What Happens in the Sequences of Act 2B


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As Seen On
by Naomi Write + Co. in pre-writing, screenwriting

Ready to finish out this little series on using sequences as a tool for structuring Act 2?

This week we’ll take a closer look at the sequences that make up the second half of Act 2. (Act 2B, as some people refer to it.)

To give you some visual context, here’s how the eight sequences map out over three act structure:

​When I’m trying to plot out a story, I love using sequences because they allow me to handle one small piece of the story at a time. A sequence feels more manageable than grappling with the whole thing at once. Instead of knowing I need to invent 50 or 60 scenes, focusing on one sequence narrows the scope. It takes the pressure off because, hey – right now I only need to come up with 6 or 7 scenes!

Each sequence is a piece of the big picture, and each one has some particular functions to fulfill. We can use our knowledge of what a sequence needs to do to help us brainstorm what to include (the scenes we need to come up with).

What happens in Sequence 5?

Since we’re still in Act 2 here, the most important goal for this sequence is continuing to maintain the throughline: someone pursuing something (which gives the story direction and momentum) that they want very badly (stakes / why it matters to them and why we should care), and running into opposing forces (which creates conflict that engages us and reveals character).

And one of the things that differentiates Sequence 5 is —

The conflict becomes more intense.

Take any of your favorite movies. If you step back and look at Act 2 as a whole, you can see a difference in the intensity between Act 2A and Act 2B. (Before the Midpoint vs. after the Midpoint.) But how does it become more intense in Act 2B? What causes things to become more intense?

You probably already guessed it: we’re talking about the Midpoint.

The Midpoint’s effect

If you remember from last week, the Midpoint is the hinge or turn that joins Sequences 4 and 5. Sequence 4 ends in the Midpoint, which then launches Sequence 5.

What happens in Sequence 5 is a reaction to (or results from) what happens at the Midpoint. We need Sequence 5 to demonstrate that whatever happened at the Midpoint was important or meaningful in some way. If the Midpoint has no effect on what comes after, then it was inconsequential – it didn’t matter. We don’t want that.

The story itself and what happens in it should matter, otherwise why tell it? Who cares? That’s how your audience will feel.

In Sequence 5, the protagonist has to react to what happened at the Midpoint, or the plot has to be affected by what happened at the Midpoint, or both. You’re usually going to have the protagonist taking some kind of new action based on the Midpoint event, but it might also help your brainstorming to think about what other effects on the plot that Midpoint event could have, and you might be able to use those ideas too.

How the Midpoint shifts the story into higher gear

In terms of increasing intensity, you can think about:

    • Making things more urgent
    • Making things more meaningful
    • Making things more important
    • Making things more difficult, either emotionally or physically
    • Making things more dangerous

And probably other ‘mores’ as well, but those are the big ones. The bottom line is, Sequence 5 shows us a shift in intensity, and that shift is a result of whatever happens at the Midpoint.

Don’t forget the character arc

Remember the other component of all of this is how the character is being transformed by the experience. Sequence 5 is also the next step or shift in that progression.

And this, too, is affected by the Midpoint. Often the Midpoint, because it is such a big, powerful event, causes one of the bigger steps in the character arc progression and we see that play out in Sequence 5, even if it feels like a step backward at the moment.

Land the sequence with a launch

And then Sequence 5 ends in a springboard. As with the springboard between Sequences 3 and 4, this is another notable plot point or milestone. But likely not quite as big as the Midpoint (which launched this sequence) otherwise the pacing of your story is going to feel a little off.

So you can think about this springboard much like the one we discussed last week, simply as an event that launches us into, or kicks off what will play out in, the next sequence.

What happens in Sequence 6?

And we’re on to the final sequence of Act 2! Here, the protagonist is still pursuing their goal and running up against opposition. (Keeping that throughline strong.)

Toward the end of Act 2 is typically where we see the protagonist experience a low point. This is where the character feels on the verge of failure, or like he’ll never be able to achieve the story goal, or he may realize he’s been pursuing the wrong thing all along.

If you notice, those ways of describing it — on the verge of failure, or like he’ll never be able to achieve the story goal, or he may realize he’s been pursuing the wrong thing all along —

All relate back to the story goal or main throughline.

That’s important to keep in mind, because there can be a lot of unfortunate events that happen to make this part of the script look like a low point on the surface, but if there’s no connection to the throughline (which is created by those foundation pieces of goal + opposition + stakes), it will all feel like, “So what, who cares that this is happening.” The audience won’t have a strong emotional response to it, because it won’t be paying off the stuff you’ve already set up and gotten them invested in.

You can’t just throw bad things at the protagonist here and have it feel meaningful. It has to play on our rooting interest, which you’ve built up over the whole story.

Driving character arc toward the thematic lesson

Over the course of Act 2, the experiences the protagonist has create all this friction that makes it really uncomfortable for them to stay the same (exhibiting their “flaw”). And then it finally all comes to a breaking point in Sequence 6.

So often in the midst of this low point that we see in Sequence 6, the protagonist will have a “lightbulb moment” or pep talk of some sort, where they’re confronted with the thematic lesson. The character might not be ready to accept it or embrace it yet. But usually they will at least see it, recognize, or acknowledge the lesson here. And then we’ll probably see them embrace it in Act 3.

Not always, but especially if the character is going to learn that lesson and make a positive arc, that’s how it will play out.

The end of Act 2… is the Break into Act 3

Sequence 6 is the end of Act 2, which means after this we move into Act 3. The major plot point that connects the two is the Break into Act 3. Again, I think of it as a turn or a hinge that joins the two sequences (6 and 7) and the two acts. It brings Sequence 6 and Act 2 to a close, and kicks off Sequence 7 and Act 3.

Like last week, I’ll leave you with some prompts you can use to generate ideas for the sequences covered today. Since I adapted this series from my Finish Your Screenplay workshop, some of the questions relate to things we only touched on briefly here. But hopefully even without a full lecture to accompany it, the prompt itself will still get your wheels turning.

Sequence 5 prompts

    1. Big picture: Think about how the intensity is different between Act 2A and Act 2B.
    2. The protagonist is taking action and the opposing forces are taking action. So what might that look like in your story. What are both sides doing?
    3. What happens at the Midpoint has an effect that we see in Sequence 5. So what happens as a result of the Midpoint? What are the consequences of it, or the effects of it? Think both internally and externally.
    4. The plot events are forcing the character’s change. Often the Midpoint causes a big step or shift along the character’s arc of transformation that we see indicated in Sequence 5.
    5. Springboard 5 – like Springboard 3 it’s a bigger plot event or turn, or you can think of it as a milestone in their progress, which triggers or launches the next sequence. So you’ll want to think about – in general broad strokes — what might be coming in Sequence 6, and what could happen at the end of Sequence 5 to send us in that direction.

Sequence 6 prompts

    1. Think about the throughline and how that continues in this sequence: protagonist’s actions, antagonist’s actions, and what’s at stake.
    2. Think about what the low point would be. What could happen to make the protagonist feel like they’ve failed or that they should give up on their story goal? Remember, this low point relates to the throughline, meaning the goal and stakes of the story that you’ve already established. So it’s not just bad stuff happening, it’s bad stuff that means something to the character.
    3. How is the lesson or theme illuminated for the protagonist? (And what is that lesson at the crux of the theme?)
    4. At the Break into Act 3, does the protagonist have a new goal or a new plan to achieve his original goal? (And how is it a reaction to what they’ve learned?)


Start with my 3-part email series: "The 3 Essential, Fundamental, Don't-Mess-These-Up Screenwriting Rules." After that, you'll get a weekly dose of pro screenwriting tips and industry insights that'll help you get an edge over the competition.