Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Courtney Meznarich

How to Crush Through Second Act Problems in Your Screenplay, According to a Veteran TV Writer

“The second act of a movie is really challenging. I compare it to marriage,” Ross Brown began.

Okay, you’ve got my attention, Ross! I love a good metaphor, and veteran TV writer, director, and producer Ross Brown (“Step by Step,” “The Cosby Show,” “National Lampoon’s Vacation”) has a few great ones up his sleeve. He is the director of the MFA program at Antioch University, after all, so he knows a thing or two about teaching the art of screenwriting in ways students can grasp.

So, as his student for this interview, I asked him what so many of you ask us, how do I get through second act problems in my screenplay?

“The first act, or your honeymoon, is always really great, and your fiftieth wedding anniversary is filled with warm memories. It’s just those damn fifty years in the middle that are so much work,” he said.

No truer words have ever been spoken. Second acts can drag on. As the longest part of your screenplay, screenwriters often have trouble organizing their second acts in a way that continues to move their story forward. Your character is locked into their predicament. But, now what?

“One of the big things that help people get through second acts, is all of a sudden, the story seems to reverse, or you thought the character’s goal was to get to point A, and now they realize, ‘I don’t want to get to point A. I want to get to point N or M.’”

The second act of a movie is really challenging. I compare it to marriage. The first act, or your honeymoon, is always really great, and your fiftieth wedding anniversary is filled with warm memories. It’s just those damn fifty years in the middle that are so much work.
Ross Brown
Veteran TV Writer

Eric Edson, author of The Story Solution, calls these “stunning surprises.” There are two in every good story (aptly named Stunning Surprise One and Stunning Surprise Two). Stunning Surprise One is the first reversal, typically occurring in act one. Stunning Surprise Two has to be a real shocker, and it bridges act two and act three.

“So, if it looks like the hero is almost winning, something happens that comes out of the blue, changes everything, and the hero’s life will never be the same again,” Eric said in his video tutorial for writing a shocking reversal for act two of your screenplay. “And that’s called the hero’s darkest hour.”

The other key to crushing second act lag? There has to be a lot going on. Not so much that the audience can’t follow, but enough to keep the most prolonged act in your script from feeling like a bore.

“Make sure you’ve got enough happening,” Ross told me. “Those things that happen should relate.”

Lastly, continue to throw obstacles in your hero’s way, he said.

“They need to be encountering more and more difficult problems as they go through that second act.”

For a four-part guide to writing act two, you’ll want to read this blog with screenwriter and journalist Bryan Young. Disney writer Ricky Roxburgh also has this simple formula to help screenwriters successfully navigate the dreaded second act.

Soon, SoCreate Screenwriting Software will make things easier for you, screenwriter. So, if you’re still struggling with act two, don’t let this be your final draft. .

Until then, keep raising the stakes,

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