TAP017, How to Write the Rising Action Scenes in a Novel
Are you struggling to figure out how to write the rising action scenes in your novel? I remember when I first started writing and using the three-act-structure, I outlined scenes in the first act and then got stuck with the second act. It wasn’t the entire middle of the story I was stuck with; it was the first half. I understood the midpoint and the second plot point or the ‘Dark Night of the Soul,’ but where I struggled the most was with getting my story to the midpoint. These moments in the first half of the second act are referred to as the rising action or try/fail cycles.
In this episode of The Authorpreneur Podcast, I will discuss what needs to happen, the key scenes, and what not to do in the first half of the second act. And, I will share seven tips on how to write the rising action scenes.
So, let’s get started.
What Needs to Happen in the First Half of the Second Act Leading up to The Midpoint?
At the start of the second act, your protagonist is heavily invested in solving the problem from the first act. In essence, they’re locked into a confrontation that produces a series of challenges. These challenges are often a series of battles between the Protagonist and the Antagonist. In a thriller novel, you’ll often see an overconfident investigator who faces, problem after problem. The lead character will investigate a murder, conspiracy, or piece together clues. And, along this journey, they will take reactionary steps, face obstacles, struggle or fail, and learn.
Three Key Scenes
The rising action scenes in the first half of the second act will take up twenty-five percent of the story. Within this quarter, are three key scenes. The first of these scenes is the reaction. The reaction occurs after the first plot point and sits between the twenty-five to thirty-seven percent mark of the story. It bridges the gap between the first plot point and the next key moment. And, this reaction doesn’t have to be a single scene but can be a series of scenes. This key moment shows the protagonists reaction to the events that occurred in the first plot point and their struggle to understand the obstacles that have come their way.
The final key scene is the realisation. And, the scene is precisely what you think it is. The protagonist’s realisation grows, and they become more aware of what’s at play. And as a consequence, they start making better more informed decisions. This scene bridges the gap between the first pinch point and the midpoint of the second act.
Don’t Do This
Due to the nature of the name of the scenes leading up to the midpoint of the story, many first time writers make the same mistake. This same mistake is writing action scene after action scene. A series of action scenes will give your reader whiplash and add a distance between the reader and your story’s hero. I’m sorry if you love these movies, but the perfect example of this is the Transformers franchise. There are a bit of character building moments at the start of the films but the second act is filled with action. All of this action makes it difficult to care about the main characters. To avoid this, write reactionary character moments in amongst the obstacles that your Protagonist faces.
How to Write the Rising Action Scenes
Up until now, I’ve shared what to include, the three key scenes and what to avoid in the rising action scenes. Right now, you’re probably wondering how to write the rising action scenes or the first half of the second act of your story. Here are seven tips for writing the first half of the second act with the rising action scenes.
Tip 1 – The protagonist Must be Taking Steps Toward Their Goal
In the first act, your Protagonist is simply being tossed about by the events that unfold until they reach a point where they cannot go back and continue living as normal. The start of the second act reveals a Protagonist who is still reactionary in many ways but is taking actionable steps towards their goal. There is no room for a passive protagonist in the second act. The first plot point requires the protagonist to make a decision and become involved in the story’s core conflict. At this point in the story, the protagonist is still looking for the shortest and easiest path to achieving their goals. This is often referred to as survival mode. Instead of taking deliberate steps toward their goal, the Protagonist is simply surviving the challenges that come their way, so that they can get back to pursuing their goal and return to the status quo.
Tip 2 -Show their Reaction to the First Plot Point
I know I touched on this earlier, but instead of diving into the rising action scenes, show the Protagonists reaction to the events that unfolded in the first plot point. Not only does this break up the pace of the story but it reveals character. It allows the reader to connect with the protagonist and to continue to be invested in their journey. This reaction scene is referred to as a sequel. A sequel is a character moment where we see your hero’s reaction to a problem which produces a new dilemma. This new dilemma forces the protagonist to make a decision and make new plans. But, I’ll go more into how to write a sequel scene in another episode of the Indie Authorpreneur Podcast.
Tip 3 – Present Your Protagonist with a Series of Obstacles
Obstacles and challenges are necessary ingredients for a great story. Without these obstacles, it would all be smooth sailing or ‘happy people in Happyland’ as James Scott Bell eloquently describes this. This isn’t true to life, and no one wants to read a story that is so far from reality in that way. It’s the struggles and obstacles that we face that allow us to empathise with others and with characters in stories. The obstacles you present your Protagonist with provide an opportunity to grow, learn, and adds a sense of adventure for your reader. But, these cannot be any obstacles they need to build up to a greater confrontation and eventually the midpoint of your story.
Tip 4 – Your Protagonist Needs to Learn from Failure
One of the most frustrating things is reading about a character that makes the same mistake over and over again. While failure is important for growth, it’s important that your character learns but goes on to face new challenges and make different mistakes. This isn’t necessarily true to life. Sometimes you do make the same mistake on multiple occasions, but your Protagonist cannot. They need to see the mistake and try something new unless you’re revealing a character flaw like stubbornness. The Protagonist needs to learn, make adjustments, and make new informed decisions.
Tip 5 – Leave Room for Further Growth
Just like Life, you need to leave room for growth. If your Protagonist learned everything that was necessary to defeat the Antagonist, then your story would be short. There should always be more to learn. Your Hero should feel as if there’s some knowledge that hasn’t been made available to them, yet. This missing knowledge needs to be a crucial piece of the puzzle to overcome their foe. The best thing you can do for your story is to allow your hero to learn and grow throughout the entire second act and not keep this learning to the rising action scenes. It’s for that reason I recommend outlining a story before you start writing the first draft.
Tip 6 – Deepen Character Relationships
Struggles and challenges will often bring two people closer together. The same is true of your hero and their sidekick or love interest. Facing challenges, failing, and often experiencing conflict with each other will strengthen their relationship and build a sense of trust. The beginning of a relationship isn’t always smooth sailing, miscommunications occur and conflict is created. But, the rising action scenes bring the characters together where they work towards a common goal. While they may disagree the external conflict created by the obstacles helps them understand each other on a deeper level. And these moments should lead to a stronger friendship by the end of the book.
Tip 7 – Set up the midpoint and final battle
The rising action scenes need to build towards two crucial moments in your novel, the midpoint and the final battle. It’s important that the rising action scenes are building toward that moment when your character is pushed to engage in the core conflict of your story. Before this moment your Protagonist is reacting and refusing to make a stand, this decision to stay on the fence and react needs to come back and bite them. What pushes them in the midpoint is the raising of the hero’s stakes. If you don’t build your rising action scenes toward this moment, the midpoint will fall flat. For those of you who are writing your first novel, it may be easier for you to define the midpoint of your story then build the first half of the second act towards this moment.
So, how can you apply all of this knowledge to your story? If you’ve been following along with this series and are fleshing out your story idea into a synopsis, go back over your synopsis and highlight the key moments in your story. Check if you’re giving your character room to fail, grow and make more informed decisions throughout the middle of your story.
If you’re writing the first draft and you’re stuck in the middle of your story, go back and create an outline of the scenes you’ve already written. In this outline, highlight the key moments in your story. Check to see if you’ve included the three key rising action scenes. You may need to move scenes around or add in the scenes that are missing.
The rising action scenes or the first half of the second act, contain three key moments that build toward the midpoint of your story. To write compelling rising action scenes, you need to avoid an overload of action. The rising action scenes are essentially a series of obstacles where your Protagonist experiences failure and opportunity to learn from these mistakes while leaving room for future growth. It’s also in the rising action scenes where amidst struggle your Protagonist deepens their relationships with the other characters in the story.
As always, I have to ask are you writing your first novel? Are you trying to figure out how to write the rising action scenes or the first half of the second act? If so, which one of these tips did you find most helpful? Let me know by coming over to the blog post and sharing in the comments section.
Thank you for listening, and I’ll see you in the next episode of The Authorpreneur podcast where I’ll discuss how to write the midpoint of your novel.
I’m Amelia. When I’m not hosting the Authorpreneur Podcast™️ and the Book Nerd Podcasts, I write Mystery Novels under the pen name A. D. Hay. And, I’m the author of Suspicion, the Lawn, and the Candidate.
On this blog, I help new writers to finish their first draft, prepare their manuscripts for professional editing, and when they get stuck in the first draft phase or are confused about the revision process.
Right now, I’m editing and preparing my soon to be published mystery novels, Suspicion, Duplicity, 24 Hours, and Immunity for publication.