The Second Act: Hard-Mode

Three parts comprise a story. The beginning, the middle, and the end. I’ve already covered beginnings in an earlier article, so today we’re talking the middle. The bridge that connects the first page with the last. Writing the second act often proves challenging but there’s some ways to make it easier.

Second acts are challenging because it’s easy to think of them as filler. You’re rushing to the promised land (the ending) and it’s easy to fill the second act with inconsequential plot points. Don’t do this.

I start with just a beginning and an ending when I discovery write a story. The middle bits provide a mystery to make Agatha Christie jealous. There’s no clues as to where the story wants to go between the beginning and the end, so I have to make it up. Here’s what I do to make sure I don’t go off track.

First, figure out what internal conflict your character is dealing with. Good characters have internal conflict to go with the external, and you’ll need to understand this if you want to stay on track. For example, imagine a story where a revolutionary wants to overthrow a corrupt oligarchy, but they were raised as a pacifist. Non-violence is a core part of their being. The inner conflict can be dealing with this by becoming violent, or by rejecting violence. Let’s pretend we know how we want our pacifist revolutionary to win (or lose) in the end. Take the inciting incident and ramp it up with each successive chapter, adding more and more intense internal and external conflict.

Do you like music? You know the songs that build and build to an awesome climax? Stories share an identical structure. Instead of the music building with each passing verse, your conflict is climbing with each passing chapter, until you belt out a satisfying crescendo by the end of the book.

The character’s internal conflict provides excellent fodder for the second act. Ramping things up with external conflict isn’t always possible. There’s only so many times the oligarch can almost catch your main character. So ramp things up with internal conflict. The main character has the chance to overthrow the oligarchs, but only if he hires an assassin to shoot someone through the head with a sniper rifle. This places intense conflict on the internal character, and also helps develop them. People grow just as much from internal conflict as external so add some existential crises and watch your character grow.

Do you thrive in the second act? How are you so amazing? Follow for more advice from a daily discovery writer. Happy writing!

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