Wow, I can’t believe it. We’re only three weeks away from finishing a first draft!
As a reminder, you should’ve completed somewhere between 70-80 pages of your screenplay by this point, or, if you break your script into 8 sequences (each sequence lasting 10–15 pages), you should’ve just completed sequence number 5. That means we have 3 more sequences to go.
This is another little-talked about section of the screenplay, but I consider it a little easier than last week’s section, since we’re writing towards a clear story beat: the end of the second act. Any time you’re writing towards something definitive, it’s easier to figure out how to get there.
So what happens at the end of the second act?
THE LOWEST POINT
This is the point in the script where your heroes, in that big final push to achieve their goal, will definitively fail. While you, the reader, will know this isn’t true, the idea is to convince the audience that the movie is effectively over. They’ve lost, they’ve given up, they have no options left.
The trick here, like any creative choice, is to make it specific to your own movie. For Raiders of the Lost Ark, it’s when Indy and Marion get captured by the Nazis. In Deadpool, it’s when Ajax kidnaps Deadpool’s girlfriend. In Room, it’s when Ma is taken to a mental institution.
The operative word here is: DOUBT
This moment in the script should be the moment when the audience has the MOST DOUBT that the hero is going to achieve their goal than at any other time in the movie.
Now that you know what that plot beat is (and many of you should already know from completing your outline six weeks ago!), you can write towards it. If you know, for example, that you’re going to have Indy and Marion get captured at the end of the second act, you can construct an 8-scene sequence to get them to that point.
This is why movies with goals are so advantageous when it comes to structuring. If your hero is actively trying to achieve something, it’s easy to come up with ways to get them there. You just write another sequence with them trying to achieve that goal and have them fail.
When you’re writing a character piece, however, it’s trickier. The goals will be more abstract. But for the script to work, SOME sort of “this is what needs to happen” directive must be put in place by the writer so that he can work against it.
Again, let’s take character piece “Room” as an example. Once Ma and Jack get out of room, the abstract goal “for mother and son to survive in this new world” is what drives the story. That’s why we’re still reading – to see if these two are going to be okay.
Once you’ve established that, you can play against it, by infusing a major event that creates DOUBT (the end of the second act!). So what do they do? Ma has a mental breakdown and is forced to go to a mental institution. Our goal (for mother and son to survive in this new world) is now put into serious doubt. So of course we’re going to stick around to see if Ma’s going to make it out of the institution and reunite with her son.
The only way to understand how important that plot choice was, is to imagine the movie without it. If Ma stays on an even keel at this point in the story, or even gets better, we’re feeling GOOD going into the final act, and as counterintuitive as it may sound, if you make the audience feel good (or “safe”) for too long, they get bored. They need that doubt. They need that uncertainty. Which leads me to my next point. This moment in the script must feel like the pinnacle of uncertainty.
You should’ve been raising the stakes throughout the script. At this moment, we should feel like it’s all or nothing. Whereas in that first journey out into the world (sequence 3 – right after the first act), there’s still a feeling that they could somehow salvage their lives if this doesn’t work out, at this point it should feel like if they don’t achieve their goal, they lose everything, whether that be their literal life or their figurative life (their job, their family, their home, their reputation). If we’re not feeling that kind of pressure moving into the end of the second act, you’re not doing it right. Because then when they do fail (and reach their “lowest point”), it won’t really feel like they’ve failed.
That’s what’s happening on the surface. But if you really want to make this section sing, you want to be exploring the same low point BETWEEN your characters and WITHIN your characters.
So remember how we were talking about your hero’s flaw? Well, this is the moment in the script where overcoming that flaw must be at its lowest point as well. In essence, this is the moment when your protagonist should doubt himself the most. Are they good enough? Do they believe in themselves? Has their selfishness finally doomed them? In When Harry Met Sally, Harry’s flaw (his fear of commitment) has left him alone and depressed.
And finally, you want to do the same with your relationships. Every one of them should be on the ropes. In romantic comedies or dramas, this is easy. You just split the main couple up. But you should be doing this in every script. Friends, family members, lovers – almost every one of them should be at odds with your hero. Every relationship should be in jeopardy.
Again, remember what this is: THE LOWEST POINT.
That means your hero should be at his lowest point in every facet of the story: plot, relationships, himself.
You may be noticing a pattern here. In many ways, this sounds like what we did with the midpoint. The heroes hit a major speed-bump, fell into a mini-depression, had to regroup and go back after their goal. We’re doing the same thing here, just more intensely. Well, the reason these sections feel similar is because that’s what storytelling is. It’s a rollercoaster. You bring the audience up to a high (yay! everything’s great!) then pull them back down to a low (oh no, we’re screwed!). And as the story goes on, each high will get higher and each low will get lower. This moment in the script – the end of the second act – will be the lowest. Orrrrr…. maybe it won’t. More on that in a couple of weeks!
Minimum page number to meet: 90 (that’s 15 pages this week guys, less than 3 pages a day!)