While I am moving on to prompts for the second half of Act Two, remember that wherever you are in this process is just fine. Personally I think it would be a little crazy to be into the second half of the second act in just three weeks!
So if you're not this far, just save this post for later.
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A few general things about Act II, Part 2. This is almost always the darkest quarter of the story. While in Act II, Part 1, the hero/ine is generally (but not always) winning, after the Midpoint, the hero/ine starts to lose, and lose big. And also lose very fast. In fact, this is the quarter that is most often shortened if you are writing a shorter book or movie, because it's not all that hard and doesn't take all that much time to pull the rug out from your protagonist.
Just knowing that basic, very general distinction between the two halves of Act Two can be very, very useful.
But getting more specific...
In a 2-hour movie this section starts at about 60 minutes, and ends at about 90 minutes.
In a 400-page book, this section starts at about p. 300 and ends toward the end of the book.
Now, remember, at the end of Act II, part 1, there is a MIDPOINT CLIMAX, which I'll review briefly because it's so important.
In movies the midpoint is usually a big SETPIECE scene, where the filmmakers really show off their expertise with a special effects sequence (as in HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON and HARRY POTTER, 1), or a big action scene (JAWS), or in breathtaking psychological cat-and-mouse dialogue (in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS). It might be a sex scene or a comedy scene, or both in a romantic comedy. Whatever the Midpoint is, it is most likely going to be specific to the promise of the genre.
And I strongly encourage you as authors to pay as much attention to your midpoint as filmmakers do with theirs.
THE MIDPOINT –
- Completely changes the game
- Locks the hero/ine into a situation or action
- Is a point of no return
- Can be a huge revelation
- Can be a huge defeat
- Can be a huge win
- Can be a “now it’s personal” loss
- Can be sex at 60 – the lovers finally get together, only to open up a whole new world of problems
Act II, Part 2 will almost always have these elements:
* RECALIBRATING– after the shock or defeat of the game-changer in the midpoint, the hero/ine must REVAMP THE PLAN and try a NEW MODE OF ATTACK.
What’s the new plan?
A good story will always be clear about the stakes. Characters often speak the stakes aloud.
How have the stakes changed? Do we have new hopes or fears about what the protagonist will do and what will happen to him or her?
* ESCALATING ACTIONS/OBSESSIVE DRIVE
Little actions by the hero/ine to get what s/he wants have not cut it, so the actions become bigger and usually more desperate.
Do we see a new level of commitment in the hero/ine?
How are the hero/ine’s actions becoming more desperate?
* It’s also worth noting that while the hero/ine is generally (but not always!) winning in Act II:1, s/he generally begins to lose in Act II:2. Often this is where everything starts to unravel and spiral out of control.
* INCREASED ATTACKS BY ANTAGONIST
Just as the hero/ine is becoming more desperate to get what s/he wants, the antagonist also has failed to get what s/he wants and becomes more desperate and takes riskier actions.
* HARD CHOICES AND CROSSING THE LINE (IMMORAL ACTIONS by the main character to get what s/he wants)
Do we see the hero/ine crossing the line and doing immoral things to get what s/he wants?
* LOSS OF KEY ALLIES (possibly because of the hero/ine’s obsessive actions, possibly through death or injury by the antagonist).
Do any allies walk out on the hero/ine or get killed or injured?
* A TICKING CLOCK (can happen anywhere in the story, or there may not be one.)
* REVERSALS AND REVELATIONS/TWISTS
* THE LONG DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL and/or VISIT TO DEATH (also known as: ALL IS LOST).
There is always a moment in a story where the hero/ine seems to have lost everything, and it is almost always right before the Second Act Climax, or it IS the Second Act Climax.
What is the All Is Lost scene?
* In a romance or romantic comedy, the All Is Lost moment is often a THE LOVER MAKES A STAND scene, where s/he tells the loved one – “Enough of this bullshit waffling, either commit to me or don’t, but if you don’t, I’m out of here.” This can be the hero/ine or the love interest making this stand.
THE SECOND ACT CLIMAX
* Often will be a final revelation before the end game: often the knowledge of who the opponent really is, that will propel the hero/ine into the FINAL BATTLE.
* Often will be another devastating loss, the ALL IS LOST scene. In a mythic structure or Chosen One story or mentor story this is almost ALWAYS where the mentor dies or is otherwise taken out of the action, so the hero/ine must go into the final battle alone.
* Answers the Central Question – and often the answer is “no” – so that the hero/ine again must come up with a whole new plan.
* Often is a SETPIECE.
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