Many writers say that the middle of a screenplay, Act II, is the hardest part to write. That’s because it’s usually easiest to start an idea and figure out how to end it, but it’s often much harder to figure out how to get from the beginning all the way to the end.
The secret to creating the middle Act II of a screenplay lies in creating a catch, a seemingly unsolvable dilemma. This seemingly unsolvable dilemma keeps the tension and suspense to keep an audience’s attention as they watch to see how the hero tries to solve this unsolvable catch or dilemma.
In “The Apartment,” the hero is a low man on the totem pole in a corporation, but to advance his way up the ranks, he agrees to let corporate executives use his apartment for their affairs. However, the catch is that the hero’s boss wants to use the hero’s apartment for an affair with a woman who the hero loves.
If the hero lets his boss use his apartment for an affair, he’ll get rewarded in his job, but he’ll risk losing the woman he loves.
This “Now what?” moment is what you want in Act II of your screenplay because this creates a new problem for the hero to solve.
In “Tootsie,” the hero is a talented actor who has a reputation for being hard to work with. As a result, he’s unemployed. To prove to the world that he’s a great actor, he auditions for a role on a soap opera while disguised as a woman.
Not only does he get the role, but he becomes one of the soap opera’s biggest stars. However, the catch is that he falls in love with his co-star, but since his co-star thinks he’s a woman, he can’t fall in love with her. Now what?
In “Top Gun: Maverick,” the hero gets a job training Top Gun pilots for a dangerous mission. The catch is that one of the students is the son of the hero’s best friend, who died in an accident that the hero feels guilty about. If the hero lets the son of his best friend on the mission, he risks getting him killed. If he fails to let him go on the mission, he risks forever upsetting the son of his best friend since the hero had previously blocked his career due to his mother’s wishes.
So the hero risks losing his relationship with this other pilot for good to save his life, or sending him on a dangerous mission where he could die, where he promised the best friend’s wife he would protect his son.
Before writing your screenplay, make sure you define this “Now what?” unsolvable dilemma for your hero to solve. Trying to solve this catch is what Act II is really all about.