Following your hero’s decision, she enters a new realm. This week, you’re going to write to the moment when your hero experiences initial success toward achieving her goal. As you do this, you’re going to give yourself permission to surprise yourself… and to write badly. Giving yourself permission to write badly doesn’t lead to bad writing, it leads to honest writing. Remember, this isn’t for publication, it’s a draft. You can use honesty and bad writing to make honestly good writing in the rewrite, but only if you have a finished draft.
First, a reminder: the typical second act of a Three-Act Structure looks like this:
- Hero Begins Journey/The Post Turn: What is the first sign of growth or success that your hero experiences toward achieving his goal?
- Advance on Goal/Midpoint: what event forces your hero to respond? This event typically involves a temptation. The hero could go to the beginning and forget about the whole thing. Most people would. But not your hero. Your hero will continue on along the road less traveled and risk losing everything.
- Fight with Intensity/Post-Midpoint: What does it look like when your hero realizes that this is much more difficult than originally imagined? How does your hero suffer?
- Hero Feels Effects/Second Turning Point: What would it look like if your hero realized that the juice just wasn’t worth the squeeze? That solving the problem is impossible to achieve?
This week, you begin writing Act Two, up to the end of the first part, the Post-Turn, that moment when your hero achieves an initial success. Is there a moment where your hero recognizes the possibility of getting what she wants? What does that look like?
The Beginning of the Middle
What makes middles so hard? Sometimes you have so much vital information that you can’t figure out how to include it all. Sometimes you can’t think of enough interesting events to get you plausibly to the ending you’ve already envisioned. Choices rush over you.
- In what order should the scenes occur?
- How many points of view can you use?
- How will you show that your character undergoes a genuine change?
- What about those two events that happen simultaneously in two different cities—which should you show first?
By this time, it may seem like the story is self-destructing in your mind. You can’t imagine why anybody would want to read it. Even you don’t want to read it.
Yep. The honeymoon is over. It’s stopped being fun and it’s become work.
Does this all sound gloomy? If not, perhaps you’re one of these fortunate writers who doesn’t have trouble with middles. You should breathe a sigh of relief and keep on typing.
But if it does, then you should know that there are signposts to guide your way.
Developing the Promise
The middle is (generously speaking) everything after the introduction of the characters and the conflict, yet before the climax. In a novel, this can easily mean “most of the book.” In my own #13WeekNovel, out of 20 planned chapters, the middle is everything from Chapter 6 to Chapter 14-1/2, or some 19,000 words.
(Yep. Go ahead. Take a second. Let that half a chapter sink in. Who ever said an act has to break evenly at the end of a chapter? Have I mentioned there are no rules?)
The middle is an enormously important part of your story. The function of the middle is to develop the implicit promise between you and the reader made by the story’s beginning.
The middle of a story develops the story’s implicit promise by dramatizing incidents that increase conflict, reveal character, and put in place all the various forces that will collide at the story’s climax. In short, the middle is the bridge. At one end is the story’s beginning, the introduction of characters and conflicts.
In the middle of the story, those same characters and conflicts move across the bridge, grouping themselves into alliances and oppositions. Some people change during the journey over the bridge; some don’t. Conflicts deepen. People become more emotional. The stakes may rise.
By the time the characters reach the other end of the bridge, the forces determining their behavior are clear. And at the far end of the bridge, within sight of the bridgehead, those same forces finally collide, forming the climax.
Unity in fiction depends on keeping everybody moving over that bridge. The forces developed in the middle must emerge naturally out of the characters in relationship with the situation introduced at the beginning. In turn, the ending has to make use of those self-same forces and conflicts, with nothing important left out and nothing new suddenly appearing at the last minute.
Keep in mind
You should have completed Act One by today. If you haven’t, you may want to give yourself a day or two to summarize what happens so that you can keep moving forward. Of course, there are no rules. Everyone’s process is different.
“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” — W. Somerset Maugham
If you find yourself going back and rewriting, you may be setting yourself up to get blocked later on.
The hero’s decision is connected to her goal. This goal keeps you on track with your story. It keeps you connected to the underlying meaning of what you’re trying to express.
You’re going to spend four weeks on Act Two.
This week, you’re writing to the point where your hero achieves a success of some sort, which may (will) later reveal itself to be a short-lived victory.
When your hero achieves success, there is an identifiable shift for your hero.
You can’t resolve a story at the same level of consciousness that created the premise. This means that you have to always be willing to explore the opposite choice. If you believe your hero idolizes her father, how might your story be altered if she despised her father? Is it possible that both experiences are true? What situations might suggest this apparent contradiction?
You want your reader to experience your characters’ emotions through action and incident, not by telling them what the characters are feeling.
Keep calm and keep on writing!
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