• West Cork Literary Festival 8-15 July 2022

Writing Through the Difficult Second Act: Really Useful Links by Lucy O’Callaghan

Writing.ie | Resources | Essential Guides | Links for Writers
Lucy O'Callaghan

Lucy O’Callaghan

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The 2nd Act is often referred to as the saggy middle. It can be when you lose momentum, experience writer’s block, and feel like giving up. You know the start of your story and hit the page writing, you know how it climaxes and how it all ties up but what about the middle? How do you connect the 1st and 3rd Acts without boring your reader? The 2nd Act is where you can really develop your story, characters, subplot, and ramp up the tension before going into Act 3. I have put together some articles, podcasts, and YouTube videos with some advice on getting through the 2nd Act.

  1. https://theeditorsblog.net/2010/12/14/sagging-soggy-middles/#:~:text=Use%20a%20subplot%20or%20thread,exposition%20that%20slows%20the%20story.

Stop the middle of your novel sagging by separating the middle into its own sections – beginning, middle, and end. Then give the beginning of the middle section the same attention you gave your story opening. Increase the tension and play with the pace. Take out the boring parts and take out the exposition that slows your story. This article tells the writer to end the middle of your story with a bang: introduce the unexpected, up the stakes for both the protagonist and the antagonist, push and shoot for boldness rather than seeking out the safe route.

  1. https://writerunboxed.com/2017/03/23/writing-through-the-soggy-infuriating-anxiety-inducing-middle/

This article discusses ways of diagnosing the problem with the saggy middle of your novel by looking at reorganising, researching, and relaxing and writing on.

  1. https://www.nownovel.com/blog/writing-middle-novel/

Now Novel tells us the middle of your novel needs to further develop your story after an engrossing start and set in place the build-up to the end. It shares 9 tips to do this, including raising uncertainty about character goals and outcomes, increasing plot complications and obstacles, and staying focused on eventual character goals.

  1. https://www.how-to-write-a-book-now.com/sagging-middle.html

This article tells us that sagging middles are generally the result of weak structure. If you are a panster or have failed to work out your plot structure in enough detail then it is all too easy to end up with a sagging middle. They often occur when there is no increase in tension as the plot progresses. In the move towards the climax, your characters should face increasingly bigger obstacles and challenges. The emotions should run higher and deeper.

  1. https://www.emwelsh.com/blog/writing-act-two

The most fun and easy way to get through your 2nd Act is to give some time to your side characters. You can also create more problems. If the path towards Act 3 seems like a straight shot forward, then you need to add some conflict. E.M. Walsh also suggests developing internal dilemmas. Use the second act to explore the bigger issues in dialogue or images and see how they add to the conflict of your story.

  1. https://www.well-storied.com/blog/second-act

Kristen talks about how important it is to understand the structure of the 2nd Act as this is vital to strong storytelling. You need to know how to connect your story’s introduction and resolution. She breaks down the 2nd Act and, using examples of novels, shows us that Act 2 is about opposition. Walking us through, she discusses the pre-midpoint reactionary hero, the game-changing mid-point, and the post-midpoint hero.


  1. https://authorpreneurpodcast.com/second-act/

This podcast discusses the three most important scenes you need to include in the second half of the second act: a series of action scenes, the second pinch point, and the renewed push.

  1. https://btleditorial.com/2020/03/04/the-writers-nook-podcast-episode-20-conquering-the-messy-middle/

Writing the middle of your story is the hardest part. In this episode of The Writer’s Nook podcast, Hannah and Leah discuss the messy middle of the novel and how to push through to finish your draft.


This video from Word Essential discusses if a soggy middle is a pantsing or plotting problem, how you can use supporting characters and subplots to help solve the problem, and how you can make scenes, that are boring but necessary, exciting in the overall scope of the book.

Reedsy tells us that knowing some key structure points for the 2nd Act can help keep up the momentum through the long middle of the novel.

In another video from Reedsy, the topic here is the midpoint. A midpoint can add structure to the 2nd Act by functioning as a turning point at the 50% mark of the book. How to write a compelling midpoint and structure your novel around it is discussed.

This video from Fiction Technician offers 3 different ways to approach the midpoint in your novel.

The 2nd Act is important to your story, it connects the beginning and the end. It needs to hold your reader and keep them engrossed just as much as the 1st and 3rd Act do. It is also a great opportunity to develop your characters. Take the time to make sure it feels right and take heart in knowing that gaps in this section can be fixed in the editing stage. Getting the story down is the most important thing. When you read it back as a full first draft, what you need to develop in your 2nd Act will hopefully become clear. I hope you have found this week’s column useful. As always, please get in touch if there are any topics you would like me to cover.

(c) Lucy O’Callaghan

Instagram: lucy.ocallaghan.31.

Facebook: @LucyCOCallaghan

Twitter: @LucyCOCallaghan

About the author

Writing since she was a child, Lucy penned her first story with her father called Arthur’s Arm, at the ripe old age of eight. She has been writing ever since. Inspired by her father’s love of the written word and her mother’s encouragement through a constant supply of wonderful stationary, she wrote short stories for her young children, which they subsequently illustrated.
A self-confessed people watcher, stories that happen to real people have always fascinated her and this motivated her move to writing contemporary women’s fiction. Her writing has been described as pacy, human, moving and very real.
Lucy has been part of a local writing group for over ten years and has taken creative writing classes with Paul McVeigh, Jamie O’Connell and Curtis Brown Creative. She truly found her tribe when she joined Writer’s Ink in May 2020. Experienced in beta reading and critiquing, she is currently editing and polishing her debut novel.
Follow her on Instagram: lucy.ocallaghan.31. Facebook and Twitter: @LucyCOCallaghan

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