Understanding Act IIb — Negative Rising Action

The second half of Act II is where the hero starts losing and the villain starts winning. By knowing the purpose of this second half of Act II, you’ll understand how to bridge the gap between Act I and Act III.

By the end of the first half of Act II (which I call Act IIa), the hero achieves a False Victory (at the 60 minute mark of a 120 minute movie). In the second half of Act II (which I call Act IIb), the hero experiences two things:

First, the hero learns that this False Victory doesn’t solve the underlying problem (60-75 minutes). Second, the villain takes control and achieves his goal, which directly conflicts with the hero’s goal (75-90 minutes). By the end of Act IIb, the hero is at the lowest point while the villain is at the highest point.

It’s easy to see where the end of Act II appears in most movies. This is the point where things look most hopeless to the hero and where the villain achieves a major victory. In “Saving Private Ryan,” the hero finally finds Private Ryan, but then discovers that he won’t leave his fellow soldiers. Now what’s Tom Hanks’ character going to do?

In “Star Wars,” the end of Act II is where Darth Vader kills Obi-Wan Konobi while Luke, Hans, and Princess Leia escape. With Obi-Wan dead, now what’s Luke going to do?

Let’s dissect the two parts of Act IIb. The first half (60-75 minutes) comes right after the hero achieves a False Victory. Immediately after this False Victory of the hero, the villain does something (Inciting Incident), which causes conflict with the hero (Rising Action), which ends with the hero’s situation much bleaker than before.

In “Die Hard,” Bruce Willis’s False Victory occurs when he finally gets the police to arrive. The Inciting Incident of Act IIb occurs when the FBI takes charge and storms the building. The terrorists battle back and disable the police armored car (Rising Action). Bruce Willis saves the day by blowing up some of the explosives he took from the terrorists (Climax).

The second half of Act IIb (75-90 minutes) is where the villain typically achieves his highest victory of the entire story. In “Die Hard,” the head terrorist accidentally runs into Bruce Willis and pretends to be a victim trying to hide (Inciting Incident). The head terrorist tries to kill Bruce Willis (Rising Action) and then realizes that he can shoot the glass to wound Bruce Willis in his bare feet. Although he escapes, Bruce Willis is hurt and isolated in a bathroom where he picks shards of glass out of his feet (Climax).

So Act IIb, the Negative Rising Action, follows the hero’s gradual decline from the False Victory at the midpoint of the movie to the lowest point for the hero at the end of Act II, which is also the highest point of the movie for the villain.

The first half of Act IIb is where the villain takes back control. The second half of Act IIb is where the villain achieves his goal.

To review the 15 Minute Movie Method, here’s a quick summary of the main actions in each Act:

Act I — Exposition

0-15 minutes: Hero introduced, problem stated, and peek into new world.

15-30 minutes: Hero meets a new ally and enters into a new world.

Act IIa — Positive Rising Action

30-45 minutes: Hero learns rules of new world but something disrupts his plans.

45-60 minutes: Hero achieves a False Victory.

Act IIb — Negative Rising Action

60-75 minutes: Villain takes control.

75-90 minutes: Villain achieves his goal, which puts hero isolated and alone.

Act III — Climax

90-105 minutes: Hero risks all

105-120 minutes: Hero confronts villain

Once again, don’t slavishly follow the exact minutes when something happens. Just be aware that every movie consists of these eight distinct segments that serve a specific purpose in moving the story forward. In the second half of Act II, your villain takes control and your hero suffers. By bringing your hero to the lowest point possible, you set up the hero for the final climactic ending.

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