I had an interesting question from a Goldminer this week – and I suspect it’s a problem that a lot of people face, so I’m using it as the basis of the newsletter this week. I hope it helps if you are stuck in the same position:
Do you have any suggestions for someone stuck in the second act? I’ve been working on a coming of age story, and I have a rough idea how I want it to end. However, I’m at a complete loss for an effective turning point that will take the character there. Nothing I think of feels right. I’ve had several ideas: a romance, a failure, Illness, and on and on. It’s becoming painful to keep thinking about it, so any suggestions on how to better tap my imagination will be greatly appreciated!
It’s very difficult to diagnose without knowing a lot more about the project, (and I’m afraid I’d have to charge you to look at the entire thing) but it sounds to me like your overall story structure isn’t in place. Have you got an antagonist? Are they and the protagonist engaged in an ongoing battle over something? Do you know your big act breaks – eg do you understand how your protagonist can reach their personal lowest point ever at the end of Act 2?
Assuming that you are across your story structure then doing some brainstorming could be very helpful. I think you might need to step right back and allow your brain to free associate. That may let your subconscious throw some surprises into the mix. I’ve appended the relevant section from my Screenwriting Goldmine package in the hope that may help – I think if you tried this out you might find you came up with some brilliant images that could then be incorporated in your story as twists and turns.
Here is the section from the Goldmine.
“Step 1: Get Some Seeds
So there’s just you and this blank page that you can’t seem to get a foothold on. Where on earth do you start?
You should do one or all of the following, as long as necessary:
- Think about people you know, and have:
- Been dumped by
- Been intrigued by
- Been Hurt by
- Felt sorry for
Then you need to lie in the bath. Lie in bed. Lie on the sofa. Let your mind drift. Get into a state of semi-lucid dreaming. Wait for an image, or a character, or an event to pop up and make itself unforgettable. Think about things you have always wanted to see in a movie…
- Think about things that fascinate you. What are you obsessing about this week?
- Browse through old magazines and look at the photos. You need magazines with a strong human interest angle. I prefer newspaper supplements. The National Geographic can be useful sometimes too.
- Go to your bookshelves. Find a book you liked. Liked a lot. Think to yourself – is there any bit of it I loved so much I want to give it new life?
- Think about films you’ve have seen. The same question. Any parts of that story that you loved, and want to get into your story? An opening? A character? A story twist? A story structure?
Somewhere in all that thinking there will be a starting point. By which I mean an image that interests you, or moves you, in a way that means you can’t get it out of your head. A picture, an event, a situation between people.
But Make Sure There Are People!
Make it easy on yourself though and make sure this picture always includes people.
That’s because the only definition of drama that works is ‘Character in Conflict’, and by far the best place to find complex, interesting characters is people.
Pictures Not Words
But you should avoid moments that are all about conversations. You’re looking for a real, concrete, in the world picture:
- A man standing over a body with a bloody broken bottle.
- A kiss between mother and child.
- A kiss between two men.
- A young child painting a picket fence in scorching sunlight.
- An emaciated man being forced to walk barefoot over broken glass.
- A young woman blowing the dust off a long buried wooden chest.
Let your imagination run wild. But make sure there is a picture there. And make sure you personally find the picture absolutely charged with emotion. When you think about this image it should make you cry, or raging mad, or sick, or terrified to your core.
And don’t worry about what other people might think of your ideas, just be honest to yourself. If you surprise yourself in admitting something you didn’t know about yourself, great. Follow that thought!
Write It Up
Get this picture down in the word processor of your choice. I use Word for Windows, but it really isn’t important which package you choose.
Write without self censure, just free associate round that image till you run out of steam. How long you spend on this is up for grabs. You have to do fifteen minutes, or you haven’t begun to put in the work. After a couple of hours I am rung dry and have nothing left to say even about the most intriguing image.
Now, as much as you can, forget about that image.
Get back in the bath, get back in your bed, go for another walk, whatever it takes to get back into your dream state. Do it again. Find another picture that moves you. Write about it.
Do this process a number of times, till you have a bank of images. Say eight or ten. This will give you the flexibility you need to drop images in and out later, and will let you pick images that seem to have a common theme.
If you do all this conscientiously, I’m pretty certain you’ll find more than enough surprises to come up with some great plot twists…
If you want to get your own copy of the Screenwriting Goldmine package for the full story of how you use structure and imagination to tell a great story, then go to this link:
EVEN MORE INDUSTRY NEWS
Philip Shelley and I have decided that our Two Phils Newsletter is just too good to hide under a bushel, so we’ll be posting the weekly newsletters on our Two Phils website from now on. You can find the latest screenwriting newsletter here.
As you’ll notice, it’s a much more newsy offering than this blog which tends to be very personal to what I’m thinking about this week. The newsletter has an incredibly low unsubscribe rate and generally gets great feedback, and, of course it is totally free, so if you’ve an interest in the entire industry I strongly encourage you to take a look at it.