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Notes from a Screenreader: Where’s Waldo?

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Photo via Go Into the Story.

Do you feel like you’re looking for your second act in a giant Where’s Waldo poster? You know it’s there somewhere, but so is everything else in the entire world.

Efforts to find Waldo shouldn’t show in your final draft. It’s imperative for clarity that you don’t submit a poster.

  • Go back to the beginning. Your script is about the one way your protagonist deals with the problem, for better or worse. To do that, you need a protagonist and a problem. If one or the other is not an identifiable standout, rewrite Act One to point a big arrow at them.

  • Use what you have. Characters create their own conflicts when they are properly developed. If you’re drowning in the quicksand of plot options, consult your characters. You can make certain plot developments inevitable or rule them out by focusing on what makes your characters tick. Refining your characters changes what they are willing and unwilling to do, what resources they have, and how they react.
  • Failure is plot. Spec scripts go wrong in the second act when they refuse to put their characters in a corner. Examine your second act for instances of success. Look, your protagonist convinces the police she’s innocent. Well…great for the protag, but you ran out of plot. Any success in your second act should immediately create a bigger problem.

— ANNIE LABARBA

Annie is a screenwriter, story consultant, and reader for major screenplay competitions.

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nywift New York Women in Film & Television supports women calling the shots in film, television and digital media.

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