Start Act Two With a Through-the-Looking-Glass Moment

I say this all the time, but writing a script is like writing a Classical symphony, not a Romantic symphony. Your readers and viewers all say they want something original, but really they want something just like most other scripts. It should have the exhilaration of feeling new, and yet everything happens at just the right time, and they were prepared for each major turn, hopefully without realizing it. Like Mozart or Haydn, your job is to make everything just feel like it’s in the right place, and if you “borrow” from yourself (or sometimes other writers), well, that’s how it’s done. You’re not Beethoven, writing a symphony every few years, each one valued for its originality and the unexpected places you take people. Just crank ’em out. Oh, and it should fit on an album side.

Maybe I’m obsessed with this analogy because I love listening to vinyl while writing, counting time in 20-25 minute intervals. If you write a page of script per every album side, you can write a script in a week!

If only.

I’ve written before about how every script needs that mid-point in Act Two when the problem is worse than the hero ever imagined, the go-get-that-witch’s-broom moment. But before the hero even gets there, a good script has a clean break at the end of Act One. She has to land in Oz! She has to go through the looking glass! He has to walk out with the tape!

One of my projects is a thriller that I put down for a few months, and when I returned to it recently I told my partners it was obvious what it needed, a more decisive break at the end of Act One (page 25 or so). The hero and reader/viewer thought the dramatic setup was average-to-bad, and now, thanks to the hero’s own character flaws or bad luck, he has a serious problem on his hands.

And how do you know this is what your script needs? Because that’s what scripts have. I figured mine out by re-watching and writing out beats for some thrillers from across the decades, and envying that moment in The Conversation when Harry Caul, a surveillance contractor, walks away from a cash transaction and refuses to hand over the audiotape, putting himself in medium-high danger. It happens right on schedule, at Minute 30.

That’s how some writers write. Others write the same way and say that they don’t.


  1. Soham Mehta says:

    Great last line.


What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: