Act 2 is the bulk of your story. This is where all the good stuff happens. In my opinion, the second act is the most captivating because the characters are already knows, the boundaries are set, and you’re just enjoying the show the author created for you. Just like Act 1 had specific tasks, so does Act 2. It should build tension, increase conflict, and end with the climax.
This is what hooks the reader. Now that Act 1 has successfully invested your readers, now is where the fun begins. The trick is to never give your characters what they need to resolve the conflict. The inciting incident is the only form of conflict that your readers know about coming in to Act 2, and it’s your job as the writer to stretch the tension out as long as you can before the climax. You need your characters to feel so pulled and stressed about the conflict that they are about to snap–because that’s what the climax is, but we will look at that in a minute.
You can do this by continually raising the stakes through plot points. Let’s say Bobby’s (see Act 1 for Bobby’s story) first plot point is meeting with his lawyer. Instead of having the lawyer automatically know just what to say to get Bobby out of the predicament he’s in (it’s a big scandal, after all), he feels that there isn’t any evidence on earth that would prevent Bobby from being convicted. He’s obviously done things to give himself higher standings in the past–why wouldn’t he now? Or, you could have the lawyer feel that his reputation is at stake if he helps a game-throwing liar like Bobby and does everything he can to incriminate him–all behind the scenes, of course. These would both raise the stakes for Bobby because his goal is becoming less and less attainable.
Just as you would use plot points to build tension, you will also use them to build conflict. This would be when, as Bobby continues to reach out for help, less and less help is available. He becomes desperate to clear his name. Increased conflict usually means increased tension, but note that they are different. Tension is what your character feels–it’s what drives him internally; conflict is the circumstances in which he is put.
An example of increased conflict would be Bobby’s lawyer denying to speak for him and all the other lawyers turning up their noses which leaves only the needy, sly ones that Bobby doesn’t trust. THEN those lawyers leaving as well. These are physical occurrences. The conflict doesn’t even have to be that big of one–but it has to mean the world to your character.
So, after weeks of trying to get lawyers to back him, emotionally drained Bobby returns home one day to see a letter on the table from his father. He opens it up to read that his father is disappointed in what he had done. This little instance could bring your story to a boiling, steaming, spewing climax. Especially if the only reason Bobby had played baseball was to make his dad proud, and now THIS! It doesn’t even matter if he had actually thrown the game or not–now your character is at a breaking point.
Just as the name suggests, this is the pinnacle of your story. This is often called the point of no return because this is the instance in which your characters must decide to do something that they can never EVER take back. This is when all the tension that’s been building and all the conflict that’s been stewing finally crashes together.
It usually will be no longer than one scene, but it will be powerful.
For example, after weeks and weeks of agonizing emotional strain builds and builds like a wave, and when Bobby reads his dad’s letter, that wave comes crashing down on his head. He has to decide something to save not only his reputation, but also his relationship with his father, and it’s all up to him to do so. How can he make this right? How can he finally clear his name? He makes up his mind to do something. He sets up a televised conference. He let’s it be known to the public that he will be announcing something about the scandal. He steps up to the mike, knowing full and well that all of America is watching. He opens his mouth and announces: “I’m ashamed that any of you had believed that I had thrown the game. Never before had I ever shown any interest in sabotaging my team for the sake of my own career. If anything, I’ve sabotaged my own for the sake of my brothers. As a result, I am retiring prematurely. If an innocent player can be accused of an awful deed in which he is innocent, then I have no wish to participate.” And then he walks away from the mike. Not is this powerful, but it also gives a little history (from his alluding to never wanting to sabotage his team) and it have a choice that he can’t undo. BAM! All wrapped up in a nice little speech that shocks and stuns the audience–and the reader–because they had been sucked into thinking that maybe Bobby may have done it.
I hope this was helpful!
Thanks for reading!