You will recall that we divided a novel’s story into four parts: Act 1, Act 2a, Act 2b, and Act 3.
An average novel is comprised of 60 scenes. Acts 2a and 2b are the largest section of your novel, the middle. Your novel’s middle will account for around 40 to 45 of the scenes you write.
Act 2 is divided into two parts (a and b) because, in a well-constructed story, the middle of Act 2 is split by the Midpoint Shift (see previous post).
After the Midpoint Shift, your hero finds himself in Part 2 of Act 2 (or Act 2b).
In Act 2b, the hero endures more disasters. Remember, story tension depends upon the hero’s continuing frustration in achieving his story goal.
But the difference between prior disasters and frustrations, and those the hero encounters in Act 2b is this: now each disaster is the result of an action the hero takes to resolve the conflict between himself and the antagonist sparked by the new information or insights obtained in the Midpoint Shift.
- In Jaws, Chief Brody hires a sharkhunter, Quint, and – together with the oceanographer, Hooper – sets out on a boat to kill the shark.
- In Bridget Jones’s Diary, Bridget tries to get a new job.
- In The Fugitive, Richard Kimble actively investigates the mystery of who killed his wife .
The challenge for the writer in Act 2b is to maintain story freshness and suspense. The Midpoint Shift should have revitalized your story, sending it off in a new and fascinating direction. Suspense arises as the stakes get ever higher for the heroine, and frustrations continue to mount. Reader interest also is maintained by the hero’s display of resourcefulness.
Can the hero/heroine enjoy a minor success here and there? Yes – but he/she cannot attain his key goal, and if the minor success turns out to be the opposite of a “blessing in disguise,” it is sad for the character, but adds to the impact of your story. Remember the scene in the Hunger Games, when the heroine Katniss defeats her adversaries temporarily by releasing a horde of tracker jackers (hornets on steroids) on them? Katniss succeeds temporarily in achieving safety, but the tracker jackers also sting her, causing her to grow groggy – and vulnerable again.
A resourceful hero, a tough adversary, and the hero’s unrelenting frustration in attaining the key goal – these are the elements for a successful Act 2b.