Based off of a blog post I wrote for the CC blog a while ago. I thought it was an important enough topic that I should post it here also.
When was the last time you stayed up half the night to finish reading a book? Why?
It’s every author’s dream that their book would be so good that readers, editors, and agents wouldn’t be able to put it down. How do we do this? Suspense. If readers are made of metal, then suspense is the magnet that pulls them to the page. But how exactly does one go about creating suspense or conflict in a story?
First, we need to make sure there’s something standing in the way of our main protagonist. It seems fairly obvious, but I’ve read many stories (and written some too) where the protagonist was just having a happy-go-lucky adventure with no antagonist and nothing working against the MC. So we need to be sure that our overall story has a main thing standing in the way of the MC’s goals. I’ve heard it said that there is an inverse ratio between the character’s happiness and the happiness of the readers – so limit the amount of time that your MC spends in a happy, safe environment.
Second, we must make sure that each chapter has suspense. Even if we have created the coolest scene, the sharpest dialogue, and the most realistic characters, unless there is suspense, there is nothing pulling the reader to the page. Every chapter should contain something, either small or large, that goes against the protagonist, and that could turn out one way or another. Keep readers guessing! It’s unanswered conflict that pulls in the reader’s attention.
There needs to be conflict in nearly every scene in your MS. If you find your characters living happy lives, then go in and wreak havoc. Turn peaceful conversation into a misunderstanding. Flip a nice gathering into a high-tension situation.
I’m writing a fantasy story where my MC receives a warm welcome in an Elvish city and is asked to a dance. I was going to have it be all happy conversation and lovely gowns. But then I thought, what if my MC is terrified of going to the dance? What if my MC has never danced before and is scared of making a fool of herself? What if she gets into a fight at the dance? What if she doesn’t have anything to wear? What if, what if?
Suddenly it went from a cool scene to a magnetic scene. Even if the small changes didn’t effect the outcome of the whole story, they helped make the lead-up to the dance more suspenseful.
If you go through each plot, each chapter, each scene, and add distrust, confusion, and chaos… well, then you will have a terrific story. Or at least a magnetic one.