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The Highs and Lows of Act 2 (+ what Puss In Boots 2 did right)

In my last post, I talked briefly about my burning hatred for low points. I also mentioned how the low point / high point worked really well in Puss in Boots 2: The Last Wish.

In order to fully get my point across as to why PIB2 works so well, I'll need to first explain what often doesn't work about low points.

Let's take a look at Save The Cat.

This book lays out not one but two low points at the end of act 2, placing a heavy emphasis on the importance of essentially wallowing in misery.

More often than not, when writers see how much focus is being placed on these beats, they tend to make their story's low point go on for far too long, and they just throw literally every possible negative thing onto the protagonist at once. 

At that point, it's not even effective -- just funny. 

Like, okay, what else you got? Is their dog gonna die?

Did the dog just have puppies and they're gonna die too?

Did the puppies save a litter of kittens who are now also gonna die? 

If you make me laugh at all those animals dying i will hate you. and that's why i don't advise writers to put emphasis on their protagonist's low point. :)

But what is the purpose of these low points and why does every screenwriting book include them?

It's because, to some extent, we and the protagonist need to be in a place where we genuinely believe there's no chance of them winning so that when they do win it feels satisfying.

But think about it --

when is the last time you watched a movie and truly weren't sure if the protagonist would be successful in the end?

The longer the low point goes on in a story, the more time the audience will have to realize this. ;)

Yes, there are several movies where the ending doesn't work out in the main character's favor and it genuinely feels surprising (which is satisfying in its own way!). 

But those films tend to follow a structure more aligned with tragedies, or they fall into the thriller / horror genre.

If anyone else got to see A24's A DIFFERENT MAN at Sundance this year, this tragedy / comedy film did an excellent job of making the audience wonder how the hell the protagonist could get any lower than he was at any point in the movie beyond the first bit of act 2. Almost the entire film was low point after low point after low point, and it worked incredibly well because you couldn't predict exactly where it would go next.

In a traditionally structured film, we all know the story will end favorably for the protagonist in some way. That's just how stories work.

This isn't to say every film should be a tragedy, and it definitely doesn't mean the protagonist should always lose, or that you should try to make your ending as unpredictable as possible.

This is all really just to say: try not to stay in the low point for too long when it's clear how the story will end.

The low point is the start of the most predictable part of the movie (low point -> high point -> climax -> resolution).

Staying in it for longer than necessary (and worse, making it such a low low that it becomes comical), has a greater chance of killing your tension than your low point has of killing your protagonist.

see my point? ;)


Now that you understand my hatred of low points, let's look at one that works in Puss In Boots: The Last Wish.

Puss' low point is when:

  • He becomes trapped inside the "cave of souls" where he's confronted with his past lives

  • Runs away from Kitty and Perrito towards the star so he can claim the last wish.

  • Kitty finds him there, berates him, and leaves him.

The climax almost immediately begins right after this as Puss comes face-to-face with Death!

If you've seen the movie, you know this low point does go on a little long at 15 minutes (based on the timecodes on Netflix, Puss enters the cave of souls / low point begins around 1h09m. Death arrives / the climax begins around 1h24m).

But if that's the case, what makes it so effective?

The fact that Puss is thrown into the climax when he's at his lowest low.

Without a high point immediately following this low point like we usually see in movies, Puss and the audience really can't be sure he'll win.

For the most part, Puss must face the final battle alone. Yes, he gets some help from the others during the fight, but right before the climax, he literally is at a point where no one is on his side

Typically, as mentioned in my last post, the low point will lead directly to the high point which gives the protagonist what they need to head into the climax with a chance of winning

If PIB2 were structured more traditionally, the low point -> climax would play out as follows:

  • Puss would realize exactly what he needs to do after being confronted with his past lives (choose to not use the wish for more lives)

  • Immediately go to Kitty and Perrito to show them how he's changed, making their relationship stronger than ever

  • They all would head into the fight with Death together.

Because Puss doesn't reunite with them before the climax, it's unclear if he will win not only this fight, but win back his friends. It's super effective!

Of course, Puss' high point comes after the climax, when he finally rekindles his relationship with Kitty and solidifies his friendship with Perrito.

Imagine if the story played out more traditionally. The climax and resolution wouldn't have been nearly as satisfying, and the film wouldn't have been as memorable and effective as it was.

What topics or film analysis would you like to see next? Leave your answer in a comment below!

4 opmerkingen

Mac Snider
Mac Snider
25 feb.

Love the great advice!


25 feb.

Your thoughts on the barbie movie lol

25 feb.
Reageren op

now that's some tea that might be too hot for this blog


25 feb.

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