The Basics of the Three Act Structure: Act II (the Middle)

The Basics of the Three Act Structure: Act II (the Middle)

The simplest building blocks of a story are found in the basic Three Act Structure (which can be used for both screenplay and novels). Act 1 is the beginning, Act 2 is the middle, and Act 3 is the ending. The components in the Three Act Structure are basically fundamental stages along the way of a story. To summarize the acts before I develop Act 2 and its components, I’ll say that:

Act 1 consists of the first quarter of the novel (or screenplay)

Act 2 consists of the next two quarters of the novel (or screenplay)

Act 3 consists of the final quarter of the novel (or screenplay)


What happens in Act 2?

Act 2 is usually called the confrontation, and the basic components in the second act are:

  • Obstacles — The main character needs to encounter obstacle after obstacle for him/her to develop and for the story to be interesting to the reader. These obstacles are meant to prevent the main character from achieving his/her goal/goals and desire/desires.
  • The complication — The complication usually comes at the beginning of Act 2. The problem that you set up in Act 1 has to become much more dangerous and difficult now.
  • Pinch point 1 — This is the part of the story just before the midpoint. Here is where the antagonist shows his muscles and interferes into the main characters road to achieving his/her goal/desire and makes everything fall apart. This leads to the midpoint.
  • Midpoint — The midpoint is in the middle of the story (hence the title of this part of the structure). Here is where the main character reaches his/her lowest point and seems farthest from fulfilling his/her goal/desire.
  • Plot point #2 — This is the part of the story that pushes the plot in a new direction and leads the story into the final act, Act 3.


Now, let us take a deeper look into Act 2.

Act 2 is basically about the emotional journey of the main character. Give your characters all sorts of challenges to overcome, because the key in this act is conflict. Without conflict you can’t move the story forward. Conflict does not always mean a literal fight, but it can be all kinds of obstacles that keep the main character from achieving his/her goal/desire. Think about internal and external conflicts. Remember to continually raise the stakes of your main character’s journey.

These complications, conflicts, or obstacles leads to smaller critical points that are — usually — temporarily resolved. These smaller critical points ultimately lead to the big crisis of Act 2 — Plot point #2, which ends the second act.

Just before Plot point #2 there should be a ”black moment” or a ”darkest moment” that is a point at which all is lost and the goal/desire of the main character can’t be achieved. In order to have a Climax where the tension is highest you must have a ”black moment” or ”darkest moment” where the stakes are highest and danger at its worst.

Plot point #2 thrusts the story in another unexpected direction. This plot point occurs at the moment the main character appears beaten or lost but something happens to turn the situation around. The main character’s goal/desire becomes reachable because he/she draws upon a new strength or lessons he/she has learned in order to take action and bring the story to a conclusion.

I’ll be telling you more about the third act of this Three Act Structure in another blogposts that is to come.

Is there anything else you put into Act 2 that I’ve not mentioned in this post?

The Basics of the Three Act Structure: Act II (the Middle)
The Basics of the Three Act Structure: Act II (the Middle)