Screenwriting Tricks for Authors

Act II: Part 2 – The Clash of Inner & Outer Desire

The darker, downward spiraling Act II: Part 2 is a PATTERN in novels and movies that we tend to see often.

I want to say up front, as ever: If you’re writing an Act II: Part 2 that doesn’t fit this pattern, and it’s working for you, that’s all that matters! Only use what works for you and your story.

But it makes sense that things get harder for the protagonist in the second half of the story, doesn’t it? After all, it’s not very dramatic to watch someone just handed their heart’s desire on a plate, The End.

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Photo by Alexis Fauveton Unsplash


Let’s face it, it’s human nature to want to skate through life. Very few of us want to go all out to get something if we can take an easier way. Even when we make things hard for ourselves (and I know all about that!) we do it because we THINK it will be easier.

But all stories are in some way a textbook of how best to live.


Photo by Tamara Gakon Unsplash

And deep down we know that the easy way is not going to get us where we truly want to go.

So while fairly minimal effort gets your protagonist pretty far in Act II: Part 1… in Act II: Part 2, that’s not cutting it any more.

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This is partly because the Villain or Antagonist is getting more desperate. In action stories, thrillers, mysteries, paranormals—this is where the bodies start to pile up. There are bigger, bloodier SETPIECES because the Villain or Antagonist hasn’t gotten what they want, either. And because the nature of a villain is that they have, well, character issues—they’re going to take more diabolical actions to get what they want. That shows up as escalating ATTACKS on the protagonist, which the protagonist will answer with more desperate actions of their own.

But don’t let all those action elements fool you!

One of the key reasons the second half of Act II turns so dark and brooding has to do with CHARACTER ARC and INNER & OUTER DESIRE. This is also the section where the protagonist’s GHOST or WOUND comes into play.

Let’s make sure that these elements are fully developed in your story!

Essentially, for all your character’s life so far, they have not achieved what they truly DESIRE.

They have been pursuing an EXTERNAL GOAL that by now in the story, we, the reader or audience, are beginning to suspect or are pretty sure is notgoing to make them happy or whole.

But hopefully through the crucible of your story journey, they will finally become who they were meant to be.

So in Act II: Part 2, this INNER and possibly even unconscious DESIRE is surfacing and causing your protagonist quite a bit of internal CONFLICT. This contributes mightily to the feeling of chaos that is so characteristic of the third quarter of a book or script.

Let me note two exceptions, or variations:

  • If you’re writing a TRAGEDY, or HERO/INE FALLS story, the protagonist ends at a far lower level than where they started. So to set up this emotional devastation, Act II: Part 2 tends to show them WINNING, to make that Act III plunge into tragedy that much more wrenching.

  • In the case of SERIES CHARACTERS,at the end of the book your protagonist’s journey/quest is not over, so obviously not everything is going to be resolved. But a Book 1 in a series is essentially an “origin story,” where the character has an ARC of accepting a certain destiny, an overall job they’re meant to do in life, repeatedly. So that destiny is generally their INNER DESIRE.

two person standing on full your destiny pavement artwork
Photo by Danica Tanjutcoon Unsplash

Here are some questions to help you dig deeper into your main character’s Inner and Outer Desire.

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