One of the most useful things you can do for your book or script is to start looking at Act II as two very distinct and contrasting Acts, divided by the Midpoint game-changer. (More about this in last week’s post and videos.)
The most significant difference can be summed up simply as:
The Hero/ine starts to lose.
As I keep pointing out, in the first half of Act II, the Hero/ine is usually (not always!) WINNING.
In Act II: Part 2, the Hero/ine usually starts to lose – and lose big.
Often this part of your story is where everything starts to unravel and spiral out of control. (But be aware: If the hero/ine has been losing throughout Act II:1, then they will probably start to win in Act II:2.)
In the next few posts, we’ll be looking at the Act II:2 elements common to all genres that create what I call the Downward Spiral.
Act II, Part 2 will almost always have these elements:
CHANGE OF PLAN
After the shock or defeat of the game-changer in the Midpoint, the hero/ine must REGROUP. RECALCULATE, REVAMP THE PLAN or try a NEW PLAN to get what they want.
A good story will always be clear about the stakes. Because it’s so important that the reader or audience understands the stakes, characters will often state the stakes out loud.
DESPERATE MEASURES/CROSSING THE LINE
Little actions by the hero/ine to get what they want have not worked, so their actions become bigger and usually more desperate.
THE CLASH OF INNER AND OUTER DESIRES
One of our greatest pleasures in the experience of a story is to see a character change, and/or heal. And one of the best ways to show this playing out is to have your character be wrong in some way about how they are living their life, and how they are going after their DESIRE.
Part of the emotional turmoil of Act II, Part 2, is the clash between what the protagonist thinks they want – and what they actually need. And their actions so far in the story have been based on what they think they want.
So what does your protagonist actually NEED?
Storytellers will often involve the reader or audience in this inner struggle by letting the reader figure it out before the character does. Sometimes this is pretty blatant, as in a million romantic comedies. How often are we sitting there thinking, “You idiot! Can’t you see you really love X, not Y?”
So the key here is making the reader/audience want something DIFFERENT for your protagonist than the protagonist wants for themself.