How to Write a Screenplay
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The end of the first act gives your protagonist his or her quest. The goal they are trying to achieve that will be decided at the climax.

So, the second act typically starts with thoughtful contemplation. ‘HOW are we going to accomplish this impossible task? It’s so daunting!...’ The protagonist(s) needs to figure out what to do. His world has just been turned upside down. He’s gone from being just a regular guy - to having a quest that must be solved - or else!

The first turning-point also tends to come with a change in scenery, a change in setting. If you remember Armageddon, the first act is on a drilling rig - the second act is at NASA and on space shuttles - and the third act is on the asteroid. This isn’t a coincidence.

The turning-points come with a dramatic rise-in-stakes. Things get much more dangerous for the protagonist. And, this usually means you need a setting-change.

So, if the first act is all about getting to know the protagonist and setting him off on his quest - the second act is all about that quest, save for the dramatic bits at the end - and the third act is about resolving everything.

If you noticed, that means that all the interesting bits are in the first and third acts. Yet, those are the two shortest acts. Leaving you a whole bunch of time in the middle of your movie - with nothing exciting to put in it! That’s why second acts are notoriously boring. Beware.

The second act is where the majority of your story happens. Your first act is mostly concerned with introducing everyone and setting up the protagonist’s quest - and your third act is mostly concerned with tying up all the loose ends. So, that only leaves the second act for the majority of your story elements. Which is probably why second acts tend to be considerably longer than the other acts.

Being so long, the second act is often broken into two halves - with a false-victory or a false-defeat separating the two. If only to provide some much-needed excitement for the audience.

In a false-victory, the protagonist(s) looks like he’s finally won - only to have the carpet pulled right out from underneath him. And, now the quest seems even farther away than it’s ever been. He’s been snatched from the throes of victory - to the jaws of defeat. In an instant.

In a false-defeat, the protagonist(s) looks like he’s lost and that the quest or goal is now impossible to achieve. But, not so fast... There’s still a glimmer of hope! But, it’s fading fast!

You have to cram a lot of storyline into your second act, so be sure to give the audience lots of ups and downs along the way. If things are going well for your protagonist, make sure it doesn’t last very long. Give him a victory - then give him a defeat. Rinse and repeat.

But, don’t make it too bleak either. If you’re always hammering life down on your protagonist, you’ll depress your entire audience. Try to have similar amounts of ups and downs.

Try to make the second act a roller-coaster of emotion. Whenever the protagonist gets close to his goal - make that goal suddenly a lot further away. Whenever he gets too far away, make it jump a bit closer.

Your second act is also the place where you’re going to want to put the majority of your sub-plots and b-stories involving your supporting-characters. It starts to get really confusing when you have several sub-plots, each with their own three act structure, and you’re trying to weave them into the three act structure of the screenplay’s overall story! And, especially when you’ve got your love-story’s first act, for instance, right in the middle of your main-story’s second act! Etc… It’s structures on-top of structures on-top of structures.

In a 100 page screenplay, your second act should probably be around 50 or 55 pages long.

At their most basic, the three acts are about the status-quo. The first act is about the original equilibrium (in the protagonist’s world, in the lives of the characters). The first turning-point throws that equilibrium into chaos. The second act is about the chaos and trying to return the world to equilibrium. The second turning point throws even more chaos at the problem. And, the third act returns the world to a whole new equilibrium.

The second act ends with what is known as the second turning-point.

The second turning-point acts much like the first turning-point: it is a break between acts, it raises the stakes dramatically for the protagonist, it usually changes the setting, etc…

Before the second turning-point, it looked like the protagonist was going to coast to victory. But afterwards, and the goal looks every further away than it ever has. The second turning-point is usually utterly devastating for the protagonist(s), emotionally and physically.

In Star Wars, the second turning-point would be when Obi-Wan Kenobi is killed and the remaining rebels escape. Immediately before this is a false-victory (they have everything and are about to escape unharmed). But, the victory is short-lived and Darth Vader kills Obi-Wan. The third act then moves onto the fight to destroy Death Star (and thus moves us to a new setting, we go from inside the Death Star to outside of it, from being attacked to being the attackers).

The Mid-Point of Your Second Act: The End of the Second Act: The Second Act

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