of the ruling class of Gondor and agrees to accompany Frodo on his quest, but he also embodies the worst aspects of Man in this world and proves easily corrupted by the power of the ring.

Legolas & Gimli (John Rhys-Davies & Orlando Bloom)

Legolas and Gimli, an elf and dwarf respectively, are an odd couple pairing and fearsome warriors who form part of the fellowship to escort Frodo to Mount Doom. Their personalities clash, but they soon become fast friends. 

Merry & Pippin (Dominic Monaghan & Billy Boyd)

Merry and Pippin are slightly foolish and clownish friends of Frodo and Sam who insist on coming along on the adventure.

Elrond & Galadriel (Cate Blanchett & Hugo Weaving)

Elrond and Galadriel are some of the last elves currently living in Middle Earth. They are ancient (despite their youthful appearances) who insist that the ring must be destroyed before they leave. 

Saruman & Sauron (Christopher Lee & Alan Howard)

 Sauron is a great evil force who has taken over the province of Mordor, where Mount Doom lies, who seeks to take the ring and seize total power for himself. Saruman is a wizard and lackey of Sauron, corrupted by visions of power.

Christopher Lee as Saurman in Lord of the Rings. He is an old man with a long white beard and hair.
Christopher Lee plays Saurman in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Plot breakdown

Now let’s break down the plot of The Fellowship of the Ring 


The opening of The Fellowship of the Ring is a classic backstory. An omniscient narrator tells the audience that Rings of Power were made for the many races of Middle-Earth, but Sauron, a dark lord, forges the “One Ring” to dominate the rest. In the exposition, the world was dominated by warfare until Sauron was eventually defeated when Sauron’s ring-wearing finger is severed. 

Frodo Baggins, the main protagonist in Fellowship of the ring surrounded by Sam and the others  in the mountains.
Frodo Baggins and the gang in The Fellowship of The Ring


Now we learn that the One Ring has made its way all the way to The Shire. This is a sleepy part of Middle-Earth where the hobbits live. It’s now owned by Bilbo Baggins. However, Bilbo disappears after his 111st birthday, leaving his inheritance (and the One Ring) to his heir, his nephew Frodo Baggins. 

Inciting incident

Gandalf is a close friend of the Baggins family. However, on a fateful day he discovers the ring and its true nature. He hurries away to do crucial research, learning of what the ring is, and that Sauron’s forces now know where it is. 

Gandalf hurries back to the Shire and convinces Frodo and Samwise to leave before Sauron’s forces find him.

Turn to two

Leaving the Shire is not something hobbits do, but Frodo and Samwise muster the courage to go on an adventure like Bilbo to try and find out how to destory the ring.

Promise of the premise

As Frodo and Sam venture out of the Shire, Gandalf seeks council from Saruman the White only to discover that Saruman has been corrupted by Sauron. 

Meanwhile, Frodo and Sam are joined by their friends Merry and Pippin. They are keen to go on an adventure too. 

However, the Nazgul, horrific hunters on the orders of Sauron, find the hobbits. The hobbits manage to evade the Nazgul. They make it to Bree, a small town where they were meant to meet Gandalf. 

In a bar in Bree they meet Strider (who we’ll soon know to be Aragorn) who agrees to help them on their journey, evading the Nazgul once more in Bree.

However, the Nazgul eventually catch up with the party. Aragorn is unable to fend them off entirely. Frodo is saved by Arwen, the elven love of Aragorn, and is whisked away to Rivendell, the elf stronghold, as the Nazgul pursue.


Frodo recovers from a wound he received when fleeing the Nazgul. He meets Gandalf again who managed to escape Saruman’s clutches. After Frodo recovers, Lord Elrond, the elven master of Rivendell, musters a council of men, elves, and dwarves to figure out what to do with the ring. 

During this council we meet Legolas, Gimli, and Boromir, who all affirm that they must escort Frodo to Mount Doom where they will be able to destroy the ring. The Fellowship is born.

In a typically Tolkien flourish, a lot of these new characters play into traditional archetypes that you can read about by following the link. 


However, things do not go smoothly as the Fellowship departs Rivendell. They are forced to make an arduous journey over snowy mountains to avoid Saruman’s spies (in the form of birds). 

A storm grows too great and the Fellowship is forced to go through the Mines of Moria, an ancient dwarf city that has long been abandoned after a terrible catastrophe. 

The Mines of Moria are infested with Saruman’s orcs as well as a fearsome demon known as a Balrog. Here, Gandalf sacrifices himself fighting the Balrog so that the Fellowship might persevere. 

Turn to three

The Fellowship are devastated after the loss of Gandalf, the wisest of their number, and to make things worse Boromir is seemingly becoming corrupted by the Ring’s power. However, their spirits are improved when they reach the elven city of Lothlorien, were the elven queen Galadriel tells Frodo that only he is capable of reaching Mount Doom. 


The Fellowship proceed towards Mount Doom by boat and make a quick stop where Boromir, overcome with lust for the power of the ring, tries to steal it from Frodo. At the same time, a group of orcs launch an ambush on the Fellowship. Frodo and Sam flee, Merry and Pippin are kidnapped, and Boromir dies in the fight. 


Frodo tries to leave the Fellowship and proceed on his own, but Sam refuses to leave him. The duo venture onwards as the remaining Fellowship try to find Merry and 

What can we learn from The Fellowship of the Ring?

As you can see from this breakdown, Fellowship of the Ring does a fantastic job of both telling a story within its own confines while still contributing to the greater whole of the trilogy. A character can change piece by piece, and each film in a franchise can detail a distinct step in that progression.

Luckily, you can use Arc Studio to help you on the entire writing journey - from outline to finished product! Arc Studio provides built-in story structures so you don’t have to put in all that tedious time formatting. Try out Arc Studio today, for free!


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Breaking Down the Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring Using the Three Act Structure
Alex D. Reid

Alex is a professional screenwriter who loves writing horror. He won the horror category at Austin Film Festival for his screenplay Delirium in 2019 and is currently studying for a Ph.D in English Literature with a focus on the horror genre

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