Set Loose a Dragon

As I write and re-write this novel, I’m constantly drawing on the wealth of information that I earned while writing my previous novel(s).  I’m especially struck by the idea of tension, and how to use conflict and tension to build suspense and draw the reader into the story.

You see, when I first started writing, I just wrote whatever came into my mind for my characters to do.  They’d go places and do things and generally have a grand old time until the Big Baddie showed up towards the end.  I couldn’t figure out why my story felt slow and floppy, like nothing was happening.

And then I read this blog post:

Micro Tension

…and my whole life changed.

I realized that every chapter in my story should buzz with tension.  Besides just the BIG PLOT tension, there should be secondary conflicts and plot arcs, and even tertiary ones as well.  My story should be layered, full of smaller problems for my characters to face as they work towards the Big Problem of the story.

In the aforementioned blog post, the writer suggests taking basically every scene and stripping it down, looking for ways to up the stakes and up the tension.

So.  I learned all of that while editing my last novel, trying to go back and add tension and conflict into the weak parts of my story.

It’s been so great to know about tension as I write THIS novel.  For example, this past week, I was writing a scene where two characters meet in person for the first time.  Already pretty high tension, but then I was thinking: what if I added a dragon?

I was setting out to write this scene, thinking, what else could go wrong?  So I set loose a dragon.  A baby dragon stows away in the main character’s backpack, and gets loose just as the two characters are meeting.  She causes a bit of chaos, making the whole scene 100% more interesting and tension-charged.

So that’s my advice for you: if you’re feeling bored with the chapter/ scene that you’re working on, try upping the stakes.  Or creating a misunderstanding between two characters.  Or making something unexpectedly go wrong.  Or setting loose a dragon.

 

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Don’t Forget the Conflict

magnet

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.