The Maelstrom of Act Two

Act Two is the bane of my existence. It never fails to throw me a curve ball, whether it’s in the form of an unseen character direction, a massive wave of writer’s block, or general apathy toward what’s happening in my story.

I’ve become slightly more apt at wading through Act Two since I started outlining. I start with Blake Snyder‘s Beat Sheet and then progress to his recommended 40-scene outline, complete with emotion change and conflict spelled out for each scene. Even with such a detailed battle plan, I still hit kinks. A couple of characters fall for each other and demand I carry out their wishes on paper. A storyline headed in what looked like the way out finds that the path is actually just a dead-end in the house of mirrors known as the plot. These surprises are what make writing both incredibly frustrating and indescribably rewarding.

So what is it about Act Two that makes it so damn difficult? If we look at the creation of a story like we do parenthood, Act Two seems to be the rebellious teenage phase. Up until Act Two, we have a cute, possibly precocious, but still lovable little kid who listens to us and respects us. But as soon as we break into Act Two, that kid turns into a rude, pretentious, stubborn being full of hormones and topped off with a Napoleon complex. We start to question whether or not creating stories was really the best idea after all. The key, I think, is to pick and choose your battles. We can let our stories make some mistakes along the way (that’s why God made second drafts); what really matters is that we don’t let our stories forget who they are and what they stand for.

If we can muster up the courage to keep it together ’til Act Three, things almost always start to calm down. Our stories go off to college and realize that we storytellers were right about a few things after all. And we learn that our stories didn’t fall apart just because they took a turn we wouldn’t necessarily have chosen for them in the beginning. In fact, sometimes they’re better for it.

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