Second Act Problems (the secret is we all got’em)

“I’m having second act problems.”

“Of course you are.”

Second Act Problems
The road seems flat but there’s a mountain looming

Last week we talked about the first act. You found out some of the elements a solid first act should contain.

Now, this week let’s move onto the second act.

In the second act, the hero has started their journey. Story and the plot are working in tandem. What happens next?

The second act is a balancing one. Things must go well for the hero, but they can’t go too well. The hero is powerful but not invincible. The hero has set out to solve the problem, but it cannot be the BIG problem; otherwise, your story would be over too soon.

Honestly, the second act is where I struggle the most.

You have to balance things out yet maintain suspense. If you let it slack, your audience will disengage. You are walking a tightrope.

If you’re having second-act problems, you’re on the right path.

What part of your story do you struggle with?

You Need A Montage

Your hero is in the midst of the second act. You want to show things going well, you want to give them those small wins before losing big.

You know what you need?

That’s right, you need a montage.

It’s almost a cliche, but you’ve seen it in so many films. Ghostbusters, Robocop and the first Spiderman are fantastic examples. A couple of short scenes where the hero is enjoying a newfound power or confidence.

Your montage does not always need to take this form. For example, look at Inglorious Basterds; you have the interrogation of the enemy soldiers. This is their business -” and cousin, business is a boomin’”.

You have to give your hero a couple of wins in your story because then the fall will mean more to the audience.

Even in your copywriting/blog posts, this is where you are living the dream. There’s something up, but for now, you’re unaware. For example, read my blog post on being in an abusive relationship; you’d think I was on Cloud 9.

What comes next breaks that immersion.

Do you want a bit of a secret bonus?

OK, I’m going to get technical, and you might think I’ve lost the plot.

You have your montage/things going well for your hero around the 20-30% mark of your story. You do this because a story is a reflection of life. Think about it, in your 20s, you felt invincible. Sure there were some problems, but you were invincible. No longer a child, you got the first taste of your power. You are Achilles, but unknown to your heel is exposed.

Does your story need a montage?

Coming Storm

“Zuul was the dominon of Gozer, what’s Gozer?”

“Gozer was very big in Sumaria.”

Look cards on the table; Ghostbusters is hands down one of my favourite films/stories of all time.

There’s obviously a strong nostalgia for me; I watched it loads as a kid. In addition, Ghostbusters has been one of my greatest storytelling teachers.

This part of your story is “the coming storm”. The hero sees dark clouds on the horizon, hears rumbles in the distance and notices a chill in the air.

You’re in your second act. Now is the time to start adding the elements that will lead to your big realisation in the third act.

In Ghostbusters, they start this section with a win – they hire Winston, a sign that business is going well. But, at the same time, they introduce elements that will come up in a big way later.

You have:

-introduction of bureaucrat Walter Peck

-first, mention of Gozer

-the “big twinky.”

At this point, these three elements seem separate. But, as we’ll see later, the master storytellers will be able to fold them into a cohesive whole.

What can you or your hero see on the horizon?

Hubris (The Second Act Problems that matters most)

The clouds are darkening, the rumble of thunder is getting louder.

What does your hero do?

They ignore it.

“Well, the storm is all the way over there. I’m all the way over here. Besides, I’m invincible. So it won’t rain on me,” the hero says.

You know that’s not the case.

Pride comes before fall, and your hero is going to learn humility the hard way.

In Ghostbusters, Peter Venkman is rude to Walter Peck. However, instead of focusing on Gozer uses the opportunity to ask Dana Barret on a date.

Your hero feels like the rules do not apply to them. Their ego is running the show.

At this point, Fantastic Mr Fox raises a glass – “We beat them!” unknown to him that Bogus, Bunce and Bean are plotting their ultimate revenge.

Everyone tells Oedipus the King to stop investigating the previous king’s murder. “Bring me the shepherd,” he says, ignoring them.

Every story has a version of this. If your hero is not being openly braggadocious, then they’re repressing something. The repression will come to the surface sooner than later, and it won’t be pretty when it happens.

Is your hero egotistical or repressing something?

Second Act Problems conclusion

Let’s put what we learned about act 2 altogether, lets consider second act problems as a whole.

In the second act, events work out in your hero’s favour. They made a plan either at the end of the first act or the start of the second, and they are carrying it out, and it’s going well.

It’s easy for the hero at the start of the second act.

Almost too easy.

There is a great saying that the army has;

“If your battle plan is going well, you’ve just walked into an ambush”.

You know that feeling; you don’t need to be on the frontline of war to experience it. You’re going to the birthday party, you’re almost there when you feel like you’ve forgotten something. But, of course, it’s probably nothing…right?

It happens on a small scale, then a large scale. That is the beauty of storytelling. You tell a big lie to reveal a small truth.

What is that little truth?

I’m not going to tell you that now. You’ll have to check in with me next week when we come to my favourite act, the third act.

(On a side note, I’ve really enjoyed this. Explaining this has helped clarify my own thoughts on the second act. If you’re struggling to understand something, consider explaining to someone)

What are you working on right now?


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