Act Two

CompetitionThe Middle Of The Story

In the middle of the story or screenplay the character’s Fear causes problems. Strengths become weaknesses and the character is pushed or tumbles into a variety of traps. Act Two of the script is where the conflict really develops. The character pursues the Want using all of his or her Strongest Traits. But a character’s greatest strengths are also his or her greatest weaknesses. The antagonist spots those weaknesses and preys on the character’s Trouble Traits. The most clever and effective antagonists use the character’s Fear to prod, push or propel the character into acting foolishly. The character inevitably stumbles into a series of emotional traps (self-limiting or self-harming situations set-up by the antagonist). The best antagonists create situations or circumstances that tempt the character to become his or her own worst enemy. The Strongest Traits are always a source of fabricated or false self-confidence for the character. They offer the character the illusion of security and control. The character believes he or she can obtain the Want using these reliable time-tested strengths. But the character’s ability to cope with, manage or assuage his or her fear is now under siege. As the traps and obstacles increase, the character’s Strongest Traits can no longer stem the tide. The character is less and less able to cope with, manage or compensate for the fear. The character tries to retreat into the dark comfort of his or her Mask but a truer desire calls the character toward the light. The Want and the Need begin to do battle within the character.

Character Map

The Character’s Choice

By the end of the Second Act the character stands at a critical juncture. He or she teeters on the precipice of a crucial decision. The character’s Want conflicts irreparably with the Need. Which (the Want or the Need) will the character sacrifice or surrender? Will the character choose to live in the false self and the illusion of security of the Mask?  Or will the character make a Leap of Faith to embrace the truest highest self? What is the ultimate price the character will pay for either choice?

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The Character’s Need is: A deep inner longing of which the character is unaware, denies or ignores. True goodness that is buried deep inside the character. A set of authentic traits which will make the character feel whole, complete and healed. The Need is a more abstract intangible set of internal qualities or Admirable Traits. For example: to be more honest or open, to value real relationships over popularity or prestige, to forgive one’s self and/or others, to love more generously or less selfishly, to act with integrity or to grow up and take responsibility for one’s actions. The Need is a deeper human longing for what is good and true.

scale-etbscreenwritingThe Price

Every story ever told is about the battle between the selfish goals of the world (the Want) and the more altruistic values of the spirit and the desire for real human connection (the Need). Will the character choose the Want or embrace the Need? Each choice comes with a terrible cost. The price is laid out in the ancient words of Biblical Scripture: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?”

The Price the Character Must Pay is: The terrible personal cost of obtaining the Want and abandoning the Need. OR The terrible personal cost of abandoning the ego-driven goal or Want and embracing the Need. If the character chooses the Want he or she inevitably surrenders to the fear and falls to the Dark Side. The story ends in tragedy. If the character embraces the Need, he or she finds completion. This may or may not be a happy ending but it is one of emotional satisfaction and wholeness. Which price is the character willing to pay? The character must ultimately pay one price or the other. The more expensive the price is for your character the more compelling and urgent your story will be for your audience.

turnaround-etbscreenwritingThe Comedic Turnaround

When a character surrenders the Want and embraces the Need sometimes the Want turns around to meet the character. This happens often enough in life that we believe it in a comedy. For example: A young couple has a solid marriage, good jobs and a comfortable home. They plan to start a family. They try and try but nothing, no personal method or medical procedure, works. What they Want is a biological child. Finally, they embrace what they Need: to be parents to a child who needs them. They adopt a beautiful baby and are deliriously happy. What happens one year later? Answer: The wife gets pregnant. The Want has turned around to meet them. Warning: This doesn’t always happen. It is only an occasional surprise. Surrendering the Want and embracing the Need can’t be used as a clever tactic or cynical strategy or it will feel false. The character must be truly willing and feel fully satisfied to abandon the Want and walk away from the table. The comedic turnaround is only possible by completely embracing the Need. This turnaround is always a totally unexpected reversal for the character.

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