Monday, June 28, 2010

Three Act Structure: Act Two

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).

Thanks, But This Isn't for Us: A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing is Being RejectedMorrell, 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.

I read this part of 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?


Aubrie said...

hmmmmm...I need more alligators!

Stephanie Thornton said...

Okay, so the middle is where I struggle the most. I've decided it's best to let myself meander through to the climax. I end up cutting a lot of what I write, but I chalk it up to character development. It may not make it through revisions, but the scenes that get chopped help me get to know my characters better.

At least that's what I tell myself.

Old Kitty said...

Awww poor Lauren!! You're really making her work hard to earn her goddess points! LOL!!

I love your alligators imagery - I also need loads more in my WIP - such as it is. Thanks for the fab pointers here and good luck with your Pink Galoshes editing!!! Go Lauren!!!

Take care

Lola Sharp said...

I just have to say, I LOVE those pink galoshes, and your title.

Also, CONGRATS on your mad word count lately!

As for my middles...what Stephanie said. Her comment is exactly my process.

Okay, I'm on vacation, and not supposed to be blogging...husband and kid are giving me the stink eye...

KST said...

Hmm... I'm not sure I have enough alligators, then. It's already long, though, and I'm not sure it NEEDS more alligators. LOVE the blogs (both of them). I'm passing on a blog award to you. Check out mine and Kathryn's pages for the details. =)