Welcome to the worst part of screenwriting: The Middle
Okay, team, we are at the part in Aliens where Bill Paxton yells "Game over, man. Game over!" This is going to be the roughest part of your screenplay. The middle of any script is where it's okay to get a little sloppy.
Feel free to take long walks, scream at family members, and aggressively eat as many donuts as you can. You can also re-look at our post on the three-act structure to familiarize yourself with the process.
The middle of the script is the hardest part because you need to think about pushing everything you have to the next level. All the emotions need to bubble up. All the things you planted in Act One need to come to fruition, and you should be fulfilling the promise of the premise.
We’re going to release one of these every Friday, so if you’re joining late, you can find all the other weeks in our free online screenwriting course here.
If you get stuck or have a writer emergency, keep writing!
Blake Snyder calls these pages "Fun and Games..." What the hell was he thinking?
Come with me as we enter Mordor. Let's tackle the middle of our scripts together and scream about it in the comments. If you want to procrastinate, read my Spider-Man rankings.
Otherwise, come with me if you want to write.
The Free Screenwriting Seminar Mission Statement
Most people access No Film School because they want to get information about cameras, gear, and storytelling. We’re aware that the luxury of attending film school is not available to most of the world, so we do our best to keep you all up to date on what’s out there and how you can shoot and create to your utmost potential.
What’s at the root of all filmmaking? Storytelling.
Over the next 10 weeks, I’m going to give a free screenwriting seminar. Read entry one here! I’m going to teach you the fundamentals of screenwriting, coach you through 10-page sprints, and answer your questions about how your story can move forward in the comments section below each week.
If we’re going to finish this screenplay, we should get started right away. If you have some other stuff to do and only want to find out what to do this week, scroll down to the TL;DR portion.
Now, to the fun part!
Free Screenwriting Seminar Week Four: Pages 40-50.
So here at No Film School, I've been using this thing called the "Story Map" to beat out screenplays. We have a great post on Rocky, and when I get to the middle of screenplays, I like to dig into the map and see where it can take me. Also, I like the idea of following a map to tell a story, since you are technically taking an audience on a journey.
Hate it? Do whatever works for you.
For those of you who may have missed it, this is the Story Map:
Unraveling The Map - Do you have an opening scene that defines the movie?
The Launch Point - Where are we, and who are we with?
The First Leg - What’s an average day look like in this world?
Change Course - What sets our characters off on their journey from normalcy?
The Foot of the Mountain - Okay, we’re going on this journey together
Climbing The Side - It starts hard, but you get used to the problems as you go
Through The Cave - Do you have a B story? Set that story off on its own now too.
Reassess the Problem - You’re at the middle. Is there another way to get it done?
Try and Fail - Things begin to fall apart, can they handle it?
The Fall - The worst thing happens, something so bad you don’t think you can get up.
The Hidden Clue - What do your characters discover about themselves/the problem that they never saw before?
Race To the Finish - They’re up and running no matter what.
The Treasure Chest - Did they get what they came for?
Where We Go From Here - Show us the world in a new light, hint what’s next.
By the time we get to page 40, we should be climbing the side of the mountain, going through the cave, and about to hit the midpoint. You want your characters to be dealing with their issues, and you want the things you've been planning to start to pay off.
Think about the middle of your favorite movie. What happens?
I'm a massive fan of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The middle of the movie is devoted to getting Indy and Marion close to the ark, and then taking them to a midpoint where we think Marion is dead.
This wrecks Indy, and we see all the deep-seated issues he had with Marion come to the surface.
What can come to the surface with your characters? We need to see them fail in these pages. This is the time where they, like you, should be frustrated at their missions falling apart.
How are you advancing your plot? How can you create roadblocks for your characters?
Let's take a look at a few examples.
Pages 40-50 Screenplay examples
We all have favorite parts of movies. We pick out scenes that are memorable and exciting. But these pages you're writing now are the blue-collar pages. They're the workhorses that help move the story forward.
So ask yourself, "What's my story about? What do my characters need?" And now...take that away from them.
Let's start with an easy example: The Goonies (one of the best coming-of-age movies).
The plot of The Goonies is simple to follow. They're legit using a map to go where they need to go. They want One-Eyed Willie's gold. We take it away from them by putting obstacles in their way and tracking all the fighting within the group. This is where the flaws we've seen in these characters take center stage and they have to overcome those flaws to move forward, to get to the midpoint and decide to keep going forward.
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=sD1QqHXWzvQ
Again, if your movie has a formula or a set of tropes, this is where you can lean in. Think about Oceans 11. We get the guys to the casino. We introduce Tess, then what happens in the middle of the movie?They set their plan in motion so they have to start practicing, and they need to see what problems they'll have going forward (namely needing more parts to help break into the casino).
Okay, what about one of the most moving dramas of the decade?
Manchester By The Sea.
Pages 40-50 here are trying to get you to the midpoint, to this jaw-dropping scene:
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4CkFQhVHL8
How do you get there?
Again, these are the foundation of the second act. We need to build up our love of Casey Affleck's character and then pull the rug out from under everyone.
We need to set up that Lee has to stay there and that he's got to take care of his nephew. You also have to show that there was some tension with his wife.
In these moments we begin to unravel everything we planted early on. We start to explain why Lee has so much pain in his life, why he doesn't want to be in this town.
So as you write pages 40-50, ask yourself how you can stop your characters from getting what they want and how you can use the B-story to help that.
Could a villain get in their way? Or maybe having two girlfriends and being in a band could too?
Remember, no one wants to watch a movie about the village of happy people. So make things hurt.
Summing Up Free Screenwriting Seminar Week Five
Alright, bold writer. You’ve conquered pages 1-40, and now you’re playing deep in act two. It's going to be hairy, but we got your back. Remember, we’re all in this together.
If you have specific fears, comments, or questions…post them below!
Push forward, we believe in you.
See you next week.
TL;DR of this Free Screenwriting Seminar: Wk. 4
Week Five Screenwriting Goals:
- Expose your characters' flaws and make it hard on them.
- Get ready to pivot at the midpoint.
- Pages 40-50.
Week Five Music Listen to While Screenwriting: