When we watch a movie that we are engrossed in, we are probably engrossed in it because of the second act. Maybe it is the way the story twists and turns, throws curve balls at us, the audience, and sometimes takes us in directions we didn’t expect. I am sure it can be because of the layering of sub-plots, the cameo roles of intriguing characters added into the mix that contribute to the story without appearing to do so, or just the sheer magic of the dialogue and intrigue. Many of the movies I admire and enjoy the most are from screenplays that are adaptations of novels and I am convinced this is because when a screenwriter has a novel to base the script on, they have much more back story to work with. In fact, they probably have so much they have a job being selective as to what to include from the novel or not. It is recognised that many screenplay writers write an outline before they start on their script, but that is chicken feed in comparison to having several tens of thousands of words in a novel to start with. With that scenario, it becomes a question of editing not creating something to pad out time or fill in gaps, which is often the use of the second act, particularly in poor movies. As a screenwriter I am as guilty as the next person in rushing to get to the end of my work. Holding the first draft, sighing with relief and satisfaction that the cat is out of the bag and it is finished. It is only later, in the clear light of the rewrite that I see the mistakes, gaps and omissions because of my haste. When I start a screenplay I am sure I am not alone in being unprepared for the journey ahead of me. Sure I will have a concept of where I want to go, but I will be itching so much to start my journey, (as I love writing the opening of a screenplay), that I will probably forget to pack everything I will need for my trip. In a way it’s that sense of taking a long flight and the anticipation of reaching your destination. But like most people once I get on the plane I pick up the in-flight magazine to see what movies will fill the many hours I will be in the air. Well I used to; now I take my laptop and a selection of movies I want to watch. I go prepared for the time between the start and the end of my journey. A screenplay is not that different and the writer needs to be prepared for the whole journey before starting out. Knowing how your story begins and what you want the outcome of the story to be, is just the beginning. Personally I have a tenancy to write an outline and the first five to ten pages of the script and then let them sit for a few weeks. When I review these pages of ideas, fresh thoughts normally rush in and help me shape the structure more carefully. Once I begin to write the screenplay I break my work into targets of completing a scene before considering the next and although I am working to an outline I retain the freedom to go off-piste, and throw a spanner into the mix. So as I write I will create an unexpected, unplanned diversion, which is not in the outline and it gives me, as the writer, a real problem to deal with. It challenges me and my protagonist or at least somebody close to them, in how to find a solution. Sometimes my diversion will give the antagonist a sudden edge. Whatever it is it will be a form of conflict that will put pressure on me and one or more of my characters achieving the final outcome that I initially envisaged. Not having planned for this problem pushes my imagination that extra mile but it helps mostly with making the second act interesting for me to write and hopefully for others to read. Apart from under standing format, screenplay presentation and knowing when your dialogue works or it doesn’t; controlling the pace of your screenplay, particularly where the second act is concerned is probably one of the most difficult aspects of scriptwriting to perfect. And I am sure it is the key to making movies engaging.