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04/06/2005 - WRITING A SCREENPLAY - 5th10 Pages


Chapter Five - Pages 41 to 50


The action is building, the conflicts are coming on strong - oh, wait, where are our subplots?


How is our momentum doing? Are we having fun yet? If I put the words in ALL CAPS and add an exclamation point does that make a difference?

I was going to start this chapter with: The Second Act Continues...welcome to hell! But thought better of that.

What we talked about in the last chapter was momentum. Building it up like the first hill on a roller coaster - it builds and builds and builds and builds and you're hearing the clack-clack-clack-clack-clack of the chain and gears and you know the hill is just above and then... So we're going down the hill now. How does it feel?

Depending on your idea - a second act can be very easy to write or it can be an absolute hell. You've got 60 pages, or so, to fill here and you've filled 10. You've got the next ten to fill (and then two-thirds more after that!). So where do you go now?

Remember the first 30 pages? Do you remember your sub-characters, your sub-plots, other things going on that you point to and have something to do with creating conflict, etc.? Well, don't just sit there?! Now's the time to use them!

Let's say your story is about a man in a loveless relationship (have I done this one already). Well, he's also in a job he hates. We learn that early on in the script and maybe he's on the verge of getting fired, but we have been busy setting up his wife and child and his boring home. He has now left his wife (beginning of the 2nd Act) but...now he has just gotten fired, or the company went down the tubes or... (insert conflict here). What this enables you to do is use a tool to keep momentum going. You've got 120 pages to fill and you've got to fill 'em with conflict. Now that he's lost his job, he can't pay for his apartment so he has to...move back in with his loveless wife who hates him for leaving...or he goes to his mistress thinking she loves him, but she was stringing him along due to his "great job!"

Do you see how the conflict is making the momentum change? How our pushing the envelope of momentum change is really starting to set up the next scene and the next scene.

Again, going back to the example. Let's look at the 20 pages you've written since the 1st Act break. Here's how they could look:

Page 31: John moves into his new apartment.

Page 33: John and mistress have a wonderful night together.

Page 36: John at work, feeling better, working better, things can't get much better.

Page 37: John home, relaxing, enjoying his new found freedom.

Page 38: Friends are over, a house-warming party, sneaks out after a while to get some fresh air - drives past his old house to see his wife and daughter playing cards.

Page 41: John gets fired from his job and has to pack up his office.

Page 43: His ex-wife shows up at his apartment demanding child support. He pretends he's sick - taking a day off.

Page 45: John tries to find a new job.

Page 46: His mistress breaks up with him.

Page 48: John comes back home around dinner time in hopes of getting a free meal.

Page 50: John asks his ex if he can come home.

Now what elements in these twenty pages came from the first act? Obviously John, his wife, his mistress, his daughter, his job, etc. All those are now prime suspects in the 2nd Act and you can see how we're not only building momentum, but we're adding that ever important conflict into the mix.

Also, the numbers given are just "best-guesses." The "party" could go on for four pages while the "moving in" could be a montage (more on those later) and last half a page.

As you move deeper into hell...I mean, your second act, use some of the characters and situations that you created and touched on in the first act as a way of creating conflict and momentum in the second act. If you got them - USE THEM!


1. Use the characters and situations that you may have touched on briefly in the first act in the 2nd act. Don't forget any new characters that may have been created in the beginning of the 2nd act.

2. Create more conflict.

3. Explore the momentum and don't be afraid of the scene.


If you're story in the first act revolves around very few people and situations, you may find it tough to write that second act. Go back and explore these relationships/situations/conflicts in the second act. And don't forget those new characters. Dorothy's journey would be a boring one if she met NO ONE when she went "over the rainbow."


By changing the story now in interesting ways, you're automatically creating conflict.


What is happening now? What is this doing to my main character? How are they reacting to what is happening around them? What can I do to my main character to make their lives miserable?


If there is one complaint, or suggestion, I want to make it is this: "DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE SCENE!" In other words, don't just whiz by on your writing streak and also don't discount the impact of your scene(s). In the example above I wrote what could possibly be VERY POWERFUL scenes (loss of job, break-up with mistress, coming home seeking reconciliation). Don't short change those scenes. Think about how powerful they are (or could be) and write them that way. More often than not I read a script from a student and they go through a scene so quickly I barely have time to register what happened. Don't let this happen to you!

HOMEWORK: When watching a film, and watching a 2nd act, observe how the writer incorporates the back story of the first act into the 2nd act. A perfect example of this is the film "Tootsie" where the ENTIRE 2nd act is made up of subplots from the first act. A near perfect film.



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