How to Structure Act II

An Unmarried Woman is a good example of how to write Act II of a story.

In The Screenwriters Workbook, Syd Field reminds us that Act II, being the longest and the one with the most conflict and complications, needs special handling.

Here, novice, or even experienced writers, are most likely to wander off track and end up at a dead end. The midpoint, or the moment of illumination, as we’ve discussed in another post, is that moment in which the protagonist receives new information that allows him or her to proceed from a changed moral or ethical perspective to the second turning point.

In the first half, the Protagonist pursues the goal based on negative traits. In the second half, he or she realises that the best way forward is through the activation of positive traits inherent in his or her personality.

The Pinch

The Pinch divides the second act into two sections. This allows for the introduction of additional structure on either side of the midpoint. Pinches are short scenes that remind one of what is at stake.

“Act II of a story, being the longest of the three acts, needs added structural support to keep it taut.”

An Unmarried Woman

In An Unmarried Woman, the young, unhappily married Erica (Jill Clayburgh), enrolls in art classes and has an affair with her teacher, Saul. Against her will, she falls in love with him, then discovers she is pregnant. Torn between her lover and her husband, she decides to leave both and raise her child on her own.

The inciting incident occurs when Erica’s husband, Martin (Michael Murphy), asks Erica for a divorce. This leads to the first turning point when she begins art classes and meets Saul (Alan Bates).

Pinch I marks the start of her relationship with her teacher. The mid-point occurs when she finally has sex with him. Pinch II describes her realisation that she has fallen in love with Saul, while turning point II occurs when she discovers that she is pregnant with his child. These events clearly illustrate the strong relationship that both pinches often share with the first and second tuning points respectively, one of cause and effect.

An Unmarried Woman, Erica’s sexual relationship with Saul is a direct result of her starting art classes (tuning point I), while her realising that she is pregnant with his child (turning point II) follows from her having fallen in love with him (pinch II). Including these structural entities not only ensures narrative consistency, but also bolsters the structure the longest section of your story.


Pinches occur on either side of the mid-point. The pinches and the midpoint give added structure to Act II of a story.

Catch my latest YouTube video here!

8 thoughts on “How to Structure Act II

  1. Pingback: Understanding Scene Construction | Stavros Halvatzis

  2. Pingback: How to write dramatic context | Stavros Halvatzis

  3. Russ Welsh

    Can a story drastically jump back in time at the midpoint to allow the activation of the positive traits over the negative ones? I have decided to write a scene, which does not (at first) appear as a flashback, back as it leads onto some other things that happened earlier in my screenplay it begins to present itself as one. As in, Bob (who is only shown as a minor character to one of the three protagonists in Name of Nowhere) is the catalyst of the positive traits. He buys this new import from a florist, thinking it would make for a great drug if ground up and made into pill form – a natural alternative to synthetics. He sells it to Calibre who, after taking it, refuses to take it again. It does nothing. But the “cold turkey” method of giving it up causes hallucinations and that is how Calibre ends up in his painted world.

    1. Stavros Halvatzis Post author

      Your story sounds like it belongs to the multiform category — a category which was the subject of my PhD thesis. Multiform stories can indeed jump back and forth in time, and indeed, between different realities, in which case, the mid-point can be accessed at any point in the presented sequence (if that makes any sense).

      1. Russ Welsh

        It makes perfect sense to me. And I’m still overwhelmed by how much you enjoyed my screenplay (what I submitted of it). I’ll send you a copy of the finished product when I’m done. Definitely gonna keep you in the loop. I value any and all criticism I get from you.

  4. Stavros Halvatzis Post author

    Thanks for the comment, Susie. I certainly find using these structural principles helpful in my own work and I am glad you feel the same way..

  5. Susie Lindau

    I am the proverbial sponge and love your excellent advice since I am currently at the second pinch. I am only in the rough draft phase and will remember this as I go into the edit and fleshing out of the story. It’s my first book……
    Thanks for sharing!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *