How to Defeat the Second-Act Drafting Slog

I’m currently knee-deep in the second-act slog of my first draft of The Warden of Everfeld: Legacy.

The most important characters have been established. A couple of key side-characters and plots have been introduced, or at least teased. I have solid ideas for the ending.

I’m just having trouble getting there.

Working through the Second-Act Slog

It took me a while to realize what the issue has been. Since this is the first first draft I’ve written in over two years, I had sort of forgotten how to grind through this part.

It’s really easy to start a new novel. You’re excited to get the story moving, to introduce each of your characters, and to start seeing that word count tick upwards.

It’s also easy to finish a novel. You’ve envisioned the ending for weeks or months (hopefully), and you write furiously to get there until you can breathe a sigh of relief with that final punctuation marker.

It’s the middle that’s tough, and it’s taken me a few months to remember how I should be writing through this period, because my process necessarily changes at this point. I’m not as excited, the ending feels too far off to motivate me, and I get too hung up on details from the first 50,000 words that I have trouble getting to 60k, and 70k, and beyond.

So here are some things I had to remember how to do to get through the second act slog.

Think about the Bigger Themes

When starting the next chapter or the next scene becomes frustrating, I take a step back and think through the big questions for my story. Why am I writing these characters? What are the major themes I’m trying to uncover? Why does this particular conflict matter?

This gets my mind working on what I’ve written to this point, how I’ve touched on those big themes that started as grand ideas in my head, and how I can improve upon them.

Oftentimes, this results in me adding extra bits to earlier scenes, but those little pieces help pad the word count, the motivation, and keep you moving forward.

Make Your Characters Laugh, or Cry, or Fight

The middle sections of a novel can get bogged down with plot. Characters are on the move, but haven’t gotten anywhere yet, but you want them to have to work through whatever their inner conflict is.

So I try to get weird with a few scenes by stressing my characters out, or making the going rough, or allowing them to laugh with each other. These little flares of narrative personality usually end up revealing something interesting about your characters, or even moving the plot forward in unexpected ways.

Plus, they can be a nice change of pace for your readers.

Take Tons of Notes

Even if I’m not writing as much as I’d like to be during a slog, I tend to think about my story a lot. So I make sure to take notes in whatever form, even if it’s just to lay out a scene on paper.

Free writing has been a useful tool to me, where I try to answer one of my big plot questions and work through the character and narrative progression without worrying about formatting or punctuation. Just get the words down.

Sometimes, this can even be a single line of dialogue that becomes it own scene down the road. Write everything you’re thinking down, and you can always refer to it later.

Are We There Yet?

These and other techniques carried me through drafting struggles in my first novel, and it’s taken me until now to remember how to work through this middle portion.

I feel good with where I’m going, however. I just need to keep plugging away.

Steve D

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