One of the first things I knew I needed to learn was how to write better-plotted novels. I doubt I’m all the way there yet and even if I know what to do, the problem of translating what I know onto the page remains. But I have picked up a few things, some learned the hard way and some ‘a ha’ moments from books on writing I’ve read. One thing that propels a story forward is tension. Need.
Grab a book, preferably a draft of a book. It can be one of your drafts or it could be a manuscript someone’s given you to critique. Start reading and watch for something: Does your mind start to wander? Where did you put the book down? Did you get bored at any point? Let’s assume so (if it didn’t you are probably looking at a well-plotted story or it features an engrossing character…either way, the author is doing something right). Make a note of where you stopped really reading.
More likely than not, the place or places you marked are area where the writer failed to drag you along with them. There was no tension. No need. Personally, my goal is to write stories that the reader just can’t put down. Or, at the very least, makes them want to pick up the sequel immediately. Something must drive the protagonist from scene to scene. Yes, it should be the character’s will that sets the plot in motion (by my preference at least) but there needs to be a reason for each scene change. There has to be a need. There should be a tension that hauls the story along, that keeps the plot moving.
Need should create scenes, not the plot. Too many times I read scenes, some of my own, where I’m sitting back and wondering why they’re going there, why they’re talking to this person. The reason, sadly, is because the plot requires them to go there, to talk to that person. That’s not a good enough reason. A need must exist in the story itself to lead one scene to another.
Additionally, tension or high stakes help. If a character is going to the store to get butter or because they’re bored…so what? But if they’re leaving to get medicine a family member needs, that’s even better. What if it’s not just medicine, what if it’s insulin? Now the trip to the store has tension, especially when it gets interrupted. (something bad does happen on the way to or from the store, right?)
Tension and need. From now on, I want to make sure I create those things on every page or at the very least, in every scene.