Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Why can't good things happen? -- writing tip
Question: People are telling me my plots are "too mundane." Okay, I know the story is the story, but even in stories, don't people have to go to the store? What's wrong with a character shopping for a new dress? I've seen it happen in books a hundred times. Somehow I don't seem to be getting the good story happening in my head to come out on the paper where I'm trying to write it down. They all pick on the same scenes for me to take out, so something must be wrong....
Answer: Quite often when folks complain about certain scenes, it's a matter of losing plot tension. If something important to the story line is going to happen at the store, after they buy the dress, or while they are considering it, then the scene will have plenty of tension to keep the reader's interest while the shopping goes on. If nothing is at stake while they stop everything and go shopping, then readers may complain about the scene without even realizing why...
The term tension, in fiction writing, has to do with the amount of stake the reader has in your characters and their actions. The more the reader cares what happens to your protagonist, the more tension there is. Good motivation increases tension. Editors have said (to me and of my own work) that a manuscript with middle sag "lacks tension." If the first turning point is resolved and we're building toward the crisis, but nothing much is going on, tension can be increased by inserting action that magnifies the danger to the hero or heroine. Any scene that makes it look like the protagonist is in danger of losing what he wants in the story can increase tension.
My friend Carla Neggers, from whom I learned to plot at an www.iwwg.org Summer Conference, says the way to do it is to put your character in a hole and every time they try to climb out, throw more dirt down on them. If you throw enough dirt, according to Carla, the Big Gloom (don't you just love all these technical terms?) her name for the bleak moment (when the reader is certain it's going to end in disaster), will arrive without looking contrived. This can be hard to do, because most of us love our characters and don't want to throw the dirt very hard.
Carla convinced me, way back when, that dirt was necessary, though, and she did me a big favor. It was only after I learned to keep pelting the characters with bad happenings, or bad things that MIGHT happen, that the books in my head started to come out on the paper.