February 8, 2017

Everything Counts

I'm writing this post because I just finished a book.

Good enough reason to to write a post, don't you think?

Actually, any time I finish a book, I'm either inspired, or horrified that certain things made it past an editor's scrutiny.

So! In light of these interesting thoughts of mine, I want to share a quote with you. I stumbled across it on Pinterest of all things, but it's poignant.

Make every sentence, every chapter, every thought and every character fight for their existence. 

Needless to say, the book I just finished was very slow.

But THINK about it. Really. Whenever you read a book that starts off slow, or throws in characters you don't care about, or tells you something irrelevant - you either finish the story out of pure stubborn committal, skip to the good part, or put the book away. It's frustrating.

So how do we fix this in our own writing?

It comes down to tension, I think.

Tension is what keeps your reader awake at 3 AM with a flashlight trying to get to a stopping point (but there is none). It's the panic induced speed reading because you are so concerned for the character's well being or success that you can't even pick up the details - hence a need for a second reading now that you know how it ends.

But knowing what tension looks like and creating it are two separate things. For some writers, it can be a serious struggle.

Here's a few things to try...


 Whether you are a Panster or a Plotter, this is a crucial skill to have down. While Plotters might be a bit more detailed in their story mapping, Pansters can learn a thing or two to improve tension. There is no room for meandering in a tension filled story. Meandering leads to rabbit trails and useless scenes (harsh, but you know it's true).
So, without cramping your panster style too much, write down some major plot points throughout your story. Make sure you get a good grip on how each point leads to another. This will help you stay on course as you write. No irrelevant plot points. EVERYTHING must add to the central story. Even subplots. 


Whatever you do, leave things unresolved. Regardless of whether or not you write mysteries, each chapter ought to be like a clue that drives your character forward. BUT, your story cannot officially resolve until the end of the book. It's a bit like a trail of candy that leads to a gingerbread house. The candy is enticing, but it's building up to the real deal. Each chapter adds something to story - reveals a secret - that pulls the reader in. However...ALWAYS, always, always, leave something unknown. Keep your characters stubborn in that way.
 If there is still a stone left unturned, your reader will always have a reason to keep going. They want to see your character divulge their dirty little secret at the worst possible moment.  So leave off your chapters with more to be revealed.


We all love a good minor character. If you get to know them well enough, they can often prove to be a springboard for a sequel. HOWEVER. Do not let your minor characters steal the show from your main characters. Sometimes we as writers brush this off as a subplot that adds to the tension - all will be revealed in due time. BUT. Be careful. Your subplots may be skipped over because your reader cares more about your main character. 
 Your minor characters ought to have just as much personality and life as your main character, but they don't get to have their own story, not yet anyways. Unless their story is consistently feeding into the MC's story, it adds nothing to the plot of THIS story. 


 Ask yourself, did I start my novel in the right place? If you didn't, your opening chapter will throw the pacing of your story completely out of whack. I can only say this because I've done it.
Sometimes, we start back a little too far because it's tempting to really get into the back story. Back Story, however, can be great material for tension. Where it would otherwise drag out the beginning, you can treat your back story like a big secret and slowly reveal it as it becomes relevant. 
General rule of thumb, there should be no boring chapters. Traveling, sitting, sleeping and chit chat are all stumbling blocks for good pacing. 
Now, I know this is going to hurt... but I beg of you to read through your manuscript and check your plot. Make sure every sentence, every scene, every character drives the plot in some way. If they don't, it's time to say goodbye. Save it for another story where is WILL matter. Have someone else read it. Get an outsider's opinion. 

We all want to write the next great novel.

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