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 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 24 – Conflict in the World of Your Novel

31 Days to Plan Your Novel

Yesterday, I discussed the Inciting Incident, the single action that spurs your protagonist into the narrative arc and sets the plot in motion. Throughout the first act (and the second and the third), there will be several definable plot points that function to set in motion a series of events that carry your story along.

Underlying everything, though, is conflict. The primary conflict is the foundation of your story. It is the workhorse of prose, carrying everything else on it’s back through page after page of your novel.

It is conflict at the core of the protagonist, it is conflict in the world she lives in – perhaps one mirrors the other, or is caused by it. It is the deeper intangible that your characters are struggling against. I used The Hunger Games as an example before, so I’ll use it again today – Katniss’ primary purpose is survival – for her family and herself – and in pursuing that purpose she is faced with small, isolated battles (both physical and emotional) that she must fight and overcome. Underneath the whole story, however, is the corrupt government that subjugates its people and forces its children into a battle royale. This is that deep conflict that I’m talking about.

Discovering the struggle at the core of your story can open up a number of new and interesting ways in which your story can move – it has the power to set the mood and the pace of your story. Spend some time thinking about this element of your novel today.

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 21 – Your Novel in Three Acts

31 Days to Plan Your Novel

Now that you’ve spent three weeks free-writing your novel, we’re going to start outlining. I use a three-act system that is based on what Alan Watt discusses in The 90-Day Novel: Unlock the Story Within; a fantastic resource that I’m not getting paid to recommend.

Over the next week or so, I’ll be discussing each section of the narrative arc with more detail, but for now, this is what you’re working with:

Act I – Introduces your characters, location and problem. Your protagonist is faced with a problem, something happens that sets the story in motion, and finally, your protagonist commits to their goal.

Act II – Your protagonist suffers and struggles. They may think they have achieved their goal only to realize they have not (a false sense of victory) They recommit themselves to their goal.

Act III – The climax. The protagonist achieves their goal (it may not look exactly the way they had envisioned).

As you work through your plan, I recommend writing in pencil. Just because you’re in the outlining process does not mean your story has lost the will to change.

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 17 – Life off the Page, pt 2

31 Days to Plan Your Novel

Forgive me in advance, because today’s post could be seen as a little insensitive.

Either directly in a story, or somewhere off the page, death is a great catalyst for action. Whether it makes it into your novel or not, writing about the death of a person that a main character cares about can shake things loose if you’re stuck, reveal qualities abut the character in question, explain motivations that seem otherwise inexplicable, and provide a venue for powerful emotions to be explored.

If you don’t believe me, name one novel whose plot has not be directly or indirectly influenced by a death.

Death drives a plot forward when the death in question is able to influence choices and motivate change. Simply killing off characters because you are tired of them doesn’t work. The death must have some impact on the story around it. Think about the deaths of Dumbledore (it frees Harry Potter to do what he was destined to do), or Eddard Stark (could A Song of Ice and Fire have continued to 4+ additional volumes if he hadn’t died?)

Don’t be afraid of writing about death. It might be the best thing to happen to your 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.