Writing On Spec

An award caliber procrastinator discovers a new and dangerous pursuit to keep him from actually writing another script. Why another Blog? I love to talk screenwriting. I love to talk story. I live in Richmond, VA. It's almost easier to get produced than find another screenwriter here. We are the anti-LA.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Act 2

Ah... the long, dry wasteland of Act 2.

First of all, let's get out where you're going from and to in the second act.

We're starting at our main character entering the special world, right after they've made a significant decision which should end up changing their life. Act 2 will go all the way up to the "all is lost" moment, where things just can't get worse for the main character.

So. Starting out we have some scenes of our main character adjusting to their new decision. It had to have some consequences or involve something more than 1 minute long. This is where it goes. It's where our main character starts to implement the plan they made and acted on to throw us into Act 2. An example from a recent flick I watched (Under the Tuscan Sun) is her purchase of the old house. Once she makes the purchase, there are several scenes following which are her adjustment and implementation scenes. This is often where your B story would be introduced. In Under the Tuscan Sun, it's the introduction of "false" romantic leads (since this isn't a story about meeting the right person, but becoming who you need to be before you can meet that special person).

What we're talking about here is the distance of 25% of your script to 27% of your script - from 110 pages, about 5 pages worth of material. Not much. One sequence or a few scenes.

Now we're at what Blake Snyder calls the "Fun and Games" section. This is where he says all your poster stuff goes. All the stuff that made you want to write the script goes here - 25 pages worth. For Frances in Under the Tuscan Sun, this is the renovations in the house, meeting new friends, the cooking for the workmen, etc. This is where Bruce (in Bruce Almighty) goes crazy with the god powers. The only downside to all this fun is that you do have a direction. That direction, or culmination, is your midpoint. It's your half-way point. This is where the plans that were set in motion with the end of act 1 are paying off (for better or worse). In Under the Tuscan Sun, it's where the house is coming along, she's meeting friends and making Italy her new home. The culminating scene is when she meets Marcello. After this, she's on top of the world - everything has come together and she's finally got the confirmation she's been looking for that she made the right decision.

Problem is that whatever happens at this point (good or bad), the character is mistaken - it is never as good or bad as it appears. In this instance, it's not the love she believes it to be (but more on that later).

Well, we should be at page 50ish now - or 50% through the script. You've had your fun and games scenes and they've finally either hit bottom or are walking on clouds. You've got about 5 pages to show them go through these emotions (from start to finish). It's also a point at which they are closer to achieving their goal than starting over. A place from which they cannot turn back. A great example is the Firm with Tom Cruise - he's told by the FBI that his life as he knows it is over. He either helps them bust The Firm or he goes to jail with them - either way, he cannot go back to his old life. In Under the Tuscan Sun, it's right after she returns from Marcello's. She has mentally made up her mind that it's working out and that her thoughts of failure are behind her.

Now it's time to head towards another checkpoint - the All is Lost moment. The place at which it cannot get any worse for our main character (in terms of achieving their goals set out at the beginning of Act 1 (in Under the Tuscan Sun, she mentions that she wants a family at the house, she wants a wedding and she wants children in the house). So... now she's well on her way. She's got the house, it's improving day by day, she's met this great guy, everything is just rockin' along. Time to screw up her life.

For our good friend Frances in Under the Tuscan Sun, while she's making plans to meet Marcello, her good friend from the USA surprises her with a visit - and she's pregnant. This part of the script is where things begin to unravel. Whatever was working in the first Act now begins to break or fail. For Frances, she's unable to meet with Marcello, her friend Katherine is having some major emotional problems and the house still isn't finished. In fact, the faucet *still* doesn't work. You've got about 20 pages worth of material to dig up. This is about 2 full sequences. It's also the place where the main character realizes that things are not going as smoothly as they had planned, and they need to take an all or nothing approach to achieving their goals. It's a big risk, but they need to take it (no balls, no blue chips). For Frances, this entails driving up the coast to visit Marcello - a surprise visit. This leads us right into --

The All is Lost moment. She discovers he's with somebody else. It's all over. She's back to square one again with her love life. You've got to dig up about 5 pages worth of despair and sorrow for your character as they realize that all their plans have gone up in smoke. They're screwed. No idea what to do. Bottom of the barrel, etc.Once that scene is over - hey! It's Act 3.

It's important to note that all of Act 1 will take place in the character's original "ordinary world". For Frances, this is the good old USA and her married life.

All of Act 2 will take place in their "special world". For Frances, this is Italy & Tuscany and her life as a single woman.

All of Act 3 will take place in the character's NEW "ordinary world". For Frances, it will be her newly discovered life in Tuscany - the one in which she will remain.

To break it down briefly, we have:

5 pages of transformation into Act 1
25 pages of fun and games
5 pages of hitting the wall (or ceiling) - depending on your story
20 pages of spiraling downwards as everything in the fun and games goes wrong
5 pages of transition from act 2 to act 3.

Act 2 all done - smaller chunks - definable goals.

The whole act can also be broken down (the Ackerman Way) into 6 major scenes - 1 for Act 1 break, 2 in the first half, 2 in the second half and 1 for the act 2 break. These are pivotal scenes for the main character.

Next, Act 3...

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