Wednesday, May 21, 2014


So what happens after the midpoint? Well this is where I throw everything and the kitchen sink at the protagonist. The fun stuff is at an end and now I get down to the meat of the screenplay. This is where I make the hero suffer.

In this section things should get gradually worse for the protagonist. Really bad in fact. Bloody awful and desperate for him, if the truth be told. I pile the shit on and watch him suffer. What doesn't kill him, makes him stronger. It should be so bad for the protagonist the audience should be wondering how the hell he is going to get out of this a) alive and b) triumphant.

The hero should be at his lowest point just before the break into act three. He should be broken. He should be defeated. He should be at the point where he cannot see any way, logical or illogical, to get through the problems facing him. This is where the antagonist rises to the height of his power, on the verge of triumph.

In a thriller this is the section the hero begins to take the fight back to the antagonist, instead of just reacting to what happens to him. Now he must be proactive. Now he must make the antagonist react. He will still fail at what he attempts, maybe even have the odd small victory here now and again, but fail he must if he is to be the broken person he needs to be by the end of the act.

As I said above, just before the break into act three, when the hero is at his lowest point, everything has gone wrong, the antagonist has the upper hand and the hero stares defeat in the face. Here he must learn a truth, something about himself, or others, or a situation, so he has the tools, mental or otherwise, to finish the job in act three. Call it a revelation if you want, but it must allow the character to grow into the person he 'needs' to be.

As I write strong character driven screenplays, for me the hero always has to learn something important about himself. He has to realise it was a fault within himself, a personal flaw, that has prevented him from succeeding. Only when he realises this can he move on, grow and step into act three.

The final part - ACT 3 - next week.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


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.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014


Last week someone contacted me with a story idea looking for advice on how they might go about turning it into a screenplay. It got me thinking about how I write, present each act and how I use structure when writing features. I tend to think I write organically, writing what feels right and not really sticking to one formula for every screenplay. However, looking closely at it this week I have begun to see a pattern in how I write. 

So over the next few weeks I'm going to blog about my writing process. It's important to note these are not ridged rules to follow but simply my process, developed and adapted from reading as many screenwriting books as possible and finding the process that suits me best. My advice would to be to use these blogs as a guide only and find your own way to write, that's comfortable and advantageous to you. Here goes.

I usually aim to write around a 100 pages for each feature, splitting the screenplay down into four sections of 25 pages, to make it easier to plot and control. The first act covers the first 25 pages and this is how I lay it out.
  • (Pages 1-10) THE SET UP 
  • (Between pages 10-15) THE INCITING INCIDENT
  • (Pages 10-25) THE DECISION
  • (Page 25) INTO ACT 2 
THE SET UP - This where I set up the normal world, where I introduce the protagonist in their natural environment, doing every day things and living their life. Here I show who the protagonist is, their immediate world, the current state of their life and their emotional well being. This is where I show what the hero has to lose, or not as the case may be.

THE INCITING INCIDENT - For me the most difficult section of a screenplay to accurately pin down. What is an inciting incident? The inciting incident is something that happens to the protagonist that turns their world upside down and catapults them into a new one, like the near rape of Thelma in Ridley Scott's Thelma & Louise (although some might argue it is Louise shooting and killing the attacker that is the inciting incident. I think one causes the other so the attempted rape is the inciting incident for me).

I've read a lot of books that say the inciting incident has to be on page 10 and should never be later. However, I don't subscribe to this point of view. I find the inciting incident naturally falls between page 10-15 anyway and you shouldn't get too tangled up in trying to get it on page 10 exactly. As long as you have something going on to keep the audience interested, that shows the hero's character, then I don't think it matters too much if it comes a little later on.

The protagonist must be passive with regards to the inciting incident. This is how an emotional connection is made with the audience, when they feel for the hero because something has happened to him and invest in him enough to follow his adventure into the second act. By passive I mean the hero must never look for the inciting incident, or do something that he knows will lead to it. Sometimes the hero's actions can inadvertently lead to the inciting incident, even though it was never their intention. Again using Thelma & Lousie to illustrate this point, it's Thelma who gets drunk in the bar and dances with her would be attacker, which eventually leads to Louise shooting and killing the man. But she doesn't know her actions are going to lead to the attack, she's just innocent, thinking she's having a good time away from her abusive husband, unaware of the threat her flirtatious dancing poses. The audience can see it coming and a connection with Thelma is made.

And one more thing, the inciting incident is always, always personal to the hero, something that affects their life and prompts them into action.

THE DECISION - What happens then when the protagonist is poised on the precipice of this new world at the inciting incident but there's still a while to go until the break into  act 2? How do you fill this section?

This is what I call the decision section, where the hero decides whether to take up the challenge or not, where he debates the pros and cons and ultimately comes to the decision to go on the adventure. The hero won't always be the one to dismiss the inciting incident before finally accepting it, sometimes it will be the hero's friends that will try and talk him out of it, try to tell him it's dangerous, or wrong. What is important is the debate. Should he, or shouldn't he take up the challenge?

INTO ACT 2- This is where the protagonist finally decides to move forward in an attempt to reach his new goal, where he leaves his familiar world behind and is thrown into a new, unfamiliar one. I feel it's important that the protagonist throws off his passivity here, that he makes the conscious decision to jump into the new world. If he doesn't there's no story.

Now you're into act 2 and the fun has only just started...