The 2nd act is usually the toughest for writers to get their head around and personally I struggled with it a great deal in the early days of my career. That's why I now split the act into two parts at the midpoint. By doing this I have found it a great deal easier to plan and execute what happens and I now rarely find myself in the terrifying position where my writing grinds to an agonising halt.
The first part of act two is where I have some fun, explore the theme of the script through the interactions of the characters and let the protagonist explore his new world. I like my protagonist to learn the things here that he'll use in act 2 part 2 and act 3, when things get a lot tougher for him, although he may not necessarily know he's learning anything at the time. But as I say above the main aim of this section is to have fun, a couple of set pieces, lots of snappy action, very little character musing and only a smattering of character development.
All that will come later on. It's also very important to make sure there is enough conflict going on in amongst all that fun. My hero will try to achieve mini goals and fail, he'll gather what he needs for later on and he might even think he's actually getting somewhere. If only he knew what I had planned for him in the next section of the script, he wouldn't be so smug.
It might help you to think of each of these sections I have talked about, and will be discussing, as mini screenplays, with their own beginning, middle and end. The first part of the section being the set up, the second part the confrontation and the third and final part as the resolution. It's a lot easier to break things down into smaller chunks than struggle with something as a whole.
In a thriller the first part of act 2 is the section where your protagonist should be running away from your antagonist, flight not fight, where the hero reacts to the actions of the antagonist and isn't proactive. Part 2 of act 2 is where the hero finally fights back.
Then we come to the midpoint.
The midpoint is lie, in as much as it's where the hero thinks he has made progress or has failed in his goal. Blake Snyder calls it the the False Hope or the False Defeat which turns out not to be the case in act 2 part 2. For example in a thriller the hero runs from the antagonist and at the midpoint either believes he has escaped from him or that he's dead. This is the False Hope because if it was true the film would be over. In reality the antagonist isn't dead or been throw off the scent of our hero and comes back even strong for the act 2 part 2. The False Defeat is the exact opposite where the hero believes he has failed only to have his hope renewed after the midpoint. Used wisely the midpoint is a powerful tool to catapult the protagonist into the rest of act 2.
Next week act 2 part 2.