Act Two Is a Little Long . . .

And then there was Act Two.

Usually Act One is the hard part to get right and then the rest of the acts fall into place, but this time Act Two is doing so much heavy lifting that it ballooned to 44,000 words.  Should be about 28,000, although that’s not happening.   Still, a chunk of this has to go (about 14,000 words maybe?)

 My ax is getting a workout this week.

So my plan for this novel was that Act 1 would be Nita’s stable world coming undone and her need to save the island, Act 2 would be Nita still trying to save the island with the new knowledge about the supernatural and her place in it, Act 3 would be Nita having to deal with the New Nick after the poisonings, and Act 4 would be Nita kicking ass on Earth and harrowing Hell to save Nick.

Two problems.  One is that those four are not a progression.  The thread in One, Two, and Four  is Nita trying to save the island, although Four has two focuses.  Three and Four are Nita trying to save Nick.  Pick a lane, Jenny.  Then there’s the genre which I only care about in terms of focus again: This isn’t as much a woman’s journey book (see Faking It, Maybe This Time) as it is a romance (see Welcome to Temptation).

So that means that while Nita’s goal is still going to be “save the island,” the juice of the story is Nick and Nita, two isolated people finding each other and connecting.

So Act 1 is Nita and Nick meeting and establishing a tentative relationship, not quite a partnership but close, Act 2 is the partnership and jockeying for power, Act 3 is trying to find each other  emotionally again as Nick loses his memory and becomes human, and Act 4 is them finishing their jobs on Earth and in Hell on their own and then the big finale when Nita goes to Hell to join Nick and gets her HEA (did you have any doubts?).

As I said, Act Two should be around 28,000 words, give or take a couple of thousand.  It’s at 44,000, probably because of the lack of focus. Also, I really love the sound of my own voice.  There are two possible ways to fix this.  

One is to cut 16,000 words, possibly moving some of them to Act 3, which at the moment is about at the length it should be so that just moves the problem on down the road.

The other is to go to a five act story, adding a turning point in the middle of the hellaciously long second act.  

I don’t have any problems with doing the second solution as long as the story needs it; there’s nothing sacred about four acts for a novel.  The problem is, I don’t think it needs it.  Act Two is a thematic whole, two one-of-a-kind beings finding a connection that Act Three then tests.  There’s nothing in Act 2 that acts as a turning point, it’s just Nick and Nita working together and growing closer and falling for each other.  That’s crucial, but the turning point comes when they’ve finally established their connection and Nick loses his memory and they have to start over.  Act Two can’t be arbitrarily split into two parts.  It’s a thematic whole.

So Act 2 is Nita’s meltdown, followed by working with Nick at the cabin, followed by that breakfast scene where Lilith shows up and Nita copes with the new normal, followed by pulling the team together (Jeo, Rab, Button, Max) and looking for hellgates, talking to the grandmas, getting the wedding license, going to the club, Nita taking Stripe out, and then breakfast where Nick gets poisoned.   This is also the place where the Button/Max subplot takes off.  

The things I think are essential: Nick helping Nita through her meltdown, Nick and Nita working together at the cabin (first beat of partnership progression), then pulling the team together, Button and Max’s subplot, Nick and Nita working together at the club (second beat of progression of the partnership), Nick and Nita in the apartment afterward (third beat of the progression), the bit with Stripe and Nick’s poisoning.

I can cut back the breakfast scene in the apartment, but I think it’s necessary not just for plot purposes (Lilith) but because it shows how easy Nita and Nick are together at that point even though they don’t really know anything about each other.  That’s where the proposal scene is, too, and that becomes a plot point.  The grandmothers are important for getting Nita’s background in because that explains a lot, but I’m betting they’re the Hotels of Act Two.   I might move them to Act 3, which will put that Act over, but I really like the different Nicks in Act 3 and I think 1934 Nick could have a good time with those grandmas.  I can elide the marriage license in a paragraph.  

What I’m looking at now is an act progression that’s maybe 38/32/30/10, which is within contract bounds and that still gives me the turning points I need, although it takes a good long time to get there, and that worries me.  I do not like my turning points being that far apart.   Must cut more.

So this week is Jenny with an Ax.  Good news: Act Three still needs some work but is at 22,000 right now and moves along a nice clip, full of snappy patter and action.  Act Four is under 10,000 and is pretty much done, so that’s good, no drawn-out climaxes.   So really it’s just the first 80,000 words . . .


15 thoughts on “Act Two Is a Little Long . . .

  1. Write, Jenny, write! Or chop? Hehehe

    And may I say how much I appreciate the work that you put into your novels? That you think about things like timing, and is the story progressing, and is something just the author liking her own voice rather than giving crucial information? I know we all want you to write quickly but having just read a book from an author who I think legit just copy pasted 2/3 of it from the prior two books in the series, man am I appreciative of the work you do.

    I think it was in Popcorn Dialogues where you discussed what a story is: that time in the person’s life where things are changing, where our person goes from stable to not to stable again and anything before that point is just prologue, which is not necessary. Before you put it so succinctly, I didn’t realize how many stories are wasting pages, heh, like the one I mentioned above. Though, now that I think about it…I’m not even sure the last little bit of that book would qualify under the above definition of story. Can we have classes on this? Lol

      1. Um, I’m sorry, but this is just wrong. The classes were definitely hard, but they were fun! I miss them, actually.

        1. I love following your analyses of what you’re doing with this book. It opens my eyes on so many levels. So it’s a kind of class – at least that’s the way I’m treating it.

  2. I’m just being curious about a field I know nothing about.

    Does your contract mandate the split into acts, or the total number of words, or what?

    I’m curious in general but also curious because one of my favorite authors routinely has to split her novels into 2 because they are too long. I guess at this point her editor knows what she is in for, but is usually trouble to go too long (outside of linguistic reasons)?

    1. The acts things is the way I structure, nothing in the contract says I have to do that.

      I’m contracted for works of fiction of 100,000 words. That’s it. I can go 10,000 words over or under that without a problem. After that, it starts to affect the bottom line. Fast Women, as I remember, was 116,000 and they didn’t have a problem with that.

      Basically, if I write a novel, St Martin’s Press gets it first, and it has to be within those parameters unless we go to contract for a different word length.

  3. I have a writing-related question that I forgot to ask in Good Book Thursday last week.

    I have realized two trends in English writing and, not being a native English speaking/reading/writing person myself, they confuse me. It’s about dialogue-writing that for instance goes either:

    “Shut up!” Pete shouted.


    “Shut up!” shouted Pete.

    I mostly come across the first example, where the verb is at the end. Therefore, when I bump into the second one, it makes me question whether that’s correct writing or not. To me, the second version looks like a Swede has written English with Swedish grammar. So, are they both correct? Are there rules that decide whether you use the former or the latter word order? Please enlighten me!

    Ps. Good luck with the axe, Jenny. Make sure your fingers don’t get caught between the blade and the words!

    1. I’d say they’re both correct – in fact I tend to use the second one, unless the rhythm of the sentence requires the first. I THINK it’s just personal preference, and I’ve never had an editor pick me up on it, either way.

    2. They’re both correct, the second one is just harder to read.
      Generally speaking (VERY generally), the clearest way to write a sentence in English is Noun Verb, as in “This person is doing the action” followed by “this is the action the person is doing.” If the doer is more important than what’s being done, the doer goes first. So in the case of “Peter said” to set up dialogue, the important thing in the phrase is who’s doing the saying, especially if it follows a line of dialogue so that we already know the action is saying something.
      “Said Peter” means the same thing, it just buries the important part of the phrase.
      Having said that, it’s a judgment call. I don’t think I’ve ever used the “said Peter” construction, but I’m anti-passive voice, too, so I pretty much always go noun first.

      1. In German (and that might be true with Swedish, too) there are crazy grammar rules. So you have to say:
        Peter said: “I am hungry”
        but if you turn the sentence around, it needs to be
        “I am hungry”, said Peter.
        (This is also the mandatory punctuation.)

        That’s where non-native speakers usually go wrong in German – and Germans who are studying English are always told that you should place the noun before the verb. (As it is done in most other languages too, I suspect.) So it feels wrong to see it the other way round.

        1. German has the same inversion rule my mother tongue (Dutch) has, and I assume Swedish as well, from what Shass says. In an independent clause the verb takes the second place in the sentence. If you want to put something other than the subject in front of it, the subject has to move to third place, because the verb stays in second place.
          Example: *Sie kommt morgen* (She’s coming tomorrow). With inversion: *Morgen kommt sie*. In English putting ‘tomorrow’ in front would sound a bit strange with the present continuous, but there’s no problem with bumping the verb to third place: *Tomorrow she goes*, for instance.
          English does do inversion though. Just today I was listening to the song ‘Comes love’, and in nearly every line of that song subject and verb are inverted (Comes a rainstorm, etc.) as they are in the title.

  4. “There’s nothing in Act 2 that acts as a turning point, it’s just Nick and Nita working together and growing closer and falling for each other.”

    For what it’s worth, that’s my favorite part of a book. If I want a part to last longer, it’s that part. So by all means, chop away, but you have at least one reader who would read friends and partners for 50k words.

  5. I love love love your craft lessons. Thank you for posting them.

    I do have one question though? In Act 1, you say it’s Nita dealing with her stable world becoming unstable. But how stable can a police officer with psychic powers and insane family be? I’m only analyzing it through my lens but I’ve had a very stressful job (criminal related) for 6 years and it never gets to be routine. It’s often uncomfortable, that constant feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop, for things to get more dangerous/worse.

    I’m interested to hear how other readers feel about it? Does anyone have a high-stress job in law enforcement or hospitals, etc?

    1. “Stable” in this fictional sense means “business as usual.” Most people deal with family in an ongoing fashion; they may not like their families or even be comfortable with them, but they’re not in crisis mode. Same thing for the job; you may hate your job, but you can do it as long as it’s not disruptive enough to make you quit. “Stable” does not mean “happy” or “healthy.” It means you can handle it, you know what’s heading your way, and you’re not panicking. “Unstable” is when something unforeseen happens and you don’t have the skills/strength/support/knowledge to take care of it and your world falls apart.

      So Act One is Nita dealing with the chaos in her life as she’s always dealt with it: she remains slightly removed, she identifies problems, she figures out ways to address those problems, and that gets her through Act One as things disintegrate around her until she finally reaches the end of stability when she watches Nick kill with fire. Forcas’s head is bad, but Nick as the Devil (future) is the end. She can’t control him, she can’t fix things, and nothing she knows to be true about reality and the supernatural is left. She’s in an unstable world. And the rest of the book is her trying to find a new stability. She’s never going to get her old world back–that’s a good thing–but she does have to fight to establish a life in which she’s standing on solid ground, which is what she does at the climax.


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