How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss: Act Two – the key turning point


Welcome to Part Twenty-Five of this popular series. This week, novelist and publisher Lucy McCarraher shares how to review the second part of your “Act Two” – a critical element, as the two parts of “Act Two” form the backbone of your story.

For all the articles in this series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar up a way on the right —>>>

How to write fiction without the fuss

Reviewing Act Two, Part Two

In the first half of your story, the main characters have identified and set out on their quest, entered a new world, gained supporters, appreciated who their antagonists are and arrived at their first serious reversal. Up until this midpoint they have mainly been dealing with external forces in the battle to achieve the goal they have set themselves.

As Act Two should take up around fifty percent of your story… and run for twice the length of Act One and Act Three, it falls neatly into two parts. When we reviewed Act Two, Part One, we said that the first section should end with a midpoint crisis that functions as a game-changer for your hero(es). So now your protagonist(s) head into the second half of your story with even more determination and a new direction.

The following elements should characterise Act Two, Part Two:

Emotional insight

The first major reversal that occurred in the middle of your story should affect your hero(es) emotionally, and change their feelings and thinking,  as well as their behaviour, for the second half. It should have triggered a revelation, to some extent about themselves, though it may have also given them insight about someone else, such as their beloved or their antagonist.

Quest revised

This crisis should also change the nature of the quest, upping the stakes and/or adding to its difficulty. The midpoint crisis could be a low moment, when all seems lost; or it can offer the first glimmer of hope that your protagonist(s) will achieve their goal. In either case, the question for reader and heroes at the beginning of the second half of Act Two is, “What now?” This is where you begin to put pressure on your main character(s), not just in terms of their new insights and personal development, but in the increased difficulty of achieving their goal, which has shifted or become more complex. Their plan will need to be revised in the light of their new awareness.

Gather in subplots

Up to the halfway mark, your main plot and subplots may have been running independently, with only a few clues thrown to the reader about how they interconnect. In the third quarter of the story it is time to start weaving them closer, otherwise you will end up with too many loose ends to bring together in Act Three.

This is a good time to go back to the beginning and list all the stories you have started, characters you have introduced and clues you have dropped that will need to be brought to a satisfying conclusion in a seamless, coherent and sometimes unexpected way.

Focus on the main plot

Despite the greater complexity of this section and the need to draw in your subplots, don’t lose your focus on the main plot. Keep checking in with your “story bible” to follow through on the hero’s quest that you set up in Act One. Achieving this quest is the promise you made to your reader at the beginning, and if it starts to lose clarity, they will lost interest and their trust in you, their story-teller.

Keep building tension

The tension through Act Two, part two, must build with the complexity of the story. Keep in mind the two-step structure you have left to play out: build to a second reversal, and keep building, in pace and tension, to the third and final reversal – at which point it must appear that the protagonist(s) simply cannot achieve their goal.

This means there must be a clear line connecting the twists of the main plot and subplot(s), and that the stakes are raised at every turn. You should be increasing physical and psychological stress for the hero(es) and the reader, through short action sequences, snappy dialogue and engaging description. Mix it up, use your techniques, keep the surprises coming.

Look out, he’s behind you!

Look out – he’s behind you!

The third quarter of your story is where the antagonist really comes into her or his own; s/he seems to be one step ahead of the hero(es), getting the girl or guy, his or her revenge, winning the battle, escaping the trap. Be careful, though, that the baddies don’t steal the limelight. Often the villains are more fun to write than the good guys, but keep in mind that your story always belongs to the hero(es). Hold the balance with
good and evil neck and neck to the final reversal.

The Black Moment

At the very end of Act Two, despite all the action and interaction, the protagonists’ journey takes a downward turn, ending in the end-of-act reversal – the hero’s Black Moment. Suddenly all seems lost: the quest is ruined; the goal is unachievable.

Either something deeply shocking has happened – the hero loses a main supporter, the antagonist’s trick succeeds, the protagonists themselves fail; or the fiasco that has always looked likely to the reader comes to pass. Another way of playing this is to give your reader more information than your hero: you reveal the truth to them, but the protagonist’s ignorance means they might just give up on their goal.

Whichever way you have played your story, this moment requires all the drama you can give it – the main characters are in danger or despair; the villains are triumphant. The Black Moment is the essential precursor to the Climax of Act Three where all starts to become clear and you can bring everything together.

Next week we will be running through some fiction writing no-nos.

For all the articles in the series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar up a way on the right —>>>

Lucy McCarraher

Lucy McCarraher


Managing Editor, Rethink Press.


Meanwhile, let’s perfect your non-fiction, too…

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”...over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English … INSTANT DOWNLOAD
“How To Write Winning Non-fiction”…all you need to know to write a good non-fiction book and get it published
…plus take a look at Lucy’s novels here

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