Scriptshadow 250 Announcement News: I’m still waiting for the okay to post the winners. I’ve been told it will be later today but at this point I’ve stopped assuming. As soon as I get the go-ahead, though, I’m posting. So stay tuned!
Take a deep breath.
You did it.
You completed the first half of your screenplay. No small feat. So the first thing I want you to do is take a moment and tell yourself you’re awesome. I’m serious. One of the hardest things about writing is the lack of positive feedback you get during the process. You are your lone champion. So if you don’t tell yourself “Good job” every once in awhile, you might lose your motivation.
Now, if you’re just coming into this challenge, you can find the previous entries here:
Today we’re going to talk about the 15-20 pages after the midpoint. As I write this, I’m realizing that I don’t remember ANYBODY – as in the entire history of screenwriting books and analysis – talking about this specific section of the script.
The main reason for this is that we’re so deep inside our own unique jungle, it’s impossible for there to be any similarities between us and the next guy. Or so the reasoning goes.
I call bullshit.
Teachers, authors and analysts use this as an excuse not to break this section down. If you go back to classic story structure, there are definitely commonalities in the post-midpoint narrative. And as long as you treat them as a guide – and not gospel – they can be very helpful.
The main thing you want to know about this section is that it’s a…
Assuming you did your job last week and added your big midpoint twist, your characters and story are now in a state of flux. They’ve been knocked over the heads with a bag of bricks and they’re not sure which way is up. Your job, then, is to reorient them.
Take The Force Awakens. In that film, the midpoint twist is two-fold. First, the First Order has just blown up an entire solar system, and second, Kylo Ren has kidnapped Rey.
Your job is to now rally the troops (your characters) and put everyone on the same page. “Okay, where are we at right now?” “What is it we’re supposed to do next?” And, finally, “What’s our overall goal again?”
The reason this resetting and reorienting is important is because it’s easier than you think for the reader to forget what the goal is. Have you ever been in the middle of a film and thought to yourself, “How did we get here?? What’s going on??” This is usually the reason. Writers assume too much from the reader and don’t remind them what the character wants. Post-midpoint is the perfect reminder time.
So in The Force Awakens, Finn and Han and others get together to establish that Rey’s been kidnapped, that they need to rescue her, that they still need to find Luke, and that they have to destroy Starkiller Base. We can now go into that second act powerfully since we all (us and the characters) know what must be done.
Another thing about the post-midpoint section is that…
SHIT NEEDS TO LOOK BLEAK
One of the most effective storytelling devices you can use is to make the goal look impossible. The further you can place your characters from the goal and the more unlikely you can make their success look, the better. This little section is all about establishing how bad things are for your heroes.
One of the ways you can do this is create multiple problems that need to be solved. So you’ll notice above with The Force Awakens that it isn’t just one goal that they need to achieve, it’s three (find Luke, destroy base, rescue Rey). Basically, you want the audience thinking to themselves, “Shit, how are they going to achieve all of THAT??”
Imagine how different this script would feel if the big midpoint reveal was our heroes discovering a key clue to where Luke was. We’d be thinking, “That sounds easy. Looks like they’ve got this one in the bag.” And if your audience feels like the characters have it figured out, there’s no reason to keep reading.
This is an important notion to keep in mind not just for this section, but for your storytelling in general. In real life, the thing that keeps human beings going is hope. The hope for a girlfriend, a house, a promotion, for your dreams to come true. So a lot of writers will write screenplays that way, where they keep making things look HOPEFUL.
That’s not fiction though. That’s not drama. Drama is about creating DOUBT. That worried feeling in the pit of your stomach that the characters won’t get the job done, that it’s too difficult for them. You want to create as much of that as possible.
Now as I’ve mentioned already, each story is different. So this blueprint may not apply to your script. In “Room,” for example, the midpoint is Ma and Jack escaping. This places the two, along with the audience, on a high and erases any clear goal for the characters (their previous goal was to escape, which they’ve achieved, so now what??).
But Emma Donoghue was very clever in the way she adjusted to this challenge, almost reverting back to classical story structure to do so. The escape turned out to be a false victory, since we realize how difficult it will be for these two to adjust back to normality.
The goal then becomes to survive – to figure out a way to make this new life work. And she does a wonderful job infusing doubt into the narrative. At one point, Ma is institutionalized, severely putting into question whether our mother and son can survive this new challenge.
Okay, to summarize then: This section will have your characters reeling from the big midpoint twist. Something should’ve just happened that’s made their journey a hell of a lot tougher. Have them pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and remind themselves what the story goal is. Also, the fallout from the midpoint may have added new more immediate goals. Establish those for the reader. This section is all about resetting, reminding, and reorienting.
This will set you up perfectly for the next section, since your characters will now have clear goals thrusting them into the remainder of the story.
Page number to meet: 75!