Writing Your Novel’s Second Act

“When all else fails, write what your heart tells you. You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”
– Mark Twain

Congratulations! You’re now in the second act of your novel. This means you’re nearly 25 percent completed with your manuscript. If you’re planning a 70,000 novel (which is a good size for a novel, actually), you should have somewhere around 17,500 words at your disposal. So, let’s move forward. Let’s keep those characters in conflict. Let’s keep those readers burning to know what’s going to happen on the next page, in the next scene–in the next chapter!!

REACTION. After the first plot point, your character should be a little frazzled. They have just had obstacles thrown in their path and they are trying to figure out what it all means. Perhaps a burglar just stole from their home. Your character may have an inner conflict where they struggle to deal with what they could have done differently. If their child is in the hospital, your character may have conflicts with themselves and the hospital staff. They’re trying to sort out why their child is so ill. Keep the readers interested and they’ll burn through the pages of your stories like wildfire.

1ST PINCH POINT: While the protagonist is your good guy, every story has an antagonist (the villain). The first pinch point is to remind the protagonist that this villain is in the story. While your character may want to buy a house, the antagonist may be the dependent, needy neighbor that begs and guilts them not to go. At this point, drop subtle hints of the conflict to the reader. You can do this through dialogue and action but don’t give anything away. After all, authors show instead of telling. Don’t tell us how the neighbor is crying in the voicemails of the protagonist’s phone–show us by their actions. What else do they do?

REALIZATION: Next, your character is going to wise up. As the conflict continues, he (or she) is going to start drawing conclusions and become more informed. They do this by talking to other characters and seeking out the truth for themselves. Perhaps they hired a private detective to find out why the needy neighbor doesn’t want them to go. Or, going back to the child in the hospital, perhaps your character has discovered something there. At this point, you should be reaching the half-way point of your novel. You’re getting there!

At this point in the novel, your character is realizing the nature of the conflict. They have just found out the needy neighbor doesn’t want them to leave. The neighbor moving is the only one that knows their secret. The character with the child in the hospital may have discovered the doctors switched their child’s charts with one down the hall. What happens now? Whatever it is–make it powerful, compelling and strong. Your readers expect nothing less. If you lose them, then it’s hard to get them back.

ACTION. This is it! The protagonist has fueled the fire and is going after the villain! I can’t say it enough–action, action, action!! Your characters want to see your protagonist and antagonist interacting and battling it out for the win. If your character is fighting the burglar that just stole a priceless heirloom from their home, or selling it at an illegal auction–it’s expected that stakes are going to be high. The novel’s pace is going to be fast. Don’t disappoint your readers. Give them what they expect!

2ND PINCH POINT: This serves as a reminder to the protagonist. It reminds them of what’s at stake for them in the story. What’s at stake if the character doesn’t move from the needy neighbor, for instance, and what’s at stake if they stay? You should have well-developed characters at this point. You should have them outlined on paper, index cards or another method to keep them organized. Don’t get too bogged down in creating them, however, for this can take you away from your writing. As reporters often say–“Just the facts!”

RENEWED PUSH: Here, again, we reach another archway. This archway means the end of Act 2 and the entryway to your final act–Act 3. The protagonist provokes the antagonist but wins against the villain. The majority of the action is complete. Your characters are drawing tiresome but you are not quite done. You’re about 75% done with your story–or roughly 52,500 words–so let’s get keep going to that triumph of an ending!


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