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Tuesday, October 24

Day Twenty-Four: Idea to Novel Workshop: The Act Two Choice

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Welcome to Day Twenty-Four of Fiction University’s At-Home Workshop: Idea to Novel in 31 Days. For the rest of the month, we’ll focus on plot and the major turning points of a novel.

Today, we’re looking at the plot-driving moment that gets us to the middle of the book.

The Act Two Choice

The act two choice is a transitional moment, linking the beginning of the novel with the middle. The protagonist embraces whatever problem he’s confronted with, and accepts the opportunity it offers to resolve that problem.

How he decides to deal with that problem establishes how the plot is going to unfold until the next step on the plot path. The act two choice launches the goal for the middle of the novel and drives the plot forward.

Why the act two choice is important: This shows the protagonist isn’t just reacting to what’s happening, but being a proactive character and making the novel happen. It’s his choice to move forward. And that choice creates the goal for the book’s middle.

Key Elements of the Act Two Choice
  • Shows the protagonist choosing to embrace the problem of the novel
  • Creates a goal and direction for the plot to follow
  • Has consequences for the choice not taken, or the choice made (or both)
  • Leads to the midpoint reversal

The act two choice frequently launches the protagonist’s character arc as well, because his flaw will be his weakness during the middle of the novel. He’ll struggle and fail, not seeing what he needs to do to become the person he wants to be.

Here are some things to consider to develop your act two choice:

1. What opportunity is offered at the end of act one?

2. Who is involved in this opportunity?

3. What are the choices offered?

4. How do these choices lead to the core conflict?

5. What consequences are there for making a choice?

6. How will this lead to the midpoint reversal?

7. What possible subplots might result from these choices?

8. What about the protagonist’s old world is he leaving behind?

9. What new opportunities or discoveries will the protagonist make going forward?

EXERCISE: Describe what your protagonist decides to do and how this sets him on the plot path to the midpoint.

Be as detailed or as vague as you’d like. Consider how this scene might lead to the next turning point of the novel. Add notes as you see fit.

If you’re not sure how much to write, aim for one to two paragraphs that describe what the choice is, why it’s important, how it changes things for the protagonist, how the stakes escalate, and where the protagonist will go from here. Writing more is also acceptable if you want to continue with how the plot would unfold to the next major turning point.

Those following along with the PYN book: Workshop Ten goes into more depth on the individual turning points of story structure, as well and the basics of scene and sequel structure. It also shares tips on plotting and story development.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at one of my favorite turning points, the midpoint reversal.

Follow along at home with the book, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure. Get more brainstorming questions and things to think about, in-depth articles, and clear examples of every step from idea to novel.

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A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), and Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means).   
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