This post will explain the key plot points we need to hit in Act Two - the conflict portion of your story.

This is a series of posts - now completed - which you can read in full here:

As always this is advice gleaned from K.M. Weiland’s “Structuring Your Novel”. Much of the explanation I’m going to give in this series is adapted from this book, but I advise you to pick up a copy for yourself - it’s a very simple but in-depth guide.

This post will explain the key plot points we need to hit in Act Two - the conflict portion of your story.

Act Two

By now you’ve got your cast of characters well established, the theme should be clear and the lead character is well and truly invested in the challenges ahead. In act two we see those challenges intensify, the stakes raised and it ends when things seem darkest, when he’s facing unsurmountable odds and failure seems certain…

1st Pinch Point

We left the story at the 1st Plot Point, when the true scale of the challenge was revealed. From there the protagonist is scrambling to get back on their feet after that revelation.

This 1st Pinch point is related, it’s the largest challenge faced by the hero so far, and serves to both give clues to the upcoming conflict and remind us all about the power of the enemy or antagonist. It tends to appear about mid-way between the first plot point and the midpoint - so about 37% of the way through.

Then follows a period where the lead character starts to go from simply reacting to what has been happening to him, and begins making some more informed decisions and plans, which we can refer to as the ‘realisation’.

Midpoint / 2nd Plot Point

Also known as the ‘Moment of Truth’ - this is where the real truth is revealed about the nature of the conflict. More headway is made against the protagonist and we begin to feel as if the hero will indeed win out.

This happens (unsurprisingly) at the middle point of the story, 50% of the way through.

It’s followed by the ‘action’ phase, where much of the progress against defeating the antagonist is made.

2nd Pinch Point

Echoing the 1st^ pinch point, this is another major setback and wake-up call to the hero. It will usually foreshadow the 3^rd Plot Point and helps remind us all what is at stake. Progress is still being made against the antagonist however.

This marks the end of act two, and the start of act three. As such it tends to show up just about 60% of the way through, and leads us up to the 66% mark.

As before, let’s explain these in more detail with a few examples.


Star Wars: A New Hope

1st Pinch Point

Luke, Ben & Han narrowly escape the Empire aboard the Millennium Falcon, and leave for Alderaan.

There is also a second pinch here when Alderaan is destroyed, but they can both be considered the 1st pinch point as far as the story goes - they are reminders of the reach & power of the Empire and what is at stake.

Realisation

Luke begins to learn the Force, we discover Han’s lack of idealism and Ben’s sensitivity when he feels the deaths caused by the destruction of Alderaan.

Midpoint

Our heroes discover the ruins of the planet, the Death Star is found, and they’re taken aboard. They discover Leia is aboard and resolve to rescue her.

Note that this is where they move from merely reacting to events to making plans and deciding what will happen.

Action

Ben releasing the tractor beam, Luke & Han working on a way to get Leia out of jail. They break her out, are ambushed by troops and need to escape in a hurry.

Second Pinch Point

The trash compactor scene. This is a great example of ‘out of the frying pan, into the fire’ and also helps to establish Leia’s ability to lead. Battling a slug-like creature and escaping the trash compactor bring us to the end of act two, with them about to reunite aboard their ship.

Despicable Me

1st Pinch Point

This is hard to pin down - let’s say it’s Gru almost ditching the girls, but it’s interspersed with other challenges that could also fill this role; the bank manager still refusing to help, the orphanage director, even just Gru’s disdain for the everyday needs of the children.

Realisation

More of Gru’s plans & scheming, but this section ends with the visit to the fair.

Midpoint

The scene at the fair when Gru takes a stand for what is right, and defends Agnes when the carnival game operator has rigged things.

Action

This is a shorter section, but you could argue that Gru’s still working towards his end goal with more purpose than before.

Second Pinch Point

Yet again turned down for the loan (in favour of a nepotistic decision by the bank manager to help his nephew, Gru’s rival) Gru seems to be lost. Agnes rallies the minions and donates her piggy bank to the cause.

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

1st Pinch Point

Arriving in Cairo they face local trouble, and Indy believes Marian has been killed in an explosion.

Realisation

All the more determined, Indy continues to search for the Ark; deciphering the amulet, realising he has information the Nazis don’t, and racing against them to find the answers he needs in the map room.

Midpoint

Indy finding the location of the Well Of Souls.

Action

Indy discovers Marian is still alive, but cannot rescue her in case it tips off his enemies. He finds the Ark, but they are discovered.

Second Pinch Point

Indy & Marian are trapped inside the Well of Souls with all the snakes. They escape, chase after the Ark and succeed in stealing it back.


Hopefully these popular examples will give you a better insight into the structure of the second act. It’s sometimes tricky to map every point exactly, as of course this is more of a guideline than a hard-and-fast set of rules, but as you can see these stories certainly follow this outline to a great extent.

In each of them you can see how the stakes can be constantly raised (from returning droids, to escaping the Empire, avenging a destroyed planet, and saving the very galaxy to pick one example), and how the characters’ true selves are tested and pushed to breaking point.

In the next entry, we’ll look at the final act - the journey from the darkest moment to the (hopefully) happy ending.

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