I’ve heard it said that each book presents its own challenges and for this one, I think I am going to remember it for the second act. I’ve written it twice now and both times, it is off, the first breaking the cannon of the universe, the second languishing in the passivity of the characters.
Normally when there are problems with the writing I strip it all back; I go with a notebook and pen to somewhere quiet, away from the internet, and write the scene by hand. But this time the problem is a little more serious.

The third act is solid, and whilst the first act could be a little tighter, as a draft it’s where I would expect it to be. But the more I looked at the second act, the more I knew something was seriously wrong.
Now, in such situations, there are things you can do. The first is to give up writing, to say it’s all too much for you and you have no place in this business anyway! Trust me, it’s felt tempting the last few weeks as no matter what I wrote, it all felt slightly off. The second is to use your craft to mask the issue. A bit of skilful writing could cover up the issue that the characters lack agency in the second act. A reviewer would probably pick it up though, say that it drags in the second act, and mark it down accordingly. But I might be able to slip the fault past some readers.
As clouded as it sometimes gets now I’m published, I write books for myself and I, therefore, write to the standard I set myself. This, he says waving he hands around in the general direction of the second act, isn’t acceptable. So I go for the third option, which is to go find the problem and fix it.
Trouble was I didn’t have the skills to unpick this. I’ve never had to deal with something like this and it’s both exciting and terrifying. I wasn’t even sure what the problem was other than the fact that the story seems to somehow derail in the second act. If this was an 80’s action movie, it would be akin to being dropped behind enemy lines with no weapons, no support and a limited amount of time before the terrorists killed the hostages.
Now, it’s easy to get lost in process. It’s easy to think that reading lots of books on the subject will cure your problem when in fact what’s needed is to just keep writing. It’s like the 80’s action movie analogy. It’s OK to fashion arrows out of sticks, to bend tress into catapults, cover traps with leaves… but at the end of the day, they are no good unless you kill a lot of bad guys. I knew specifically what I needed, something to identify and then fix the issue.
I don’t think it’s bad to invest time in your craft so long as it’s not taking away from your writing. That said, I gave myself a couple of weeks off writing to do this. Better that I take two weeks out and try and fix the problem than just write drafts I’m going to throw away.
I’ve done a ridiculous amount of work. I’ve put process in around my writing, given it a bit more structure. I always thought I was a gardener and became a very reluctant architect when I realised otherwise, but this means me going full-on architect.
To be fair, it’s already paid dividends. I’ve used it as an audit tool to try and identify where the issue lay and within a few days identified that the problem lay in the plot of act 2. Act 1 works, so does act 3, but act 2 just treads water.
I’ll admit, a broken plot scared the bejezzus out of me. You can’t easily fudge that one so it’s either do or die. So this week has been spent working on plot, going through the book (working from Act 3 backwards) with a view that everything and anything is expendable.
It’s scary and slow, mainly because I’ve never plotted at this level before. I also have a concern that this level of plotting might kill the writing for me… that the act of writing it down will somehow make me disinterested in actually writing the act.
To combat this, I’ve been using it to simultaneously plot a future novel. If I fully plot and still want to write it my feeling is that I have nothing to worry about. It’s also a rare chance to fully embrace those ideas of ‘other things I could be writing’ that always seem to form when I’m knee deep in novel.
So I’m surrounded by notes and practising new skills. The hope is that this won’t just only fix the problem but speed up the writing afterwards. Once I’ve refined the processes I can also share them with you (that sorts out what to blog about for months to come!). If nothing else it should go some way to fixing the problems of act 2 and hopefully give me another separate novel, ready to write.
We’ll see!