Act 2 Plotting in 5 Easy Questions

by Susan May Warren, @SusanMayWarren 


I always get the Chapter Seven Blues. I know it’s inevitable, but I seem to forget that it happens, and often I’ll find myself down in the kitchen, moping (and looking for chocolate) and my husband will say… “You’re at Chapter 7, aren’t you?”
I’ll turn, stare at him, and nod. “How did you know that?”“Because the excitement of the story has gotten you through chapter 3, and Act 1, and the momentum carried you into chapters 4-6, but now the steam has died in the middle of Act 2, and you’re down here hunting for inspiration.” (This is usually accompanied by him taking the bag of chocolate chips out of my hand.)

He’s dead right. I’m smack in the middle of the long highway weaving through Act 2, and it’s been a LOOOONG time since I’ve seen a road sign.That’s when I trudge back to my office and pull out my plotting roadmap. It’s not long after that I’m pedal to the metal down the highway, headed to Act 3. All I needed was a little direction. And that’s where my Act 2 plotting helped save the day.

The truth is, most writers lose their steam in Act 2. But it’s really just a matter of knowing where your character is going, and the stepping stones to getting him there.

Act 2 is comprised of 4 major steps and 5 easy questions.

Step 1: Attempt (and failure) – This happens early in Act 2, when your characters motivation and enthusiasm for victory are high. They can conquer the world! Except they don’t. It’s imperative that they fail on some level (even if they have a win of some sort), because it injects conflict and a fear of failure into the story. Without this, there’s no contest. If winning is sure thing, then the story is boring. (like when a basketball team wins 87 to 14. Yuck).

Ask: What can I have my character fail at that makes him doubt himself or victory?

After the Attempt (and failure), your character must consider three things:

The Cost: What it might cost him to go on this journey – what he might lose.
The Rewards: What prize awaits him ?
Desire: Why does he want to do this? (and this desire must be greater or equal than the cost!)

*All of these should add up to enough motivation to continue the journey.

Step 2: Training for Battle – This is the “fun and games” or the bulk of the story. Here is wherey your character changes and grows as a person.

Ask: What steps will your character take to win the day? (break your plotting down to smaller steps – it will help you construct your scenes).

However, sadly, the way we grow is often through struggle. So, you’re going to have to put your character through his paces. You’ll do this by causing conflict at each step. (Note: Sometimes, something GOOD happens…but it still causes conflict. Like rescuing the heroine might ignite all of Troy to assemble on your beach!)

The key is…after the conflict, your character must make a decision about what to do next. It’s this decision that both continues his journey and causes him to change and grow. (I call this decision the Y in the Road).

I’ve gone round and round on terms for these, and my last Deep Thinker’s group settled on these: (yes, I know it’s bad grammar, but it works!)

Bad+ Y in the Road
Badder + Y in the Road
Baddest Y in the Road

Ask: What conflict will I cause for my character, and how will his/her decision after this cause him/her to grow?

Step 3: Attempt (and mini-victory)
– Your character has to have some taste of victory, or he/she will simply give up. If you feel your character needs this victory during the Training for Battle stage…make it happen! These are simply roadmarkers, but they can be moved around. The key is to always remember to keep enough motivation for every decision your character makes. However, I like to put this right before the Black Moment, to remind him of what he has to fight for.

Ask: How can I give my character a taste of Victory, or HEA?


Step 4: The Black Moment Event! –
We’ve already plotting this event when we did our Dark Moment plotting and discovered our character’s Greatest Fear. The confirmation of the Lie and the Epiphany come at the beginning of Act 3, with the Black Moment Effect.

But, as a review, ask: What is my character’s great fear, and how will I make this happen?

Some people ask WHY do we have to have a Black Moment. That’s a much longer post, but the short of it is – it is only after our Black Moments that we truly experience deep change. (And, it makes for a fabulous story.)

Quick Skill: Plot the Roadmarkers of Act 2 before you start on your journey. You can always change it later as you get into the story, but this way, hopefully you won’t find yourself lost in the wasteland of Chapter 7, singing the blues.

Happy Writing!

Susie May

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A Matter of Trust (Montana Rescue Book #3)

Champion backcountry snowboarder Gage Watson has left the limelight behind after the death of one of his fans. After being sued for negligence and stripped of his sponsorships, he’s remade his life as a ski patrol in Montana’s rugged mountains, as well as serving on the PEAK Rescue team. But he can’t seem to find his footing–or forget the woman he loved, who betrayed him.Senator and former attorney Ella Blair spends much of her time in the limelight as the second-youngest senator in the country. But she has a secret–one that cost Gage his career. More than anything, she wants to atone for her betrayal of him in the courtroom and find a way to help him put his career back on track.

When Ella’s brother goes missing on one of Glacier National Park’s most dangerous peaks, Gage and his team are called in for the rescue. But Gage isn’t so sure he wants to help the woman who destroyed his life. More, when she insists on joining the search, he’ll have to keep her safe while finding her reckless brother, a recipe for disaster when a snowstorm hits the mountain.

But old sparks relight as they search for the missing snowboarder–and suddenly, they are faced with emotions neither can deny. But when Ella’s secret is revealed, can they learn to trust each other–even when disaster happens again? 

Susan May Warren is owner of Novel Rocket and the founder of Novel.Academy. A Christy and RITA award-winning author of over fifty novels with Tyndale, BarbourSteeple HillSummerside Press and Revell publishers, she’s an eight-timeChristy award finalist, a three-time RITA Finalist, and a multi-winner of the Inspirational Readers Choice award and the ACFW Carol. A popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation, she’s also the author of the popular writing method, The Story Equation. A full listing of her titles, reviews and awards can be found at: www.susanmaywarren.com. Contact her at: susan@mybooktherapy.com.