Break a two hour screenplay into four, 30-minute segments and you get the following:
- Act I – Introduce the hero’s emotional dream
- Act IIa – Show the hero pursuing a goal and achieving success
- Act IIb – Show the hero struggling to hold on to his or her dream
- Act III – Show the hero making a decision to confront the villain and change his or her world forever
What happens in Act IIb is that the hero runs into “The Awful Truth.” That’s usually the moment when the hero fully understands the villain’s goal and the consequences. This crucial moment forces the hero make a decision that won’t be easy, and that’s why this “Awful Truth” moment is so important because it visually shows how the hero has changed.
“The Awful Truth” moment in “Die Hard” occurs when John McClane is bleeding and hurt, hiding in a bathroom and pulling glass shards out of his bare feet. That’s when he suddenly understands why the villain rigged explosives to the roof because the villain plans to bring the hostages to the roof and blow them all up, killing them to cover the villain’s own escape. Now John McClane must decide to act to save his wife and the other hostages.
“The Awful Truth” moment in “Titanic” occurs when Rose is on a lifeboat and realizes that the ship is sinking, there aren’t enough lifeboats for everyone, and Jack is trapped inside. That’s when she makes the decision to jump off the lifeboat and rescue Jack.
“Smallfoot” is a recent animated film that’s about an entire civilization of yetis living high in the mountains. The yetis hear rumors of humans they call Smallfoot, but the hero in Act IIb learns “The Awful Truth” when an elder yeti explains that the yetis hide in the mountains because in the past the humans killed the yetis out of fear. That’s when the hero decides to save the yetis by lying about the existence of humans that he saw.
“The Awful Truth” is a crucial moment in any screenplay because it forces the hero to make a tough choice while also setting up the final conflict in Act III.
When writing your story, make sure your hero faces this “Awful Truth” moment. Without it, your story risks being dull and boring.