TAP019, How to Write the Second Half of the Second Act of a Novel
Are you struggling to write the second half of the second act of your story? You already know there’s a Midpoint and the Dark Night of the Soul or the Second Plot Point, but you’re left wondering what to write between these two scenes. If this is a situation that’s all too familiar to you, then this episode is for you. In this episode, I will discuss the most important scenes within the second half of the second act so that you can write a stronger and more compelling story.
About the Series
Before I dive into the episode, this is the eighth instalment in my series on three-act structure. If you’ve just joined me on this episode then, I will link the previous seven episodes below.
Conflict is King
As I researched this episode of The Authorpreneur Podcast, I realised there are many different opinions when it comes to story structure. Now that I’m forcing myself to take a long hard look at how I structure stories, I’ve realised two things about myself as a fiction writer. The first is I structure in a similar way to writing for film. And secondly, I give my characters a hard time. While they do have small victories along the way, I tend to rip away this success as quickly as it’s achieved. Think one step forward, two steps back.
So, why do I do this? One word, conflict. Story is conflict, without it, it’s smooth sailing, and that’s not a great read. Smooth sailing is boring. However, this storytelling technique is symptomatic of the genre, I write. For those of you who are curious, I”m writing in the crime thriller genre, and I have elements of action-adventure with a layer of mystery.
Struggling with The Second Half of the Second Act
Like you, as I outlined the story for my soon to be released thriller novel, Immunity, I struggled with the second half of the second act. I couldn’t figure out what to do between the midpoint and the start of the third act. When I started outlining Immunity, I started with a few key scenes and fleshed everything out in between these moments. I knew how I wanted the story to start and end.
However, when it came to the scenes between the midpoint and the second plot point, I did the only thing I knew how. In the second half of the second act, I amped up the stakes, conflict, and set James up for failure at the start of the third act. As I started outlining and later started the revision process, I realised that I accidentally got this right. And, I think this was due to my earlier studying of screenwriting.
The Most Important Scenes
So, here are the three most important scenes you need to include in the second half of the second act. I want to point out that these scenes don’t have to be a single scene of each story element. If you’re writing a longer novel, these story elements might consist of a few scenes per element.
A Series of Action Scenes
The second half of the second act must begin with the Protagonist taking action and fighting back. These action scenes should span from fifty to sixty-two percent of the story. Just like the action scene from the first half of the second act, the second act action scene should mirror each other but one slight difference, a proactive hero. The emphasis of the story is now on the hero’s sense of purpose and no longer dodging a series of things that merely happen to him.
In spite of all of this, the protagonist makes slow progress against the antagonistic force. However, it’s still progress nonetheless. It’s in the second half of the second act that we see the Protagonist calling the shots and moving forward even though he is not in total control of the situation. In these action scene, the Protagonist has lessons to learn and problems to face that will prepare him for what lies ahead in the third act of the story. Don’t fall into the trap of letting the hero change too much after the midpoint because he still has to go through the climax of the story.
Second Pinch Point
Around the sixty-two percent mark of the story is where the reader expects something to happen. And, this something is the second pinch point. Just a side note, I know I’ve mentioned the term pinch point before but I haven’t explained what it is or how it differs from a plot point. So, what is a pinch point? A pinch point in any time the antagonistic force resurfaces to remind the protagonist that his opponent is close at hand. This pinch point creates an emotional rollercoaster effect by keeping the reader on the edge of their seats.
So, how does the scene achieve this? By foreshadowing the events that occur in the Second Plot Point or the Dark Night of the soul scene. And thus, serves as a reminder of what’s at stake for the hero. In this pinch point, the protagonist is taking action toward the resolving the story problem and the antagonistic force has started to notice his success. But, not for long. The bad guys close in. And, the Antagonistic force needs to regain the upper hand.
Just a side note about foreshadowing, you may have to come back and layer the foreshadowing moments in after you’ve outlined the entire story. So, don’t be too worried if your story outline or second pinch point scene isn’t perfect the first time.
Inspired by the events in the second pinch point the protagonist pushes forward in a renewed attack on the antagonistic force. These scenes are referred to as a renewed push and usually span from sixty-two to the seventy-five percent mark of the story. This series of moments need to give your Protagonist a small taste of victory before it’s ripped away at the start of the third act.
Yes, in a sense you’re setting them up for failure. But, these success and fail cycles give the Hero another reason to keep fighting until the end. Because, what’s around the corner is, in fact, their lowest point or most disappointing defeat, and he needs reference points to push him forward toward the end of the story.
A series of action scenes, the second pinch point, and the renewed push are the three types of scenes you need to include in the second half of the second act of your story. So, what should you do now?
If you’re stuck in the outlining phase, go back and highlight the key moments in your outline so far. Consider, the lessons your protagonist need to learn, your antagonist’s reaction, and what needs to happen in the opening scenes of the third act. Then go back and add these moments into your existing outline.
If you’ve already started writing the first draft of your novel and you’re stuck in the second half of the second act, go back and create an outline based on what you’ve written so far. Go over this new outline and highlight the key story moments. Those moments that keep your story going. If you don’t know this already, decide how your story is going to end. Once you know your end consider what needs to happen in the second half of the second act for this ending to make sense.
Are you struggling to write the second half of the second act of your novel? I want to hear from you. Let me know by sharing comments section below where you’re struggling and the steps you’re going to take to improve your story.
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 Dark Night of the Soul scene in 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.