Specs & The City: Break Into Act Two and Shrek

Every screenwriting book has a different name for it. But whether it’s a first plot point, the turning point, or your “break into two,” as Blake Snyder calls it, there are few parts of your screenplay more important or as vital to the success of your story.  You’ve spent a good thirty pages or so setting up your story’s world.  We’ve gotten to know your characters, witnessed the inciting incident, met the Antagonist (hopefully), and now we’ve arrived.

I call it the transition of choice.

As Act One draws to a close, your Protagonist finds him/herself in a bind. They’ve been presented with a challenge, and have to decide whether or not they will move into the unknown and attempt to solve whatever problem has been presented to them. Of course, if they don’t accept the challenge, it would make for an extremely short movie, so let’s assume they do. How do you make the most of that moment?

To me, it’s an often overlooked juncture in a script. The way in which that choice is presented and executed will determine whether or not your audience is bought in. How much they will care about the difficult road ahead.

I always think about it this way. At the beginning of Act Two, your Protagonist should be at a crossroads. They see a glimmer of a chance to accomplish the one thing in life they want more than anything else in the world – but to achieve it, they have to do something they would never voluntarily do of their own free will. Basically, I believe in characters being PUSHED into Act Two, rather than casually strolling there.

Let’s take a look at…

Starting The Second Act and ‘Shrek’

act two shrek

The animated tale of an anti-social ogre, Shrek has a clear, crisp transition into Act Two. Here it is.

                                      HEAD GUARD

                         Shall I give the order, sir?

                                     FARQUAAD

                         No, I have a better idea. People of

                         DuLoc, I give you our champion! 

                                     SHREK

                         What?

                                     FARQUAAD

                         Congratulations, ogre. You’ve won the

                         honor of embarking on a great and noble quest.

                                     SHREK

                         Quest? I’m already in a quest, a quest

                         to get my swamp back.

                                     FARQUAAD

                         Your swamp?

                                     SHREK

                         Yeah, my swamp! Where you dumped those

                         fairy tale creatures! 

                                     FARQUAAD

                         Indeed. All right, ogre. I’ll make you

                         a deal. Go on this quest for me, and

                         I’ll give you your swamp back. 

                                     SHREK

                         Exactly the way it was?

                                     FARQUAAD

                         Down to the last slime-covered toadstool.                     

                                     SHREK

                         And the squatters?

                                     FARQUAAD

                         As good as gone.

                                     SHREK

                         What kind of quest?

This is pretty in-your-face. Shrek is quite literally sent on a quest he doesn’t want to go on in order to get what he wants – his swamp back. It’s a crisp and clean break between what has been set-up before, and the heart of the story we’re about to embark upon.

It’s worth noting that, as with every part of your script, the break into Act Two will be more effective if there’s subtext involved. Shrek doesn’t just want his swamp back because it was his land. He wants the self-imposed solitude that it brings with it. He doesn’t realize it at the time, but by choosing to go on the quest to achieve his goal – to maintain his status quo – he is actually beginning a journey of growth and change. By the time he achieves his goal, Shrek no longer desires the thing that began his journey in the first place.

That’s pretty multi-faceted for a cartoon about an ogre and talking donkey, but that’s what it takes to get your script noticed.

Now get writing!

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