3 Tips for Surviving the Second Act

Remember when I told you that my blog posts would be fewer and further between as work away at NaNoWriMo, trying to finish this monkey of a novel that has been hanging onto my back for four years? Well, it turns out that I was right.

And I’m sorry. It hardly seems fair that I should introduce myself to you with a post-a-day series, and then abandon you entirely the month after, but c’est la writing vie. (And I was a French teacher and all.)

Anyway, I just started my second act today – the part that can feel like such a slog – and while this is a H.U.G.E milestone for me with this particular book, it’s already killing my soul. The problem is, that I, like most writers might, I think, have outlined several important and crucial scenes both in my main plot and my major subplot, but I haven’t the slightest idea how to get from scene to scene without putting everyone, including me, to sleep. That’s right, I failed at taking my own advice.

I’m trying not to get too stressed out about it, because I know I’ll figure it all out in the rewrite, but the second act has a huge capacity for making the writer feel like the failure. So this is what I’m doing to get through it and hopefully keep the plot moving apace.

1. I set a goal. I decided what day I would arrive at each major scene so that I can look at a plan and determine exactly when this nightmare would be over. For me, Act II should be done by next Thursday, with major main-plot scenes happening on Thursday and Tuesday.

2. I break it into manageable chunks. Four page sections work well for me because it’s what I do (see blog title) So I decide what will happen for four pages, and I write a note reminding myself of what happens in that scene. For example:

  • 85-88: at the Myersville safe house
  • 89-92: Grady meets with Ben – readers learn Ben’s history
  • 93-96: Grady passes on intel to Michael

3. I write. I stay within the parameters of my mini-outline and write the scene I’ve set for myself. Sometimes the scenes get boring, sometimes I wish they would hurry up and get over, but my outline keeps me on track and ensures that I am writing every day. It also makes sure I deliver crucial information that might get lost as I barrel forward to the more exciting parts.

Keep in mind that even if a scene doesn’t seem like it’s working, you can tweak it in the rewrite. The important thing right now (for me and you) is to keep moving forward.

Day 31 – Now Go Write

31 Days to Plan Your Novel

If this series worked like I hope it did, you now have a complete and detailed outline sitting next to you, ready to guide you through writing your novel. Before you start, keep this in mind: your outline is not a legally binding document and you are in no way obligated to do what it tells you to do. Your creativity is a force of nature and no matter how strong your outline is, it will never be able to overpower the strength of your story.

Hold it loosely, keep it mind, use it to help you remember the little things you thought of through the planning process, let it help you make your narrative arc make sense. But don’t be afraid to leave the paved road for a bit if your story pulls you that way. Follow along and see where it takes you. If it’s a dead end, you can always come back to the outline.

Whether you are planning on writing a novel in a month or thinking about taking a little more time, take a break today. Set your work aside and let your brain take a deep breath. Tomorrow you can jump back into your story. For now relax and have a cup of your favourite hot beverage. You planned and peopled a whole world this month. Reward yourself.

The fact that I managed to complete this series proves that I have it in me to write every day for a month (something that is going to prove a boon to me when I start NaNoWriMo tomorrow. Come find me and let’s write together!

31 Days to Plan Your Novel

Every October, hundreds of bloggers gather at The Nesting Place to write for 31 days straight on a variety of different topics, teaching and encouraging and offering tips and tricks to make life easier.

Day 30 – A New Equilibrium

31 Days to Plan Your Novel

Generally, things don’t turn out exactly as we want them to, and in your novel, as in your life, things may not happen for your protagonist exactly how he envisions them. Although a character coming full-circle is not an uncommon way to end a story, it doesn’t have to end that way – readers can achieve closure without all the little goal boxes being ticked.

For example – say at the beginning of the novel, your protagonist’s main goal is to return home. Perhaps on their journey they realize that home is relative and is wherever they have friends. So they may not return to the exact coordinates they wanted to go to, but they have still achieved their goal. A new equilibrium is reached.

Or, like Bilbo Baggins, maybe they do return home – to their former physical space – like they always wanted, but they have been forever emotionally altered. Their home is the same, but they are not.

Or they want to find a sense of personal identity, and they have an idea of what that looks like, but in the end they realise that they are personally defined by the identity of the collective.

A little girl goes through life always wanting a puppy, and in the end has tamed a dragon – a much cooler pet, if you ask me.

Creating these slight shifts in beliefs, or making the final goal that has been reached a little different from what was expected, add an element of realism to your story, and also create a talking point among your readers, leaving them wondering if the new equilibrium is really better than what the characters had been striving for all along.

31 Days to Plan Your Novel

Every October, hundreds of bloggers gather at The Nesting Place to write for 31 days straight on a variety of different topics, teaching and encouraging and offering tips and tricks to make life easier.

Day 29 – 4 Parts of Narrative Climax

31 Days to Plan Your Novel

A fairly common writing trap is developing the climax of your story as a single, explosive event. While this is not entirely incorrect, to write a climax as a single scene leaves out some valuable opportunities for narrative maneuvering.

Narrative climax is actually made up of four different elements:

Preparation – This is the scene or scenes where all the players are moved into place before the climax begins. Occasionally a writer will choose to switch settings entirely, and the introduction of a completely different location at this point is a signal that the climax is about to begin. In The Hobbit, the armies all move to the area at the base of the Lonely Mountain, a setting we have never interacted with before.

Moment of Truth – The moment when the protagonist realizes what he must do, and how he might influence the outcome of the approaching explosion is a key part of the climactic process. The actions that he takes at this moment help him toward the point of self-realization – important to the final resolution – and add to the building tension. Bilbo takes the Arkenstone to the elves to be ransomed in an effort to head off the approaching battle, effectively standing up to Thorin and coming into his own.

Climactic Event – Some writers call this the Battle, and in some cases it is an actual physical battle, in other cases, it is less bloody, but no less important. The important part is to raise tension. Leave the reader gripping the covers of your book, wondering how it will turn out. Add an element of all-may-be-lost. The battle that follows the arrival of the goblins at the lonely mountain is this explosive moment, building up to the moment where all may be lost, and finally the arrival of Beorn and the eagles to save the day

Aftermath – I am talking about the immediate aftermath, not when everyone has gone home and compare scars at the local pub. This is when the dust is just beginning to settle. Play out the end of the scene, rather than ending it the moment the villain is vanquished. To continue with my running example, this is when Thorin lays dying and reconciles with Bilbo.

Looking at the climax as a group of scenes rather than one moment leads to a more well-rounded Act III, leaving your readers satisfied, rather than feeling like you’re rushing to finish the story.

31 Days to Plan Your Novel

Every October, hundreds of bloggers gather at The Nesting Place to write for 31 days straight on a variety of different topics, teaching and encouraging and offering tips and tricks to make life easier.

Day 28 – Writing the Third Act

31 Days to Plan Your Novel

Novel writers seem to be torn over whether or not the three-act structure is even relevant to their craft. I like it because it keeps my writing organized and gives readers a well-understood trajectory that makes books easier to read. But mostly, I use it because it works for me. If it doesn’t work for you, I’d love to hear how you organize your narrative. I love to hear how other writers approach a story.

Regardless of your style, I would argue that all writers have an act three, or at the very least something organized like an act three, because it’s where your story gets wrapped up.

The third act is typically the shortest of all the acts. Nothing new is introduced – it’s all about resolution and your protagonist finding some kind of equilibrium. While she may not get exactly what she wanted exactly the way she wanted, your protagonist achieves her goal.

The act opens with a twist or a confrontation that is the catalyst to the third-act conflict – this is the big battle, or the final psychological hurdle – your protagonist’s last (and greatest) test. In many stories, there is only one option for resolution, and it’s your character’s lack of choice that ultimately forces them to go a certain way, resulting in a major change in that character.

After the conflict is resolved, a scene that readers have been waiting for usually follows. In the Hunger Games (because apparently that is the only book I have ever read – are all my examples from it?) this is the scene where Katniss and Peeta win together. Readers have been waiting for it and it makes them feel good.

The third act closes with a sense that life will never be the same. This is the concept of new equilibrium. Katniss gets to go home, but there is a sense of menace looming, and we know that it’s not going to be like it was before she left. Despite these changes, the story has come back into balance, and the dramatic questions readers had at the beginning of the story (will she survive? will she and Peeta fall in love? will the Hunger Games end?) are ultimately answered.

31 Days to Plan Your Novel

Every October, hundreds of bloggers gather at The Nesting Place to write for 31 days straight on a variety of different topics, teaching and encouraging and offering tips and tricks to make life easier.