Many new screenwriters despair the second act. But by focusing on the elements that make up Act II, and understanding the main character’s internal needs, a writer can effectively navigate this section of the script with ease.
Once the protagonist has climbed to the summit of the MidPoint, there is often what is referred to as a Grace Period, where the hero is rewarded for his discovery with a period of happiness, free of conflict and struggle. Though not found in all scripts, the Grace Period benefits a story:
- It provides a rest from the unrelenting tension building up to the MidPoint – allowing the protagonist and the audience a moment to “breath”.
- It provides an opportunity to show a renewed, invigorated protagonist and his potential to achieve the goal.
- It provides a glimpse of what the future can be if the hero achieves his goal.
Everything seems peachy-keen during the Grace Period, but there are still unresolved complications. In order for real transformation to occur, the hero must act on his new discovery, which will present additional challenges the protagonist must face to achieve the goal.
After the Grace Period, the hero begins a rapid free-fall descent. During this downward spiral, things fall apart for the hero – usually the result of the protagonist falling back on old behaviors. There is often a conflict or struggle between the old-self and the emerging new-self.
Change comes from the hero’s own undoing – letting go of the old-self and embracing the new. And it’s not an easy process, which leads us to the Crisis (or the “death experience”) and the Second Turning Point. The Crisis is the worst possible thing that can happen to the protagonist. This external event directly relates to the hero’s internal struggle.
In the film The Silence of the Lambs, the protagonist Clarice Starling’s internal need is to alleviate her guilt and loss by catching Buffalo Bill and saving Catherine Martin. At the Midpoint she begins collaborating with Hannibal Lector and receives information (enlightenment; discovery) that puts her on the path to achieving her goal. What’s the worst thing that can happen to Clarice? To feel guilt and loss because she is unable to save a victim and take down the bad guy. Clarice’s crisis moment occurs when Lector escapes custody and Clarice faces the real possibility that she won’t be able to save Catherine without Lector’s help.
With an understanding of the protagonist’s inner struggle, a writer can develop external situations that effectively challenge the hero – making the Second Act an energized and engaging component of the script, and not the unfocused, desolate landscape many new writers encounter.