Day 35: Midpoint or Not
Finally! I've reached the midpoint of my screenplay Come Ups. Maybe. I spent most of my creative writing time in September working on this project with the expectations that I would complete the rewrites for the entire script in that month. As I came into October, I was still struggling just to make it through the first half of the second act. Unlike the first act, the second act, under the Save the Cat (STC) paradigm, really only has one plot point to hit -- the midpoint on page 55. This seemed to be a relatively easy task since I already had a completed version of the script; all I had to do was conform the pages I had to reach that magical page 55 mark. But there is a reason people say a script loses it in the second act.
The first half of the second act under STC is practically devoid of plot point until the midpoint on page 55. The first act by contrast has 6 points scattered across 25 pages. This leads some to call using this type of methodology 'paint-by-numbers.' You have to reach certain defined moments by a certain time/point in the script. The first half of the second act doesn't have those defined moments, just a sort of loose outline of the types of things that should happen: start of the B story, introduction of secondary characters and perhaps an action set piece. Writers are given a lot of leeway with their creativity here, but many a film has gone off the rails precisely during this section of the script. They either lose focus or even worse, lose forward progression. Things sort of stall out.
Why this stall out effect occurs has been the subject of debate for decades. Some say it's because writers have gotten lazy, relying on methodologies like STC and Mini-Movie instead of plotting and understanding a script on their own. This argument ignores the fact that the second act lull existed long before Blake Snyder wrote down the STC Beat Sheet or that these methodologies don't create the plot points or beats, just where they are located -- train stations along a track if you will. The writer is still in charge of the train. Stations don't derail a train; it's usually the engineer. But in this case the engineer is also laying the track, so there are all sorts of possibilities for things to go wrong.
In my original script the first sign of problems was with the midpoint. It came on page 67 -- twelve pages later than Snyder calls for in STC. This was due in part to the fact that my first act also ran long, pushing the Midpoint Station further along the tracks. With the new act one rewrites complete, the midpoint now fell on page 61. Closer, but it was clear that additional rewrites had to be undertaken. I won't go into the specifics of what those rewrites entailed; I'll hold that discussion for the upcoming blogs on Second Act Story Structure. Suffice it to say, I had to do some considerable reworking of the structure and rewrote a number of scenes and threw others away entirely. The end result being my midpoint is sitting comfortably at the top of page 57. Shep does have a moment on 55 where he is sort of resigned to the fact that circumstances have spiraled out of control and he and his friends are in over there heads. I could argue that this moment is the midpoint, but there is still a larger and much more meaningful blow to come when Grady bows out and walks away from the situation on page 57. That, technically, is the real midpoint, coming about 1.25 pages too late.
It's not off by much, but I don't seem to have anything else I can cut or rewrite at this point to lose that one page. I do have one option, and that is to lose the scene with Reggie the bartender. I am not prepared to make that cut at this time as I want to see how things play out in the second half of the second act and ultimately the third act. I also know that I have to go back through the first act and beef Shep up a bit, which will add some pages. Even if I force some page cuts now, I'm going to have to cut more later. I'm going to hold off for now, see how things develop and make those cuts all at one time. Hopefully.
Over the next couple of days, I'll be taking a deeper look into the second act structure and posting pages from both the original version of the script and the STC version so you can do a side-by-side comparison. Until then, keep writing.