Plotting: Surviving the Second Act

God Forbid We Start at the Start

Nobody can slam me for being too linear.  Whipping a story straight from A to Z isn’t among my many sins.  This chapter, for instance1.  We’re not starting with the start of a story because the start is easy: You have a great idea and can’t wait to begin.  You can spend your whole life writing beginnings.  Too many writers do.


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Endings are almost as easy.  Rosemary has the baby.  Invisible germs in the air kill the Martians.  Nick Carraway retreats back to the Midwest.  It’s the second act that gets hairy.  Yeah, the opening of Citizen Kane or Night of the Living Dead sucks you in, and the ending shakes you up.  But the middle, not so much.  In the middle, the fast-forward button beckons, as does the refrigerator.  You go to the toilet and tell your family, “No, don’t pause it.”

With that in mind, let’s look at some strategies for that tiresome middle stretch.2 As of late, the second act of most stories consists of character infighting.  It’s when the family realizes their house is haunted . . .

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