The Second Act is the longest act in the 3-Act Structure. It includes the second and third quarters of the story (50%). This is when the protagonist begins their journey in earnest as they pursue their want, also known as their goal. The Second Act is also where they encounter setback after setback. During the Second Act, the protagonist should be in defensive mode, reacting to each setback as it occurs, rather than being in offensive mode.
The setbacks should create increasing difficulty for the protagonist as they pursue their goal. In other words, the conflict must rise with each setback. The protagonist can succeed and gain small bits of knowledge, but something worse happens because of these small successes. In other words, think of this element of the story as two steps forward, one step back. With the setbacks and small successes, the protagonist should always remember what the stakes are and what it is that motivates them to face these difficult obstacles.
Note that the first setback can blindside the protagonist, but the second and third setbacks should be because the protagonist caused them by making bad decisions (based on their fear, flaw, or misbelief and their desire to avoid pain and discomfort). Bad decisions are the catalyst that force the protagonist to grow and change.
Think back to a time when you didn’t fully grasp how to accomplish a task or to a time when you made the wrong decision. What did you do after those events? Likely, you changed the method for accomplishing the task – you got better at it with each iteration, or you reflected on a wrong decision and changed your way of thinking. In each case, you grew a little as a person – your protagonist should do the same.
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