Screenwriting for authors – how to write Acts 2 and 3

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The Second Act is the longest one, usually around 50 – 60 pages, and is often the hardest one to write. This is where you include obstacles that stand in your protagonist’s way. These obstacles must become increasingly tougher until they lead to an inevitable, but not predictable, climax.

This is the act in which you reveal character growth. Not all main characters grow. In many action movies, such as the early James Bond films, there is no character growth. But if you wish to show such growth, this is the place to do it.

If you wish to include a subplot, start it early in the second act. If your book has several subplots, choose one or perhaps two. There is not enough room in a movie for multiple subplots (unless you’re Robert Altman). Besides, multiple subplots, with several characters, will dilute the impact of the main story line.

There should be a Major Reversal or setback of some type in the middle of the second act. Or, if the protagonist has been a victim, this is the point at which he or she begins to take control of their life, even though the challenges become increasingly more difficult.

Near the end of the second act, the protagonist must be at their lowest point in the entire story. This is often called “The Dark Night of the Soul.”

Then, at the end of the second act, the main character sees a glimmer of hope, something that will drive them to meet the ultimate challenge of your story, namely, the climax.

The Third Act shows us the ultimate conflict or climax of the story. It is the most dramatic part of the entire movie and needs to be written as such.

The third act must resolve the story one way or another. Either the main character achieves their goal or they do not.

It is essential for the protagonist to be a major element of the climax, moving the story forward. Many beginning screenwriters often let secondary characters fulfill this role.

I once read an action script from a beginner in which the protagonist walks out of the climax scene right before the final battle.

I cannot emphasize this enough-the protagonist must go head-to-head with the antagonist in order for an audience to feel fulfilled.

This is the act in which you should resolve any subplots.

This act is usually 10 – 20 pages long.

Once you finish the climax of the screenplay, end it soon. Sure, there may need to be some wrap-up of all the loose ends, but don’t linger. Otherwise you’ll dilute the energy of the climax. You want the reader, and ultimately, the audience, to exit as close to the emotional peak of the story as possible.

Danek S. Kaus is a produced screenwriter with two more films in development, one of which is based on a book. Several of his original screenplays have been optioned by movie production companies. He can adapt your book into a screenplay [] and also do a Professional Screenplay Analysis []

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