Plot: Act 2

ACT 2!

Just like act 1, it has 5 steps:

  • B Plot Introduction
  • Plan
  • Shenanigans
  • Commitment Confirmed
  • Turning Point 2

B Plot Introduction:

You start the smaller plot that will run concurrent to the main plot.

One unique aspect of the B plot, is that it’s movable. You could introduce the B plot here in the beginning of act 2, or really any time earlier in act 1. But generally speaking, the beginning of act 2 is a good place for it.

Plan:

Your main character formulates a plan of action.

They already have a goal, a desire that they want or need to pursue. How are they going to achieve that goal? They need a plan. This is the time for them to come up with one.

Shenanigans:

A broad term for what occurs during the bulk of act 2.

You main character puts their plan into action, and… what happens? What kind of hijinks ensue? This is where you get to relish in the seed you’ve set up. What was your seed?

  • Was it: “What if dinosaurs were resurrected?”

Then your shenanigans would be walking among these majestic giants, marveling at their grace and beauty. Having your paleontologist characters witness live behaviors they could only guess at back when they were looking at fossilized bones.

  • Was it: “What if you could come back from the dead for revenge?”

Then your main character spends this “shenanigans” time back from the dead, killing those who did him wrong.

This is the time to enjoy the “positive” aspects of the seed you’ve set up.

Commitment Confirmed:

The character fully commits to the journey ahead.

The road they’re moving down. The shenanigans have opened up your main character’s world, but there’s still the possibility of going back to how things used to be. It’s still possible to step back into their smaller, safer world from before the story began. Here in this step, you take that possibility away. They commit fully to the path. They cross that bridge and it crumbles behind them. They might get killed saving their friend, but they get in the car anyway.

You want to craft a situation where there’s no going back. Your main character’s commitment to the road ahead, is confirmed.

Turning Point 2:

This is the end of act 2. You want to end it with a bang.

Some kind of major accomplishment. Or, alternatively, some kind of major set back.

This major turn in the story should push things forward. In the same way turning point 1 did. We want to move the story along, in a big shift, into act 3.

Let’s put this all together and take a look at our bank robbing example from act 1:

ACT 2:

  • B Plot Introduction
  • Plan
  • Shenanigans
  • Commitment Confirmed
  • Turning Point 2

First, let’s introduce our B plot.
Our main character’s buddy, the guy who recruited him into this whole bank robbing idea, will be the main character for the B plot. Turns out his daughter has been kidnapped and in order to get her back, he has to rob this bank.

The main character and his recruiter buddy hatch their plan, when they sit down and prepare exactly how they’re going to rob this bank.

We get into our shenanigans when our characters actually rob the bank. This whole section is what the story is primarily about, plot-wise.

Their commitment is confirmed when our main characters kill a cop on the way out of the bank. There’s no going back now. They’re in it for keeps.

And we truly hit turning point 2, when Recruiter-Guy is caught by the police and our main character leaves him behind.

That’s a real solid act 2. Movin’ on to act 3!



Seed: The Beginning of Every Story

[Be sure to check it out on a non-mobile device to see the annotations, Animals!]

Seed

The first cubby to concern ourselves with in short form storytelling is “seed.”

So what is a “seed?”

This is your story in its most basic form.

Its most primal form. Its most conceptual form.

A fundamental idea that the rest of the story revolves around. It’s an idea that the rest of the story grows out of.

As a storyteller, this is where you start.

Functionally, it’s defined as an inherent fantasy.

Expressed as a “what if” statement:

  • What if dinosaurs were resurrected?
  • What if time travel were possible?
  • What if toys could talk?
  • What if you were stranded on a deserted island?

These are all good starting points.

You take this fantasy, and you pull out a “premise” for your story.

You extrapolate it out into a clear, specific, expression.

For Jurassic Park, the fantasy was:

What if dinosaurs were resurrected?

That fantasy could go anywhere.

As we’re building the story, where specifically are we going to go with that fantasy?

How about a theme park?

A venture capitalist has funded research to clone dinosaurs and it’s worked! He now wants to build a type of theme park/zoo to have people visit these wonderful creations.

The fantasy: What if dinosaurs were resurrected?
The premise: Dinosaur theme park.

Now that we’ve pulled out a specific premise from the basic fantasy, how do we execute? How do we dramatize this?

Through the course of the story, we explore the “what if…” fantasy through four distinct phases:

Phase one: A neutral exploration of the premise.

You’re simply establishing the fantasy and the premise. Introducing it.

Phase two: A positive exploration of the premise.

This is where you explore the positive aspects of the fantasy and the premise.

Phase three: A negative exploration of the premise.

This is where you explore the negative aspects of the fantasy and the premise.

Phase four: A resolution of the premise.

This is where you resolve the premise. You have some kind of resolution that finalizes the fantasy.

As we’ll see when we get to the “plot” cubby…

Your short form story will be broken into four “acts.”

These acts will correspond with these four phases here.

  • Phase 1 = Act 1
  • Phase 2 = Act 2
  • Phase 3 = Act 3
  • Phase 4 = Act 4

Each phase, each act, gets an equal part of the story.

Let’s take a deeper look at this seed/fantasy/premise structure…

…with the Jurassic Park example in mind:

Fantasy: What if you could resurrect dinosaurs?
Premise: We’re building a theme park with live dinosaurs!

Act 1 (phase 1) is spent establishing this idea.
Our paleontologist main characters are taken to an island where John Hammond’s team of genetic researchers have succeeded in resurrecting dinosaurs.
His orientation film explains how they accomplished it. It’s possible, and they’ve done it.

Act 2 (phase 2) is spent exploring the positive aspects of this idea.
They tour the park and see all the majestic beasts. This is a paleontologist’s dream come true! Their life’s work, come to life!

Act 3 (phase 3) is spent exploring the negative aspects of this idea.
Everything goes wrong.
Dinosaurs escape their enclosures, terrorize and eat some of our characters. The park has become a hellish nightmare.

Act 4 (phase 4) is spent bringing this idea to some kind of resolution.
In this case, the resolution is that this whole thing was a bad idea. We shouldn’t have played with nature like this. Our ignorance and hubris led to disaster.

Notice, the resolution could have easily gone another way.

It just depends on where you want to take your story.

The phase 4 resolution could have easily been:
This was a disaster, but still worth it because of X, Y, Z…

The fantasy can go in any direction you want it to. In fact, many different stories grew out of the same inherent fantasy.

What if time travel were possible?

That’s Back To The Future, Terminator, Hot Tub Time Machine, and every other time travel story out there. The same seed can be grown into an entirely different story.

But what if my fantasy is:

“What if teddy bears are alive, and they love everyone.”

What’s the negative aspect to explore in that?

  • Maybe that love becomes overbearing and maladaptive when expressed in the wrong way.
  • Maybe the bear’s love inspires boundless devotion, which leads them into bad decisions.
  • Maybe they’re paired with cruel unloving people, and their love is seen as a weakness to be exterminated.

There are always positive and negative aspects to every concept, you just have to find them.

Seed:

  • Establish the fantasy with a basic premise
  • Find the positive
  • Find the negative
  • Then a resolution

Looking at the seed in this way, is really looking at the four acts of your story in their most rudimentary and basic form. As we look at the other cubbies, we’ll see how the four acts get filled with 14 other (cubby) ideas as well.

Now that we’ve tackled the seed and its four basic phases, there’s one more piece to concern ourselves with:

The Hook

What’s the hook?

It’s that special something.

It’s that novelty, that immediate appeal, that commercial aspect that makes you go:

“Oooh yes! I want to see that!”

With our Jurassic Park example above, the hook is basically buried in the premise. Before that book/movie/story came out, where had you ever experienced a dinosaur theme park tale? Pretty much nowhere. At the time, it was a super novel idea. One with immediate appeal for most people.

But that’s cheating. It clouds the idea to have the premise and the hook be the same thing.

Let’s take a look at another example, something more clear cut:

Memento.

The fantasy: What if you couldn’t make new memories?
The premise: A man tries to find his wife’s killer.
The hook: The whole story will be told to the audience chronologically backwards.

You can see how these three ideas are separate, but flow into one another beautifully.

We start with that basic fantasy:

What if you couldn’t make new memories?
That’s a pretty good fantasy. It’s different. It’s intriguing. And it has, within it, an immediate dramatic punch. If you can’t make new memories, that’s going to make day-to-day life quite difficult.

Then we pull a specific premise out of this fantasy:

What kind of story are we specifically going to tell with this no-new-memories idea?
How about a man who’s wife was murdered? He’s trying to track down her killer.
By itself, it’s a pretty solid idea. Everyone likes a good detective story. But coupled with our fantasy, it becomes great! If our detective can’t make new memories, well then that’s going to be one interesting investigation!

Then we’ve got the hook:

What can we add to this story to really add jet fuel to the fire? What can we add that will take this story from “interesting” to “oh man, I’ve gotta see that!”

How about: The whole story will be presented to the audience backwards. So that the audience only ever knows as much as our main character does, in any given moment.

That’s fantastic! That’s the essence of the hook. It’s that special something that will hook your audience into immediate interest and desire to hear your story.

Seed:

  • Fantasy
  • Premise
  • Hook

If you want to build your story on the strongest foundation possible, You need ’em all.