Act II: Into the Thick of It

In continuation of my article featuring the first act, we’ll now move on to Act II structure. As you already know, there is no one handier to help in story structure than Blake Snyder and his beat sheet. In act I we covered the Opening Image (page 1), the Theme Stated (page 5), the Set-Up (page 1-10), the Catalyst (Page 12), the Debate (Page 12-25) and the Break into Two (Page 25). Now this time around we’ll be facing Syd Field’s ‘confrontation’ stage head on, defined in his three-act paradigm.

Act two is the heart of your film, the nitty-gritty substance, the part where your character will encounter the very significance of the story and face the main obstacles heralding his or her way. It’s about fifty pages long (30-85), defines your arc, reveals the stakes, and explores your theme.

Sounds complicated, right? But don’t panic. Snyder’s beats will give your script the fillers it needs to avoid any structural gaps.

The B story (Page 30)

The B story is the supporting side story, the sub-plot to your main story.

Generally speaking, B stories are murky, the grey area of solid script-writing, because your B story can’t just be about your character’s sidekick. Your B story must address your story’s theme. That’s right, the one Blake Snyder told you to state in Act I.

Sometimes it runs to the rescue of your A story.

Let us visualize.

In Greg Berlanti’s Life as we Know it, the A story is Holly and Eric coming together to look after their goddaughter, but the B story is the development of their relationship, which circles back and fortifies the A story. Because of their teamwork, they achieve their goal of looking after their child.

Sometimes it adds heart.  In Jurassic Park, it’s the arrival of Hammond’s nephew and niece, adding a nice layer of emotion to the story. Because suddenly, the film isn’t just going to be about dinosaurs on a rampage, it’s going to be about protecting the children from the rampage.

It may sound like a particularly complicated Rubik’s cube, but the B story is essentially how the main character deals with all the obstacles thrown at him by the A story.

It’s the emotional plotline of your story, the part with the sentimental and solid depth, whereas your A story is the action-packed objective of your story.

Fun and Games (Page 30-55)

I reckon the Fun and Games segment pretty much speaks for itself, but in any case, it’s usually the most enjoyable part of watching any film. Before any drama kicks in, the Fun and Games section makes life look pretty good for your protagonist. They’re a respite from the drama and problems to come, they’re entertaining and engaging. In Pretty Women, we see a sequence featuring down-on-her-luck Vivian enjoying the glamour of high society. She shops. She enjoys the hotel’s luxuries and nice meals. Why? Duh, it’s fun to watch. In Bruce Almighty, Bruce plays around with his powers; in the Hunger Games, Katniss is preened and primped and fed and glamorized for the games. It’s fun to write, fun to read, and fun to watch.

 The Midpoint (Page 55)

The Midpoint is different from the Catalyst of Act I. Whereas the Catalyst delivered the main character into a brand new world, the midpoint delivers the character into a new adventure (the whole point of the film). It comes halfway through the second act and propels the protagonist into a new direction. In The Philosopher’s Stone, the trio find out Fluffy is guarding the Philosopher’s stone. In Jurassic Park, it’s the moment when the electricity goes out, the dinosaurs are on the loose and the park’s no longer a safe, happy haven. You just know it’s going to be a bloodbath. Boom, the stakes are raised. In Jaws, the shark strikes again, and this time it’s going for Brody’s son in the estuary. Is he going to survive? This leads us to…

Bad Guys Close in (Page 55-75)

This is the official section of your screenplay, the part where the stakes are raised against the character. The protagonist’s situation of the midpoint (whether good or bad) starts to disintegrate further. Your antagonists are out to get your character now, and whether they’re physical (another human being), or emotional (fear, jealousy), they begin to overtake the storyline. For example, in 500 Days of Summer, the bad guys close in when Tom, out of jealousy, punches a guy hitting on Summer. There is no more fun and games now, it’s downhill from there.

In Lost in Translation, the bad guy is time, as Bob and Charlotte aren’t going to be in Japan for much longer and their friendship/relationship will inevitably come to an end.

All is Lost (Page 75)

It’s the ultimate crisis point. Here the character will either lose everything they’ve ever wanted and gotten, or they will realize that if they achieved it, it wasn’t what they were looking for anyway. It’s a false friend. It’s the moment where your character hits rock bottom and he or she is so far away from their goal, it seems impossible they’ll ever get there. In 500 Days of Summer, it’s Summer and Tom’s break-up. In the Philosopher’s Stone, it’s finding out that Snape is going to steal the stone and the only person who can protect it (Dumbledore) is gone. It’s when Han Solo is frozen in carbonite, when Harry dies in the Kingsman and when Indy’s father is shot in the chest in Indiana Jones.

Dark Night of the Soul (Page 75-85)

It’s the grievance period, the part where the protagonist tries to deal (or not) with the all is lost moment. It’s the wallowing in the utter failure before they pick themselves back up again. In 500 Days of Summer, the dark night of the soul is the part where Summer resigns her job, Tom becomes depressed and starts lashing out at everybody. In Jurassic Park, Hammond realizes the park is a failure: it’s not worth the lives lost, it’s got to be shut down.

The character must understand the reason why they’ve been beaten, so that they can overcome it in full. In Babadook, Amelia realizes that because she can’t let go of her husband, she can’t defeat the Babadook and so she’s exposing her son to danger. Essentially, the answer must lie in something learned from the B story, which touches on the theme stated in act one.

And with that you can relax, because you’ll have reached the end of act two. Now all you have left is your Breaking into the Finale, otherwise known to Blake Snyder as the resolution segment.

The good news is that if you’ve got a solid second act, then from here on out it’s all plain sailing to the end. The second act is all about testing your character’s strengths and weaknesses, dangling their goal in front of them and whipping it out of reach again when they least expect it. It’s complicated but not impossible, and if you think in terms of a full circle, one that incorporates your theme into your B story and then your B story into the realization of your theme, well, you’re flying high.