Act Two – the Middle of the Beginning, Middle, and End – is a Poker game…where the cards are razor sharp, on fire, and your hero is wearing kerosene gloves.
It’s a poker game because your hero has a questionable grasp of his own cards, isn’t sure of the rules of the game, and has no idea what anyone else is holding.
Now that we’ve gotten to know the hero in Act One, your job as writer is to break the hero down, beat him up, insult his mama, and make him rue taking the first step of the journey.
With your eye on the dramatic question, you the writer need to construct an obstacle course that pushes, pulls, subverts, and stretches your hero. In the process, the hero picks up what’s eventually going to be needed (physical items, character traits, knowledge, faith, what have you), while divesting herself of wrong beliefs, weaknesses, etc., shaping the hero into exactly what is needed to win in Act Three. The hero’s relationships will be tested, trust will be lost or gained.
Yet you also have to set up red herrings… other ways for the story to end.
All of this sounds extreme, right? I must be talking about thrillers and adventures.
Except I’m not. This is true for all stories. The stakes may be higher or lower, depending on the story, and the trials your hero goes through maybe be more funny than scary, less or more dire.
In my book, Do Angels Still Fall?, Bungy is picked on, disciplined by his parents, afraid his brother will die, afraid he won’t ever have friends, and experiences a major loss. For Bungy, these are stratospheric stakes, but to us they may feel more pedestrian… and yet because our hero experiences them as huge, the reader will as well.
Here in the middle, your characters’ wants/motivations collide, align, re-align, and refine.
The middle is the bulk of the story, there are few hard and fast rules for it other than shaking up your hero and setting up Act Three. There is great freedom, but it should always relate to your dramatic question, or the spine of your story. Luke Skywalker doesn’t get a haircut or learn graphic design because that doesn’t tie into “Will Luke become a Jedi?”
If I had to make up a rule, have at least three increasingly difficult problems (betrayal, reversal, crisis of faith).
Further, think in terms of equipping your hero with the tools and will to win, without the hero necessarily knowing that’s what’s happening.
The rising crescendo culminates in the final battle. Act Two ends when the hero commits to the final battle.
We’ll look at Act Three, the Ending, tomorrow.