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Feb26

How to write your Acts 2 and 3 in a novel

It is February and I’ve made some decent progress on Narco Hotel. In January I resolved an issue with theme and managed to add significant screen time to the villains who were missing for large portions of the book.

In my previous blog post, I mentioned how I wanted to discuss the writing process in a bit more step by step detail. So for today’s blog I am going to talk about my process when dealing with the hardest part of writing (for me).

Coming up with original content.

Now, I don’t think this applies to all authors since I’ve definitely run into writers who seem to have more ideas than time. I, however, do not commit to any random idea that comes to mind. If I do, I know I will be forced to invest an enormous amount of time to make the story a reality. Even the most exciting story ideas can be frustrating to write, so I can’t afford to commit to a low quality concept.

Unfortunately, coming up with exciting ideas is extremely challenging. I don’t dream of Cindy or her adventures. I have dreams of places I’ve never visited and creepy events that have never happened. Narco Hotel was not a pre-existing idea. It was simply the right idea at the right time.

A writer has the impossible task of turning words into worlds. A properly written sentence can give you more visuals than any blockbuster movie.

So whenever the writing is difficult (and it is difficult more often than it is easy) it is always because I haven’t figured out what comes next.

I have tried to outline like a plotter, and I’ve tried to free write like a pantser, and both techniques lead down their own unique, yet identical paths of frustration.

That’s why I perform the following steps in order to progress to the next scene. I can’t guarantee that they will work for you but they will at least get your wheels turning.

Suggestion # 1: If you’re having problems with Act II and Act III, look to Act I.

I don’t know where I found this advice, it was either a book or a blog, but I still use it to this day. Whenever a scene can’t progress or the author doesn’t know what comes next, it’s usually because the preceding scene doesn’t have a strong foundation to build upon.

Example: ACT I – John plans to steal 10 million dollars from world national bank. In order to do this, he goes into the nearest local branch and forces the teller to give him 10 million in cash. The teller calls security and John is arrested. John goes through a lengthy trial process, is convicted, and goes to prison.

Where does the story go next?

If your story was about a man attempting to rob a bank and failing, then the story is already over.

If the story is about a man attempting to rob a bank, getting tried, and going to prison, then it’s no longer a story about robbing a bank.

Does that make sense?

If it’s still a story about robbing a bank and he goes to prison in Act I, then we are going to struggle and squirm our way to figure out how we’re going to get him back to the point where he needs to rob a bank.

However, if we revise Act I and change it so that he doesn’t get arrested. You will unlock scenes that weren’t possible before.

ACT 1 – John scouts a bank, recruits a crew, then begin their heist. They now have 10 minutes before the police show up to arrest them. What happens next?

Option A.) The crew follows their escape plan and disappears into the tunnels.

Option B.) The crew tries to escape and fall into a police ambush.

Option C.) One of the crew members turns traitor and kills another member to keep the money for himself.

Option D.) Trapped within the bank, the robbers take hostages.

Do you see how rewriting Act I gave us more relevant options to explore in Act II? Now instead of trying to figure out what John does after prison, you can focus on what happens during the bank robbery. Cut the trial and prison scenes.

Suggestion # 2: So you’ve rewritten Act I and now you’ve run into another problem. You have too many interesting ideas to choose from. Lucky for you, Suggestions 1 and 2 go together like Oreos and milk.

Cobble together all of your ideas and write them down. Analyze each idea and see which one gives you the strongest emotional impact while still feeling connected to the theme of your story.

Let’s reference the above examples I listed earlier:

  1. They disappear into the tunnels.
  2. Ambushed by police before escape.
  3. A crew member turns traitor and kills another member.
  4. They take hostages.

If you choose A.) There will be no surprises. No one wants to read a story that doesn’t have conflict. Therefore, A will not have the emotional impact or thematic impact needed to make your story interesting. Remember, this is Act II so we need something that will lead us to a thrilling climax.

To clarify, A would work if Acts I and II focus on John continually failing to achieve his goals.

Either B, C, or D can work because each of these events raises the stakes and throws a wrench in the protagonist’s plans.

But how do you know B, C, or D will work in the context of your story?

This is where you have to get to the heart of your story. The “why.” Why are you writing this novel? Is it a story about former friends betraying each other? Or is it a story about an exciting heist that almost failed? Whatever the reason, your scene choice should complement the story.

Is John an ex-con looking for a last big score?

Does John need money to pay for a family member’s medical bills?

Did John’s crew of trusted friends ask him to come back for a final job?

Whatever the theme is, the scene you choose should directly contrast with your overall theme.

If the story is about honor amongst thieves, then his friends should betray him.

If the story is about John promising to never kill in a heist. Then one of his buddies should take a hostage and threaten to kill them.

Let’s take a closer look with an example.

Example: Let’s say we chose the hostage route. His friend is threatening to kill the bank teller if the police don’t let them go. John doesn’t want anyone to be killed. How does he solve this problem? Does he betray his friends or does he let the teller get killed?

You can instantly see, even from these rudimentary examples, how much stronger the conflict becomes. You would not get the same effect if John didn’t care about who lived or who died. If he didn’t have a rule against killing, then option D wouldn’t have any emotional impact on the story. If John doesn’t care about an innocent dying, why should the reader?

Make sense?

Recap

If you’re having difficulty figuring out what scene you need to write next for Act II or III, re-read Act I and make sure it’s leading you in the right direction. If you re-write your Act I and discover you have too many scenes to choose from, choose the scene that escalates the stakes and complements the theme of your story.

Hope you all enjoyed this blog. If you have questions, leave a comment or send me an email.


Wilmar Luna