You'd think after a decade of writing that, it would get easier. But I still find myself in the same position as before over and over again. I can write the first 30 pages and I know where the story will end.

Unfortunately, the second act absolutely kicks my butt.

Second acts are so hard to write. They often require you to go back to the start and tear things down and rework them into submission. It's the proverbial Bermuda Triangle of storytelling. It's the part of your screenplay that can make or break your cinematic masterpiece.

But fear not, intrepid writers!

We can break that second act together. I went through ten tips that will help you iron out your second act.

Let's dive in.

10 Ways To Attack the Second Act of Your Screenplay

Writing a compelling second act for your screenplay can be a daunting task, but it's essential for maintaining your audience's interest and building the story's momentum. So I put together ten ways to help you do just that.

Use them wisely.

1. Divide Act II into Four Sequences

Sometimes you have to divide and conquer.

Breaking your second act into four distinct sequences can make this large portion of your script more manageable, allowing you to focus on developing each part separately. By treating each sequence as a mini-story with a beginning, middle, and end, you can ensure that your second act maintains a consistent sense of forward momentum.

And you won't burn out on one section because they feel manageable. So what do these sections look like?

Jurassic-park-the-lost-world-027'The Lost World: Jurassic Park'Credit: Universal Pictures

Sequence A

This sequence begins at the break into Act II and lasts for about the first quarter of Act II. It should introduce new challenges and conflicts for your protagonist to overcome, establishing the stakes and setting the stage for the rest of the act.

Add more things going wrong and show some skills that come to light.

Sequence B

In this sequence, your protagonist should face increasing opposition and obstacles, building on the challenges introduced in Sequence A. Things get harder and change the worldview of the characters. This sequence culminates at the Midpoint of your script, where a significant event or revelation shifts the story in a new direction.

The midpoint should make the audience look at the story in a new light.

Sequence C

Following the Midpoint, Sequence C explores the consequences of the protagonist's choices and actions, raising the stakes even further. You see the world in a new light. How do you react to it?

This sequence should demonstrate your protagonist's growth and development as they continue to face increasingly difficult obstacles.

Sequence D

The final sequence of Act II brings your protagonist to their lowest point, where all seems lost. This sequence should end with the Break into Act III, setting the stage for the climax of your story.

You're taking the story to its low point. so in these pages, you want to see the world fall apart around the characters and take them to their limit.

Man-on-fire-033'Man on Fire'Credit: 20th Century Fox

2. Develop Your Characters Throughout Act II

Another way to dive into the second act is through character development.

Character development is crucial for maintaining audience engagement throughout your second act. By exploring your protagonist's character arc, you can ensure that your audience remains emotionally invested in their journey. And that can also inform where to go in Act II.

This can be achieved by presenting your protagonist with challenges that force them to confront their flaws and grow as a person.

These challenges should advance the plot but also test the characters at the center of the story. You can brainstorm scenes to write that put them in the worst positions possible.

07_382'Five Easy Pieces'Credit: Columbia Pictures

3. Expand Your Story World in Act II

Act I is usually so full of plot and stakes that the second act allows you to create a much more expansive atmosphere where you steep the audience in what this place has to offer.

Think about Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone when they finally get to Hogwarts and have a chance to explore the world.

Act II provides a perfect opportunity to delve deeper into the world you've created in your screenplay. Use this section of your story to explore new locations, introduce new characters, and reveal more about the rules and dynamics of your story's universe.

11 ways to establish worldbuilding in your story'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone'Credit: Warner Bros.

4. Create a Series of Obstacles for Your Protagonist

In any good treasure movie, your characters are usually following a map. In The Goonies, Act II is them finding literal obstacles they have to surmount.

To maintain tension and keep your story moving forward, your second act should be filled with obstacles that your protagonist must overcome. These challenges should escalate in difficulty and complexity, forcing your protagonist to adapt and grow.

What are the literal or figurative obstacles you can place in your character's path?

The-goonies'The Goonies'Credit: Warner Bros.

5. Incorporate a B Story

We often get so focused on the main plot that we forget there are other characters to explore, with different stakes.

A B story is a secondary plotline that runs parallel to your main story, often involving supporting characters. By including a B story in your second act, you can provide a change of pace and introduce new sources of conflict to keep your audience engaged.

Think about a movie like The Shawshank Redemption, which uses the Brooks B-story to beef up the stakes for Andy (Tim Robbins) and Red (Morgan Freeman).

Shake up the point of view in the second act to move things forward.

Brooks_the_shawshank_redemption'The Shawshank Redemption'Credit: Columbia Pictures

6. Increase Conflict and Raise Stakes

You can't go wrong with making things direr for the people at the center of the story. How could things get worse? Is the threat now global? Are more people at risk?

In Mission: Impossible – Fallout, we learn they have to break out a terrorist from prison to trade him for nukes, a terrorist they know could get away.

Throughout your second act, you should escalate the conflict between your protagonist and antagonist, making it increasingly difficult for your protagonist to achieve their goal. Additionally, raising the stakes will heighten the tension and keep your audience invested in the outcome of your story.

Mission-impossible-fallout-skydive-with-tom-cruise'Mission: Impossible – Fallout'Credit: Paramount Pictures

7. Embrace the Golfing Goat Rule

I had not heard of this until I was researching this article and came across a helpful blog from our friends at SoCreate.

The Golfing Goat Rule, as coined by screenwriter William C. Martell, suggests that you should introduce your story's most intriguing or unique element early in your screenplay and then continue to escalate its significance throughout Act II. By doing so, you'll maintain audience interest and ensure that your story remains engaging and dynamic.

For example, think about how the Grail diary keeps getting more and more important as Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) gets closer and closer to finding the Grail. We start with it as a MacGuffin and then end with it guiding them through a temple with booby traps.

11 ways to establish worldbuilding in your story'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade'Credit: Paramount Pictures

8. Utilize Try-Fail Cycles

There's lots of lingo when it comes to this stuff because people have been fighting through the second act since the dawn of writing.

To keep your story moving forward, your protagonist should experience a series of try-fail cycles in Act II. These cycles involve your protagonist attempting to overcome an obstacle, only to fail and be forced to try again with a different approach. This creates a sense of urgency and heightens the stakes of your story.

These try-fail cycles could be like games in a sports movie where we see the team coming together and getting better. Or they could be attempts to capture the bad guy like James Bond (Daniel Craig) does in Skyfall. He follows a mission, gets a bad guy, who ultimately escapes, and shows just how far Bond has fallen.

Skyfall'Skyfall'Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing

9. Develop Supporting Characters and Subplots

We talked a little bit about this in the B-plot, but a great way to move through Act II is to just make sure all your characters are developed and have rich backstories and arcs we can appreciate as an audience.

Act II is a great opportunity to further develop your supporting characters and subplots. By giving these elements more depth and complexity, you'll enrich your story world and provide additional sources of conflict and tension for your protagonist to navigate.

Use this time to beef up that romance or add some animosity, as they do in Showgirls.

The more characters we care about, the better the story.

Showgirls-nomi-dancing'Showgirls'Credit: MGM/UA Distribution Co.

10. Building a Climactic Moment at the End of Act II

Pick that moment you know will tear apart everything and build toward it slowly. That ultimate low point where it feels like they have nothing left.

I love the Terminator 2: Judgment Day car crash where they head into the steel mill, and it feels like there's no escaping the T-1000 (Robert Patrick).

What is your "All is lost" moment as they say in Save The Cat?

Your second act should build toward a climactic moment that propels your story into the third act. This moment should be emotionally charged and represent a turning point for your protagonist, setting the stage for the final confrontation and resolution of your story.

Thumbs up from Terminator'Terminator 2: Judgement Day'Credit: Tri-Star Pictures

Summing Up 10 Ways To Attack the Second Act of Your Screenplay

The second act is hard to write, but hopefully, these strategies make yours easier to swallow. By implementing these 10 ideas, you can create a captivating and engaging second act that keeps your audience hooked and drives your story forward.

Remember to maintain a consistent sense of momentum, develop your characters and story world, and escalate conflict and stakes throughout Act 2 to ensure that your screenplay remains compelling from start to finish.

And just have fun with your writing, even when it gets tough.

Let me know your thoughts below.