Episode 34

Tips for Writing Act 2 of a Novel

We grapple with the second checkpoint in Act 2 of a three-act novel: the Struggle. Plus, I tell you about giveaways and events taking place during Banned Books Week.

Music licensed from Storyblocks:

“More Jam Please” by Raighes Factory

“Warm Summer” by Valentina Gribanova

“A Dramatic Twist” by Neil Cross (conspiracy theory music)

"Hip Hop" by Oleksii Abramovych

“Only One” by Humans Win

“Summertime Love” by Humans Win

Rosemi Mederos:

If you have plot bunnies coming out of your plot holes, it’s time for a writing break.

It is Banned Books Week. I hope you’re resisting the thought police by reading a frequently banned book. You are a creative thinker. You’re not scared of a book. Except maybe your own. Today, we grapple with the second checkpoint in Act 2 of a three-act novel: the Struggle, and you get to buy a notebook everytime I say show notes.

The Writing Break cafe is open, so let’s find a corner booth where we can talk about the latest publishing news.

In June, Spotify officially acquired the audiobooks distributor Findaway, and now Spotify CFO Paul Vogel has confirmed that they are working on offering audiobooks to its customers. Vogel thinks that Spotify ”can really innovate and create something that is different,” but he didn’t give any specifics as to what that means.

The theme for this year’s Banned Books Week is “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.” Here’s what’s going on this week.

DK, which is part of Penguin Random House, is promoting its new release called Banned Books: The World’s Most Controversial Books, Past and Present with, among other things, a mini banned books library giveaway (check the show notes to enter).

HarperCollins Children’s Books is giving 1,000 banned books to Little Free Libraries nationwide.

DK, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, and more are offering free resources for educators, librarians, and booksellers. They are also participating in virtual book events all week long. Check the show notes for more information.


Links to these lists can be found in the show notes of this episode and on writingbreak.com.

Now, let’s head over to the Overthinking Couch for Writing Break’s first conspiracy theory.

Okay, are you ready to hear my Banned Books Week conspiracy theory? Banning and challenging a book results in that book selling a lot more copies. What if the recent increase in book bans is due to fans just wanting to get more people to read and discuss their favorite books? Hmm? What if it’s all just an elaborate ruse to increase their favorite book’s fandom? Could be. Or it could be the late summer heat finally got to me. Either way, let’s take a break and head to an independent bookstore.

We are in The Last Word bookshop in Lahore, Pakistan. With its light-colored tiled floors, wooden bookshelves, and colorful seating, this brightly lit space meets all the criteria for being a dependable bookshop. But what sets The Last Word apart is the rich dialogue the store owners share with their customers online and in person.

No matter where you are in the world, I recommend following them on Instagram for helpful book summaries and excellent recommendations, such as books you can read in one sitting and books you should pair together.

The Last Word also hosts community fundraisers and author events, so let’s check out an independent author and publisher who will be appearing at their store this Friday, September 23rd.

A publishing renaissance is happening in Pakistan, and some women are leading the way by starting their own publishing houses. One in particular who caught my attention recently is Taiba Abbas, the founder of Àla Books. Her first book, which she co-wrote with her mother, is called The Night in Her Hair.

“Down the northern belt of the mountains, through the fields and rivers of Punjab, to the warm coast of the Arabian Sea – The Night In Her Hair bears witness to lives that became the most extraordinary legacy of spiritual and literary traditions of Sufi thought – lives that continue to shape our creative expression as indelible motifs woven deep inside our cultural psyche and identity.”

The writing is beautiful, and I invite you to check the show notes of this episode to read a generous 39-page excerpt of The Night in Her Hair for free. No email needed.

Now, let’s share that oversized blue ottoman and get into today’s writing tips.


Last week, we started our discussion of Act 2. I told you that Act 2’s checkpoints are Crisis, Struggle, and Epiphany, and we went over the Crisis checkpoint, which is an internal moment with no plot. This week, we are reviewing the Struggle checkpoint. The Struggle definitely has plot, so momentum and pacing is important here.

You must keep upping the stakes. Your protagonist is failing, and the results are more and more catastrophic. Give your protagonist a cause that is greater than him or herself. All of this will build sympathy. Always check that the intensity of your plot matches your book’s genre. If you’re writing fantasy, sci-fi, or thrillers, for example, your audience is expecting some bad things to happen. On the other hand, don’t go killing puppies in a Christmas book.

During the Struggle, the actions of the antagonist are causing setbacks and causing the stakes to get higher and higher. This is true even when the antagonist remains hidden (such as Professor Moriarty in the Sherlock Holmes books).

The Struggle is a series of plot complications as things get progressively worse. The end of the Struggle is a great spot for a Dark Night of the Soul type of moment when all hope is lost but then a glimmer happens that causes the Epiphany.

We’ll talk about the Epiphany next week.

This week, you can plan out your book’s Struggle in much the same way as you planned out the Crisis last week.

Write a single sentence that describes the Struggle, then make a list of the scenes needed to get through the writing of the Struggle, writing just enough words to remember what each scene is about.

The Struggle will have many scenes. Some scenes might be short, and some scenes might be repeated several times if the protagonist tries to accomplish things in several ways. Think about Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. One important reason to outline your book before writing is so that during the revision process, you can better identify what is necessary and engaging and what is superfluous fluff. Authors often fall in love with a great scene they’ve written that doesn’t quite fit the book. Having thought out the book beforehand will keep you from subjecting readers to your hubris.

Remember, during the Struggle, the stakes are upping, and the protagonist is not going to be able to do something truly effective until Act 3.

Thanks for listening, and as always, you deserved this break.

If you would like us to visit your favorite independent bookstore, feature your favorite independent author (even if it’s you), or discuss something you’re overthinking about, please email me at podcast@writingbreak.com.

Thank you for making space in your mind for The Muse today.

Writing Break is hosted by America’s Editor and produced by Allon Media with technical direction by Gus Aviles. Visit us at writingbreak.com or contact us at podcast@writingbreak.com.

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Rosemi Mederos


Rosemi is the founder of America's Editor, a book editing company.