Divide a two hour (120 minute) screenplay into four Acts and you get four 30-minute segments. In Act I, you introduce your story. At the end of Act I, the hero enters a whole new world and that’s the whole point of Act IIa.
Act IIa brings the hero into contact with an ally who can help along with the villain. However, the main structure of Act IIa is for the villain to indirectly foil the hero.
Initially, the villain has no clue who the hero is. if the villain does know who the hero is, the villain often doesn’t recognize that the hero is a threat.
In “Die Hard,” the villain knows John McClane is upstairs somewhere, but doesn’t see him as an immediate threat. Instead, the villain sees John McClane as a minor nuisance who can be easily captured or killed.
In “Star Wars,” Darth Vader has no idea Luke even exists, but because his storm troopers are looking for R2D2, those storm troopers threaten to keep Luke from getting off his planet to get to Princess Leia’s planet.
In “WALL-E,” the villain (Auto, the starship’s AI), meets WALL-E but has no idea what to do with him, so he sends WALL-E off to get cleaned up.
The following occurs in Act IIa:
- Hero meets an ally
- Hero meets the villain
- Villain foils the hero
Let’s focus on the villain foiling the hero. The hero only enters a new world in Act IIa in pursuit of a goal so that’s the goal the villain needs to foil.
In “Die Hard,” John McClane just wants to contact the police, so the villain first tricks the fire department into going away. Then the villain sends his men up to find John McClane. When John McClane finally contacts the police, the villain tries to trick the police into going away until John McClane finally contacts the police by shoving a dead terrorist out the window so it lands on the police car hood.
In “Star Wars,” Luke just wants to travel with Obi-wan to find a starship. Darth Vader’s storm troopers are looking for R2D2 so they keep threatening to stop Luke, despite Darth Vader not even knowing who Luke is.
In “WALL-E,” the villain dismisses WALL-E as just another robot. Eve tries to send WALL-E back to Earth, not realizing that the villain took the plant that Eve wants so badly.
In Act IIa, focus on the villain inadvertently foiling the hero. The villain does this while pursuing a larger goal that will become clear in Act IIb, so use Act IIa as a way to maintain the mystery of the story.