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Act II: Part II — Visit to the Goddess
As we continue our discussion of Act II: Part 2, I want to make sure you’re aware of this important story element. It can be tremendously useful—and it’s very rarely discussed!
You could characterize the two halves of Act II in these very, very broad strokes:
Act II: Part I (the second quarter of a book or script) is often the daylight Act, where your protagonist takes big, bold, “male” actions.
Act II: Part 2 (the third quarter of a book or script) generally accesses a darker, more mystical, “feminine” or non-binary energy.
And - in Act II:2 -
New and unexpected help sometimes surfaces for the hero/ine in a scene that Joseph Campbell called “The Visit to the Goddess.”
It is annoying and typical of sexist Hollywood that Christopher Vogler left this step completely out of his Cliff’s Notes recap of Campbell’s analysis of the universal Mythic Journey. But this can be an extremely powerful scene, and I often find when I’m teaching workshops that a Visit to the Goddess scene is exactly what’s missing in a writer’s Act II: Part 2. (Note: sometimes you’ll see this scene in Act III!)
The Goddess represents intuition and inner knowing—and can be crucial in illuminating hidden truths, especially about how the protagonist has been wrong about their approach to life. Up to this point, external action has failed the hero/ine—but now a consultation with a feminine, more intuitive power often yields the glimpse of a solution.
You sometimes see an overt personification of the Goddess, like the Oracle in The Matrix, or Galadriel in Fellowship of the Ring.
But the Goddess can also be as subtle as a memory of a departed loved one. When the Hero/ine of a story has lost their mother or grandmother, the Visit to the Goddess can be a crucial moment of understanding something important about themselves by reconciling with the memory of the mother. In Inception, the Goddess scene is Cobb’s dream visit with his dead wife.
Let’s look at a few examples.
The Hunger Games:
The second half of Act II:2 is almost a whole sequence of Katniss bonding with younger Tribute Rue—and we could call that sequence the story’s VISIT TO THE GODDESS. Katniss activates mother goddess energy in herself to protect Rue, after Rue has mothered and healed Katniss. It takes love to conquer hate, and it will take feminine power to heal the deeply destructive, patriarchal dystopia of Panem.
In Act II:2 of The Matrix, protagonist Neo, his mentor Morpheus, and love interest Trinity go into the Matrix to consult “the Oracle, ” a priestess/seer/sibyl, in order to confirm that Neo is “The One” who can overthrow the evil Matrix. This Oracle lives in a tenement apartment and is played by Gloria Foster with an awesome, kind of Billie Holiday flair. To me, she’s a quirky personification of the Black Madonna, Lady Wisdom, the Black Universal Mother, who has absorbed the pain of the world. Left alone with Neo, the Oracle tells him he has “the gift,” but points out that he knows the truth: He’s not The One and he never was (Big, devastating TWIST).
Of course, Neo is going to have to overcome that challenge and save the world anyway!
Full breakdown of The Matrix in Stealing Hollywood
The Visit to the Goddess appears in all genres, and it can be just as effective as a comic scene, as in Margaret’s bonding with Gammie in Act II, Part 2 of The Proposal.
Margaret and love interest Andrew are in the process of faking an engagement to get Margaret a green card, but THE RUSE STARTS TO BACKFIRE when Andrew’s family is so enamored of Margaret they want the “couple” to marry right away.
Margaret is flustered and takes a bike and rides through the woods, on what looks like the same path from an exercise video in the very beginning of the movie, which creates a certain MYSTICISM for the scene. She comes across Gammie (Andrew’s Grandma Annie) doing a spiritual ceremony, dancing and chanting to give thanks to Mother Earth. (Annie is a true goddess figure, which is great to see in a movie — it doesn’t happen all that often.)
Annie makes Margaret dance, and Margaret loosens up, getting down as she sings a raunchy hip hop song as her chant. It’s absurdly hilarious, but also obviously profoundly healing and an important turning point in Margaret’s CHARACTER ARC—we can sense ice floes melting inside her and her heart opening. Andrew comes across this scene as he walks in the woods, and the love plot advances as he sees a whole new side of his uptight boss. (The Proposal is such a great teaching movie for romance writers - I highly recommend it!)
Full breakdown of The Proposal in Writing Love.
Not every story has a Visit to the Goddess, but it’s really worth your time to become aware of this element when you’re watching your Master List movies.
Do you see a Visit to the Goddess scene in any of your Master List movies?
Could your story benefit from a Visit to the Goddess?
Try asking yourself: When your protagonist starts to fail, and all seems lost—who is the person, alive or dead, that they most need to hear from at this moment? What would this person say or do that is in some way The Anwer?
I’d love to hear good examples that come up for you!
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All material from Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, © Alexandra Sokoloff
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