It’s not enough to have something you want to say. You need to find an entertaining way to say it.

I read a lot of scripts. Many suffer from the same problem: no second act. It’s a simple problem to diagnose, but a hard problem to fix. Writing a good second act requires a working knowledge of three act structure, a working knowledge of genre, and a good sense of what a general audience might find amusing, enthralling, or entertaining.

All these are learnable skills, and almost all writers learn these eventually. There’s one psychological hangup that often makes this harder than it ought to be: confusing enthusiasm for telling a story for having elements in your story that might make another human being entertained.

I have always struggled with this problem, but it was especially pronounced when I was starting out. I’d come up with odd genre hybrids (sci-fi/action/horror plus teen movies) or convoluted concepts (it’s time travel in a parallel universe plus it’s a dream world) or odd meta stuff (every killing in this script precisely maps to a deadly sin and also a key sequence in LA DOLCE VITA). None of my early work was very good… I had big ideas driving it, but I failed to enshrine those ideas in the kind of magical narrative detail that drew people in and made them happy.

That’s a fundamental problem.

So if you’re struggling with a concept not being “high” enough, or a second act that’s anemic, or a script that’s “soft” or execution dependent, it’s often useful to ask yourself – “what in this script has a fighting chance of making a general audience happy?” If you can’t answer that, work harder to find the answer. If you can, work at patternizing that, find a way to identify what works and do more of that.

There’s a million things to learn in screenwriting and you’ll never know all of them. But if you can write something that transports someone away from the mundanity of their existence, that makes them feel, that takes them to a place they’ve never been, then you’re already far ahead of 90% of the bores, dilettantes and wannabes.

As story tellers, we are entertainers. Respect the audience and be entertaining.

Published by Matt Lazarus

WGA screenwriter offering in-depth writing instruction, notes, critique, and assistance.

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