Thursday, November 10, 2011

Plotting the Second Half, Pt 2: The Mavens Weigh In

Yup, bad sh*t happens in Act 3
Yesterday we talked a little about issues with plotting your novel's second half. I'm using a four-act structure rather than a three-act, and I'm a little concerned with how I'm going to keep the tension in my WIP from flat-lining after the midway point. So I got in touch with two of my fiction mentors, Jamie Morris and Joyce Sweeney, who invented the Plot Clock I'm using. Today I'll give you Joyce's take on this brain-teaser (look for Jamie's words of wisdom tomorrow).

Sweeney, being all
smart and stuff
Joyce says that the low point in the story comes at the end of Act 2 in both the four- and three-act models. After your character hits that low point, "it doesn't mean all the tension is over, you keep raising the stakes all the time," she says.
"What happens is, the hero is pretty lame in Acts 1 and 2, but after that low point pushes all their buttons, they start trying harder. The reader wants to see some chance they can succeed. They want to see the growth in Act 3, but you also are raising the stakes, escalating the dangers and making the antagonist much more powerful than we guessed. At end of Act 3, you throw a curve that changes and raises the stakes tremendously, heading into the climax."

And then she offered this (hypothetical!)  example:

"I can't pay my mortgage, and I spend Acts 1 and 2 trying to dogdge the mortgage company. Low point is notice of foreclosure...looks like I'm going to lose the house, right?  But I refuse to give up and spend act three finding a new way to raise money for mortgage payments. End of Act 3 I find out someone in city hall is out to get me and they tore up all the checks I sent.  Climax...I fight city hall. That make it clearer? It keeps you from being linear to twist and turn the reader's hopes."

I don't know about you, but that clarified things quite a bit for me. So, fellow bloggees, have you figured out your curve ball for the end of Act 3? That ought to be coming up in...let's see...about 10 days if you're doing NaNo.


  1. Great point! I need to work on this, I think the tension in my story is lacking. But I can't think about that until I've finished it!

  2. Great point!! Pacing and tension is always the hardest for me and I'm always looking for hints and suggestions!

  3. You NaNo people amaze me. I guess before I think about Act 3, I should write Act 1. . . Great advise for when I get there. Keep inspiring me.

  4. Yeah--flatlining! Good to think about. I hope mine doesn't do that. I don't usually purposely divide my novels into acts; I'll have to see if that happened on their own. LOL

  5. This post is definitely what I need to be thinking about right now. I've had a problem in the past with lagging tension in the middle, so this is super helpful! Thanks :)