Photo via Go Into the Story.
Many a spec script hits page 20 at a dead run, then pulls a hamstring and limps all the way through the second act while the writer chips away at what the story is actually about. It’s painfully slow to read.
All of that should be resolved in rewrites, with the thinking-out-loud scenes repurposed into drama.
The first step in organizing the second act is to add a prepositional phrase to the protag’s decision. The first draft protag says, “I’m going to win him back!” and the second draft protag says, “I’m going to win him back by getting into Harvard Law!”
- Concrete goal. At the beginning of act two, the reader feels confident in the story if they are following a protag uniquely unsuited to the specific task at hand. Elle Woods is uniquely unsuited to get into Harvard Law because she appears to be a superficial bubblehead.
- Shifting goal. Somewhere in the middle, the goalposts move further away, and shift from the want to the need. Elle wanted her boyfriend back, but she needs to take her education seriously to get a valuable internship.
- Into the back of the net. At the end of the drive, the protag has the ball on her foot, and she’s facing the meanest, biggest, most talented goalie in the world. At the beginning, she would never in a million years have even gotten onto this field. And then she shoots.
Stakes and pacing sprout like weeds out of that one little prepositional phrase.
Annie is a screenwriter, story consultant, and reader for major screenplay competitions.