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How I Wrote a Screenplay in 30 Days: Part 7


Act Two

Download a copy of the screenplay, A Girl Named Trouble.

The Second Act is usually about complications and how every good plan goes wrong. The screenplay “A Girl Named Trouble” is no different.

I started by introducing Cane, a paid assassin brought in to clean up the mess Trouble created. To complicate matters, I made him Trouble’s ex-boyfriend, a man who’s still carrying a torch. It’s a perfect reason to change plans and give the money back to Calix. Not in person, but through Bernie.

The First Pinch

Bernie is the first pinch, a series of scenes that takes us all the way to the midpoint twist. It’s worth pointing out again that my plan was to identify the big moments in the plot and then bridge them with sequences. In this case, finding Bernie, giving the money to Bernie, and then Bernie betraying them is one big sequence. I added a couple other scenes, which momentarily broke up the sequence, but whenever I took a break, we immediately returned to the Bernie sequence.

New Characters

The two detectives Hub and Racks were the last major characters I needed to tell the story. I needed characters that were threatening, but not as bad as Cane or The Samoan Army. So I pieced them together from a lot of different police officers in the backstory. They eventually capture Roman, Trouble and Bernie in a Mexican Standoff.

These Characters Must Meet

When you look down your roster of characters, sometimes you know there must be a scene between two of them. That’s how the argument between Calix and Cane was born. It started as an argument, evolved into Calix giving Cane a pep talk, and then became Cane twisting Calix’s speech around on him. The scene covers a lot of ground. We learned the backstory of Calix and Bernie. They agree that Bernie must die. And it shows how each of the characters thinks.

The Midpoint Twist

By the midpoint of the story, Roman believes the only way to impress Trouble is to steal the money. So he does it, by jumping off a fifth-floor balcony with the bag.

In one draft, Trouble goes over the balcony with him and they struggle for the gym bag the whole way down. But I opted for Roman flying solo and then everyone chasing him for a while. It made him more vulnerable. And it definitely charged up the action in the second half of the Second Act.

The Second Pinch

I knew my second pinch was going to be Trouble giving Roman hope. I really looked forward to writing a scene where he’s negotiating for a date. I knew Trouble would drive a hard bargain. After that, I went back to the formula. Set up a sequence of scenes that takes me to the next major moment, when she betrays him.

The sequence leading up to the betrayal is Roman preparing for his rejoin with Trouble: the guns, the flowers, the tickets, etc. I let this sequence become a little more humorous than earlier scenes. All these characters respond to love in different ways: love of self, love of another, love of family, love of tribe, etc. I thought it would be a nice contrast to the torture scenes.

Cut Off Their Hands

The only thing remaining to do before I left Act Two was to drive everyone to their lowest point. So I explored the physical and mental torture of Bernie to motivate his later rampage. I had Trouble apparently betray Roman. Kong and Etano apparently show up to kill him. Cane beats up Trouble. Roman loses everything. Finally, Roman is told to get out of town and he starts questioning himself. It all looks pretty bleak. The perfect way to end the Second Act.

After two weeks of nonstop writing, I started the ending. Next week, Act Three.


Start the series from the beginning.

Mike Johnston is a production executive and advertising creative in Seattle. He is available for consulting, writing and directing. Contact Mike.