Oftentimes, writers loathe the second act of their story, the middle part. Perhaps it’s when they start to lose hope in their story, or perhaps it just seems like their character is roaming around endlessly in the desert that is the second act. Well, I think not. The second act is where you get to finish setting out all the pieces that you will later weave together to write an incredible and impactful ending.
Just to review, the First Act reaches up until the 25% mark of your story. Something big has just happened to your character, perhaps plopping him/her down into unfamiliar territory. Now, the first half of the second act will consist of your character reacting from that big event. And this first half will span from about the 25% mark to the 50% mark when the Midpoint occurs.
The First Half of the Second Act
The First Plot point has just occurred, leaving your character reeling. So how do they react? The character needs to react logically and yet the reaction needs to have enough repercussions to keep the story moving. For example, in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the first plot point is when Effie Trinket calls out Prim’s name. In turn, Katniss reacts by volunteering herself in her sister’s place. This is a reaction that is logical because of Katniss’ love for her sister yet is also disastrous enough to last through the entire book. After this first initial reaction, the consequences keep coming and coming and the character keeps on reacting, not really acting, and these reactions keep on compounding until the Midpoint. In addition to reacting, your character should also start gaining the skills they need in the final battle.
Right around the 50% mark, your antagonist should appear in a showdown with the protagonist, resulting in either a loss or a draw for your protagonist. Not only will this give the antagonist a chance to impress both your readers and your protagonist, it will raise the stakes by reminding them of your antagonist’s power and is also a great opportunity for foreshadowing that big battle at the end of the third act. But most importantly, it will strike a change in the heart of your protagonist. This is the point where the protagonist gets sick of taking all this crap from the antagonist and starts to act against them. This is the point in your story where your protagonist shifts from reacting to acting.
The Second Half of the Second Act
After the Midpoint, the protagonist has a purpose, a purpose that is shown in their actions against the protagonist. The Midpoint has brought along an important revelation, a very crucial event in the character’s character arc (if you have decided to give your character one), a realization that they must start to face their inner problems which is yet again a great opportunity for you to foreshadow the inner demons your character must soon face. And this realization causes the protagonist to start preparing for that big battle that the reader knows is soon to come. As your character races to prepare for that final battle, it is also a good time for you to start tying off some of your subplots. This way, when the final battle does occur, the main focus is on the battle and not so much on all the other subplots going on.
Keep in mind that throughout all this reacting and acting that occurs in the second act, you should also take this time to better introduce your readers to your character, enough so that the reader will stick with your character to the very end.
Next week I will be sharing with you how to structure your third act, bringing your story to a close. Please comment below if this post has helped you in your understanding of what needs to happen during the second act.