Have you ever been burned by your story?
Often, authors get burned in the second act, and when it’s time to start the third act, the writing can feel like a relationship gone bad. By this point, it feels a bit like we’ve been living in a Van Halen song.
I get up, and nothin’ gets me down
You got it tough, I’ve seen the toughest around
And I know, baby, just how you feel
You got to roll with the punches and get to what’s real
I’ve Seen the Toughest Around
Our second act is the toughest around. By the end of it, we are tired, and our characters are bruised, battered, broken. They’re often alone, have destroyed relationships, or have gotten themselves into a dark place and can’t see the way out. They’ve seen the toughest parts of their story so far.
But we gotta…
Roll with the Punches to Get to What’s Real
Your story finds its central truth in the third act. And it’s often in the third act that you figure out what went wrong in the first act (more on that in a future post!). Here in the third act, your character puts to use all the things they’ve learned over the course of the story. From losing their relative innocence in the first act to dodging obstacles in the second, your character has stretched and grown since those first few scenes.
The third act is the final test.
Ow Oh, Hey You!
Ow oh, hey you
Who said that?
Baby, how you been?
So here we are, ouching our way into the third act. It’s at this moment that our main character’s friends and allies are coming back on the scene, ready to make amends, asking, “Baby, how you been?”
We start reconnecting and healing broken ties. Our character’s allies take a deep breath and decide to team up one more time to fight this final battle. Because despite the dark moments of the second act, our Big Bad is still out there, and it’s bigger and badder than before.
And there will be moments that you, the author, face the risk of your story burning you again. Even though you see the end in sight, there will still be moments of the unknown, of finding that you’ve written yourself into a corner, or you’ve forgotten about a secondary character, or something you’ve long imagined no longer fits the story. Your character, too, still makes missteps and mistakes that they have to work through.
But there will be moments of brilliance.
You Won’t Know Until You Begin
You say you don’t know
You won’t know until you begin
At this point in the story, you probably have a good idea of what secrets you’re about to reveal to your reader. That is an exciting part of the process. Your readers have no idea how you can possibly pull all those puzzle pieces together, and you get to show them the final picture.
Even if you don’t know exactly how to tie things together, this is where your subconscious goes to work, pulling in ideas and moments you’ve already written, but didn’t realize were important until now. Because you simply won’t know until you begin the writing of this act and get the words on the page.
Might as Well Jump
Ah, might as well jump (jump)
Might as well jump
Go ahead an’ jump (jump)
Go ahead and jump
Sure, the second act burned. It always does. And the third act is tough to write. You have to consider all the loose threads you’ve got dangling around your story and make sure there is a satisfying ending, as well as, if it’s a series, a good hook to keep reading the next book. There’s a lot riding on the third act. A lot of room to be burned.
I think Van Halen has the best advice for us here. You, and your character, well…
You might as well jump. You’ve seen the toughest there is. You are prepared to face the coming battle. You’re ready.
So go ahead. Jump.