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Writing The Act 1 Break

By Author: Raymond Sanders
Total Articles: 33

The first act break usually occurs around page 30 of a 120 page movie script, or, if you were writing an 85,000 word novel, the first act break should occur right around the 7,085 word count.
The importance of this scene is to propel the character into the story by using plot points.
The transition between Act 1 and Act 2 places the character into a position where the protagonist must make a choice. The character must jump with both feet into the plot, or not. (Of course, if the character chooses not to, then he or she must be pushed in, otherwise the story will end there.) No matter which choice your character makes, there will be consequences.
Take for example, the often-used film Chinatown. Earlier in Act 1, Gittes is hired by Mrs. Mulwray. He investigates for the remainder of Act 1, but when he returns to his office he finds a woman waiting for him in his office. He has never met this woman before, but she proves to him that she is, in fact, the real Mrs. Mulwray and is going to sue him and take away his detective license. The moment he decides he must find out who sets him up and why, brings a conclusion to Act 1.
Through Act 1 in The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen has volunteered for the Reaping and has been dressed up, primped and prepared for the games. The Act 1 break occurs during the transition period when Katniss steps into the tube and transported into the arena. From here, she has no choice. The only way out of the arena is to be the last child alive, or die.
The point of Act 1 is to push the character into new territory. A new set of goals in a new environment gives the character something to work for. The consequences of failure are so great-death in The Hunger Games or the loss of Gittes detective license, finances and all livelihood in Chinatown. This consequence must be so immense to the character that he or she has to go on.
The next time you watch a movie or read a book, try and find the act break. It's not always apparent-especially in horror movies or murder mysteries. Sometimes it's as settle as being invited into a haunted manor. In 80's remake of the murder mystery, The Mirror Crack'd,starring Angela Lansbury, Rock Hudson, the scene in which the Act 1 Break occurs is where Miss Marple discusses the murder with her maid, Cherry. In this scene, Cherry tells Miss Marple that Heather Babcock was given a drink that she didn't like very much. To Cherry, this information doesn't seem unusual. But Miss Marple interpertes this information as the cause of death. Her realization that the woman's death was not an accident motivates her. Because of her character type (inquisitive, helpful, a knack for solving crimes) she feels that is her moral duty to get 'both feet in' and investigate this murder.
In order to keep your publisher's attention, or to attract an agent or producer, keep your Act 1 Break strong. In Miss Marple's case, she chooses to continue the investigation for moral reasons. In Chinatown, Gittes is forced into the situation because, although part of him is reluctant to continue, he knows he must or suffer the drastic consequences. In the Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen's consequence is death, and quite possibly the starvation of her family.
Consider creative, unique or unusual ways to force the characters to jump into your scene, both feet in. Once they are in, remember, there's no going back.

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