In the post, Five reasons why the three-act structure is for you (see it here), I explained that act two corresponds with the middle of your novel.
Act Two is where the hero takes action. Here are five key ingredients that the middle of your story needs:
One – Challenges that the hero must face
The hero can’t have it easy. There have to be lots of obstacles put in their way because, if there wasn’t, what would be the point of reading it? It would be pretty boring, wouldn’t it?
The challenges don’t have to be life and death scenarios. It’s best if there are plenty of highs and lows to the second act. Usually, the challenges facing the hero at the beginning of the second act begin to test character but don’t have serious consequences. That’s not to say they aren’t difficult, just that they don’t have a life or death outcome. Slowly the tension builds in act two so that by the end of act two the hero is at his lowest point.
Two – A world that is different from the ordinary world of Act One
The ordinary world of act one is where we meet the hero and where the hero is inactive. The special world – in which the hero enters after the triggering event at the end of act one – must challenge the hero. It must be different and allow the hero to be tested and, in turn, change.
Don’t forget that the hero isn’t used to this new special world. They have to learn new rules.
Three – Be aware of the theme of your story
As I explained in my post, five things you need to do in act one of your story, your novel will need a theme that runs through the whole of it.
There will be an underlying theme or message to your story. This is an idea that runs through the whole of the novel. The message could be, for example, “crime doesn’t pay,” or “love conquers all”. It gives the story cohesion.
You must keep this in mind as you write act two, making sure the theme is a thread that runs through the whole of your story. If you don’t, the story won’t gel properly and won’t have the cohesion it should have.
Four – avoid a saggy middle
There is a danger in act two that your writing will fall flat and become boring if the action isn’t dynamic. The hero must face challenges but they can’t all be easy. There has to be highs and lows and, as the story continues, the tension needs to rise until the hero is at his lowest point at the end of act two.
Remember that the second act is just as important as the beginning and end. Take time over it and don’t rush. Also make sure that the message of the story, for example, Revenge is self-destructive, runs through the entire length of the novel.
Keep your focus, keep the writing tight and make sure you don’t meander. There has to be a momentum, a reason why the character has to keep on going, no matter the cost.
Five – Make sure you include a crisis
At the end of act two, the hero has to be at his lowest point. He has to face a crisis. This is a plot point which throws the hero into act three.
The crisis can be the hero facing his greatest fears, the end of a relationship, or he can be near to death as he is brought to his knees by whatever hostile force is facing him.
The crisis is the main event of the second act. It is the point to which everything in the story leads before it emerges the other side allowing for the hero to change.
Is there anything else you’d add to this list?