Welcome back to part 4 of my series on the eight sequence method for screenwriting (see Paul Joseph Gulino’s book, Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach) using Toy Story as our real-world model. Last week we passed the midpoint of our analysis and saw our main characters at their lowest point. Now it’s time to wrap up Act II and get ready for the final push to the end!
Need to get caught up? Here’s a rundown of what was discussed in earlier columns:
- Part 1: an overview to sequences and why you should consider using them
- Part 2: Discussing Sequences One and Two
- Part 3: Discussing Sequences Three and Four
Alright, let’s get to it…
Sequences and ‘Toy Story’ (part 4)
Sequence Five: Subplot & Rising Action
The point in your script where after you cross the mid-point can be a daunting one for a screenwriter. How do you simultaneously continue to ramp up the action, while also starting to pull together the strings of your plot so you can push into the third act? Doing this well can be daunting for even the most seasoned scribes, and it’s the reason we have the term “the second act sag.” So what’s the trick? Sometimes it can be as simple as taking a small break from your main story to focus on a new subplot; something that will bring an air of freshness to your script and give the audience a different look at the world you’ve created.
With Toy Story, the main plot is all about Woody and Buzz trying to get home to Andy and so, once we pass the mid-point, we leave that plot alone for a bit and focus on a new, self-contained story about Buzz and Woody’s relationship.
In quick fashion we see Woody snap Buzz out of his Mrs. Nesbitt personality and bring him back to Sid’s room. There, he contacts Andy’s other toys from Sid’s window and almost escapes. As the string of Christmas lights strewn between the two houses are dropped to the ground, it’s official; Woody and Buzz are on their own. In a quick, “save the cat” moment, the misfit toys in Sid’s room come out and fix Buzz’s arm, letting the audience (and Woody) know that they’re not dangerous after all.
Then the stakes are raised again as a rocket is taped to Buzz’s back. He’ll be blown sky high in the morning when Sid wakes up. This not only raises the stakes for Buzz but also for Woody who will never be able to go home again if something happens to Buzz.
At this point, our two main characters have a heart-to-heart chat. Buzz is still spiraling from the discovery that he’s a toy, and Woody finally admits his feelings of inadequacy; his worry that he could never compete with a toy like Buzz; his desire in a certain way to be a toy like Buzz. Both toys learn something about each other and do some light bonding (not light bondage. Get youy mind out of the gutter, people). They realize they need each other and their only way home is by working together.
The sub-plot is wrapped up, the audience got a break from the journey home, and our main characters can continue on their quest. We transition back to the main plot with…
Sequence Six: Main Culmination/End of Act Two
This sequence brings the building action of the second act to a head with the main culmination of the story and (ideally) moves us smoothly into Act III. When you jump back into the main storyline, you need to do so with a bang, and Toy Story does this by immediately ratcheting up the tension – the moving van arrives at Andy’s house. We’ve got ourselves a ticking clock working against the goal of our main characters.
Immediately after, Buzz is taken outside by Sid to be blown up; all of the threads of the plot of coming together in a way that raises the feeling of danger for the audience in an organic way. It’s up to Woody to now save Buzz (in direct opposition to knocking him out of Andy’s window, the event that kicks-started all of the action) and he enlists the help of the misfit toys to do so.
We then get one of the most memorable scenes in the film as the toys come to life and Sid gets his comeuppance. It’s funny, intense, a bit on the scary side, and undoubtedly led to years of therapy for Sid.
But this isn’t the time to let your audience catch their breath. No sooner does the victory over Sid occur, than the moving van starts to pull out. The move is happening, and Buzz and Woody cross through the fence into Andy’s yard to complete their journey home (and symbolically enter Act III).
The van is leaving. The move is happening. Time to get over there or it will be too late!
Come back next week for part 5 of this series as I review the final two sequences.
Until then, pour a delicious cup of tea for Mrs. Nesbitt and keep writing.
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- More Specs & The City articles from Brad Johnson
- Screenwriting the Dan O’Bannon WayStructure and Breaking In: An Interview with Syd Field
- Why You Should Write a Short Film Screenplay
- Balls of Steel Goes Into the Writing Room and Behind the Lines with DR
Tools to Help:
- Books and Classes by Jen Grisanti at The Writers Store
- Screenwriting books by Syd FieldDan O’Bannon’s Guide to Screenplay Structure: Inside Tips from the Writer of Alien, Total Recall & Return of the Living Dead
- The Essential Elements of Screenplay Structure: Get Your Story Straight On Demand Webinar by screenwriter of What Women Want, Diane Drake