You made it through the first act. You focused on the main character, you setup the story, and you engaged the reader. Excellent.
Act II is the most difficult act to write. It’s twice as long as Act I, which means it’s twice as hard to keep it on track. It is divided right down the middle by the midpoint of the story, so that helps, but it’s still easy to lose focus.
Conflict and Growth
Syd Field’s paradigm uses the midpoint to divide Act II into separate parts. That allows the writer to re-focus her efforts in story segments. Each segment of Act II should propel the story forward. And therein lies the key to writing a successful second act: concentrated conflict and growth.
In Act II, the writer must move the story forward. Do you know where your story begins? Do you know where it ends? What’s the critical path for getting from point A to point B? That’s Act II.
Think of it as a road trip. You start in Los Angeles, end in Orlando. You’ve got a beginning (the setup), and an end (the result of trip and how it changed your characters). The journey between the two cities is Act II.
The Road Trip
The analogy works for two reasons. One, Act II must keep moving. You’re not going to get to Orlando (or the end of your story) unless the car is going somewhere. Two, the story isn’t going to be interesting without conflict and growth. Something has to be happening that moves the story forward. Characters struggle, learn, overcome, and eventually change.
Here’s where Act II becomes painful.
What were the most critical stops on your road trip? What events on the journey made the most impact? When you reached Orlando and looked back, what really contributed to your learning and growth? Anything that may have been cool, but didn’t amount to much by the time you reached Orlando has to go.
Act II is about concentrated conflict and growth. The story becomes the focus. It’s intentional, and demanding.