Act two - the middle of the novel - is where a lot of us as writers start to lose our damn minds (although an argument could perhaps be made that we lose them just shortly before we decide we'd like to write novels).
Morrell, in Thanks But This Isn't For Us, reminds us that the middle is not just an obstacle we pass through in order to get from promising beginning to exciting end. The middle is where our protoganist encounters the complications that make a story so interesting to us. As a book I read when I was a kid said, it's where we've got our main character up a tree and "keep piling alligators around that tree" (great imagery there - fifteen years later, I still think in terms of setting alligators up for my MC to cope with).
Besides giving our protoganist twists, turns and new challenges to cope with, the middle is where we develop our subplots (Morrell says we can even wrap some of them up here; not every storyline needs to wait until act three for resolution). Stakes get raised. If some kind of built-in deadline or pressure can be applied to our protoganist, do it.
Act two ends with what Morrell calls "the dark night of the soul". This is when the protoganist's great fear appears to be realized, where the crises reach their boiling point. Typically, the protoganist reacts with strong emotion, then resolves to meet the challenge. Depending on your genre, this darkest night might look very differently, but the principle is the same.
Thanks, But This Isn't For Us as I was working on the middle of The Goddess of Vengeance Wore Pink Galoshes. While I still may re-arrange some scenes during the inevitable revisions of the current WIP (though I try not to think ahead to revisions), this helped me crystalize my mental picture of what Lauren needed to encounter next. You see, I already had her sort of adjusting to the idea of being the new Goddess of Vengeance. She had done some terrible things to people in the name of vengeance that she felt guilty for, but she was also seeing the good that she was doing and there was a certain amount of emotional balance.
So I ensured that by the end of act two, her love affair was in peril and more importantly, she'd accidentally injured, almost killed, the innocent person she was trying to avenge. Sorry, Lauren. I know you thought you could maybe get your life back together and you were excited about rescuing a puppy, but... No free rides when you're the protoganist.
What alligators will your characters face in Act Two?
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