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Main content

Act 2

Overview of Act 2.

Video transcript

- In act one, you've established all the information your audience needs to know and given your characters a set of challenges to overcome. Now begins the journey to achieve their goals. Let's take a closer look at our story spine for act two. In act two, our protagonist often encounters a series of progressive complications. These obstacles force them to make difficult decisions as one thing leads to another in a chain of events we call the journey. The choices and actions your main character makes as they attempt to overcome these escalating obstacles is the substance of the second act. But how do we make sure the journey of act two is more than just a series of events strung together? Let's ask our storytellers, my friends, how they think about the elements of act two. - Act two is a place where you beat your character up a lot. You have to keep making things hard for your character, or the story has no conflict, and a story with no conflict has no shape, no pacing, no momentum, so you just keep throwing harder and harder things their way and they have to learn. It's a growth opportunity in figuring out how to overcome these obstacles, so act two is where you see the most growth. - Yeah, it's really where the character, the metamorphosis happens of the character. - Oftentimes as editors, we encounter act twos that have become too long. We don't want act two to go on and on with a chase that just goes on and on and on and on and on and on. - But basically, you need to create a series of challenges for your character towards that ultimate fork in the road where they have to make a really difficult decision from which there's no return. - And my favorite example is in Inside Out, where Joy has been calling all the shots, as she did in the control room. She's always been the controlling one, and she thinks of Sadness as nothing but trouble, a burden that she literally has to drag along, but when they meet Bing Bong and they need Bing Bong's help, and Bing Bong gets so sad that he can't be helpful because he's sitting down crying candy, Joy tries to rally him to get going. That's her way of solving problems, right? Just rally. Whereas Sadness goes over and sits down next to him and says, "That must have been hard," and she consoles him, and the tears stop, and then they're able to move on. That's a huge turning point for Joy. It's the first time she recognizes that Sadness has value. - Act two may also contain the low point, when it seems that all hope is lost. Everything's gone wrong and your character may have failed in all attempts to get what they want, or they may have achieved everything they want, but still be frustrated or miserable because there's something else they actually need. - The low point is a point when it seems like everything is lost for your main characters. - At the end of act two, something really, really bad is meant to happen to your character to force them to confront the things that they didn't wanna confront at the end of act one. It's why act two exists, and it allows them to then demonstrate it in act three and sort of show that, for the audience and for themselves that this change is permanent. - I think Pete Docter's Up is my favorite movie, and it's because of the way this low point at the end of act two is handled. So all through the movie, Carl has had this goal. It's a big irrational goal. "I have to put my house on Angel Falls in Venezuela because a long time ago I told my wife we would go live there." But when he finally achieves that goal and he's sitting alone in the house exactly where he told Ellie it would be, he realizes it's a hollow victory. Yes, he got what he wanted, but in the course of act two, he learned that what he needs is a relationship with Russell. - So let's summarize. Act two often begins shortly after the inciting incident and is followed by as series of obstacles our characters must overcome in pursuit of their goals. By the mid point of act two, around the middle of the story, there's often a choice from which they can never turn back. We sometimes call this the point of no return. Act two may also contain the low point. This is generally where act two ends. In the next exercise, you'll have a chance to identify the second act and its elements in your favorite films, as well as start developing a second act for the story you want to create.