The Film Connection Workbook says to continuously up the ante in the second act. The climax of the second act should come across as one of the most intense things to have ever happened in the characters life. The whole 2nd act leads to that dramatic climax. Always think about if you are pushing your characters hard enough.
Even though Werner Herzog says write your story then don’t rewrite until you’re on set – and when you’re on set make it quick… that is a whimsy. Constantly reevaluate what you are writing. Don’t Play It Safe, this should be the most entertaining bit of the whole project. Create a sympathetic character, like Ray Kroc from The Founder. You’ve come to relate to the man long before his upsetting turn on the Micky D brothers. Create the Conflict. In my feature I want a drug dealer’s boss to get captured, launching him into paranoia he is being looked at now. After selling drugs since the beginning of the 2nd act and run ins with security – His PLUG is busted right in front of his eyes. Provide Opposition. Make the opponent, be it man, nature or what have you be formidable. Give the audience the idea that something will happen, like let the audience know something your characters don’t. Make sure the audience cares. About the character, the situation, it’s outcome. Putting a time limit on things, like in Majora’s Mask, ups the ante. Don’t do something that everyone will expect at the end. To build toward a conclusion and then just have it handed over, will be lack luster. If his main goal is to escape, he can’t just escape. He can get caught or he can have a dramatic close call.
Aaron Sorkin on Story:
Rachael is going to lose her house – that’s a fact. Rachael is losing her house her brother tries to raise money – that’s a story. The drama come in like this, in order to raise money, the brother has to go back to a life of dealing drugs. Act 1 you run your character up a tree. Act two someone throws rocks at them. Act three, you bring them down (or not.. as long as they die trying). If they are going to get down in the 3rd, you had to have introduced how in the first. On the other side of the coin, DON’T introduce it in the first you are not going to use it. – That’s bad writing.
You want the stakes to be high, so the audience is sitting forward. Sometimes the stakes are high from the beginning, but not usually. Your audience has to know why he climbed the tree, so they care if he fails or succeeds.
Exposition: before you can do anything you must tell the audience what they need to know, before the inciting action (b4 page 20). You always need one character who knows as little as the audience. If you start a conversation with one character telling someone something they already know, you’re doing something wrong. The first 15 pages are the most important to getting the story made. Most people don’t read screenplay past page 10. Conversely the final 15 minutes of a movie are important for the viewer. If you make a fantastic hour and 20 minutes of a film, it won’t matter at all if the last 15 minutes blows it.
You are not always going to end up the way you thought you were.
Escalating Conflict is important. Instead of meandering to the big conflict in act 2, you could think about an escalation of events happening, starting act 2 off and making it an exciting road to the act 2 climax. You can keep the tension heightened with a ticking clock. In the hobbit the ticking clock becomes them being chased by the goblins and Wargs. Now they cant slow down. Force your hero to make decisions that maybe they wouldn’t make in such a rash manner, not plot devices or convenience lead your story. If he’s just strolling through the woods, listlessly and can easily walk out of a danger zone, it’s not very interesting. There is a high point in the middle of the movie where it seems like your characters journey might be over, but by the end of the 2nd act it feels like he couldn’t be further, keeping your audience invested. Most people fall short in the second act because it is such a wide space with such room for mistakes.
It is easy to think up a fact. It’s a little harder to make that an idea. But the worst part is trying to make that something compelling. Sone people don’t want you to put to much into your action lines, but with them you can add such subtle and important emphasis to dialogue and story beats. It doesn’t always have to say “____ shook his head”, but when it is done properly the actor might not ever need to actually shake his head, as long as he portrays the emotion that action line represents. “It hits him, he understands” is too many words for your action line, but what if you just said “Point Taken”. Then the feeling is conveyed with the least amount of words and is open to translation by (a good) actor. It’s all on how the director and actor choose to portray it, the groundwork is laid when the writer sets the tone.
The Last Line is often the point of the scene. The beginning of the scene broadly frames the whole thing and then the scene funnels down to the last line, giving you the point _ John Truby. This doesn’t have to be outright and blatant, but the funneling down (building upon the first line) will eventually get you to a point that sets up the proceeding moving forward (the point of the scene). Otherwise it’s almost worthless.
Don’t let your secondary characters outshine your mains. It gets easy after thinking about the same 2 or 3 characters to put a lot into your secondary’s, but don’t lose track of that and let tem become more than your mains. The characters in your subplots offer more opportunities to highlight your main trough comparison. Maybe they are going through something similar in a different way. I have a drug dealing main character who goes to the circus for escapism, well a subplot character could be an older magician who is going to the circus for the same reason. You could use this magician to highlight differences or show how certain things might play out (like what happens if you keep hanging around the circus). Main can learn from the magicians experience.
I have stated before they want your 2nd act to be around 60 pages.
More from the Film Connection Blog:
A lil on Editing
Motivation in Writing
Lil on Crew & Budget
Setting a Story In Motion (w/ Audio)
Genre & Conflict
Stages of Production (+Lenses)
Pura Vida in Cinema