Different Characters, Different Beliefs
In order to make a scene between two characters feel interesting it needs some degree of conflict. That’s fine if one character happens to be a cop and the other a robber, but the story isn’t always going to present you with directly oppositional characters like that.
But even if the characters in a scene don’t have anything to fight over and the scene isn’t highly charged or full of high stakes, you can still give characters something to clash over.
Dramatic Action Is More Than Doing Stuff
Often the reason a scene doesn’t work, or doesn’t seem to have any life to it, is because what’s happening in the scene isn’t very interesting.
People may be doing things, moving around, attempting to reach their goals, but how they’re going about is too straightforward or too easy.
There are various ways to achieve things in life that are reasonable and sensible. You want to be a doctor, you go to medical school and study hard. If you portray that within a story it may feel realistic and true, but it won’t be very gripping.
There is more to a good story than holding a mirror up to life.
Secrets Of Language Revealed!
The point of language is to communicate your thoughts. The rules of language are there to clarify structure and prevent misreading. If you can communicate what you want to communicate without following those rules, that’s perfectly okay.
However, it’s easier to follow the rules because that’s why they’re there—to clarify your meaning—and most people are already aware of them.
And, generally, if you’re not sure if it should be a semi-colon or an em-dash, is the adverb necessary, does the repetition work as emphasis or is it clumsy, chances are you’re over-thinking it.
I know what I want to say but I don’t know how to say it is another way of saying you don’t really know what you’re trying to say.
The Single-Mindedness of the Novel Writer
Working out if you’re meant to be a writer is both the easiest and the hardest thing to do.
Talent doesn’t come into it. The truth is, if you are a moderately intelligent, imaginative person, chances are you have the ability (at your best) to write something someone somewhere will want to read.
Of course, connecting with those ideal readers isn’t quite so easy, but that’s another post entirely.
No, the way you can determine whether you are a novel writer is quite straightforward. You have to write a book. See, it’s easy. And also very hard.
Characters Should Think Progressively
Written fiction allows access to a character’s mind in a way that no other medium can. What someone thinks often gives a new perspective on events, can reveal aspects you hadn’t considered, or add depth to the way you perceive a character.
Often this is presented as a snapshot of the character’s current state of mind. This is what’s happening, and this is what the MC thinks about it. But what makes a character interesting isn’t just who they are or what they do, it’s how they get there.
And while ‘it’s the journey not the destination’ may seem obvious, knowing exactly which part of the journey is the interesting bit may not.
Story Is A Drug
Making the reader want to know what happens next in a story is an excellent way to get them to turn the page and keep reading. But that’s not what hooks readers.
Curiosity will only provide part of the glue that makes readers stick with a story. The truth is even if the reader knows what happens next, if they’ve read it before, seen it before, heard spoilers, know the original version… they can still enjoy it.
But if you already know what happens in a story, why is it still worth reading?
How To Write Better Fiction
Sometimes a scene in a story has nothing wrong with it (nothing obvious, anyway) and yet it doesn’t work. It’s a necessary scene, important to the story, but it feels flat and uninteresting. People who read it will notice it’s a bit lacklustre, but not really know why, or how to fix it.
Usually it’s a more sedate scene, a moment of discussion or reflection, maybe dialogue heavy, but artificially turning it into an action scene doesn’t feel right.
For those instances, I offer the following techniques to make a flat scene more immediate and engaging.
Improvising Is More Than Making Things Up As You Go Along
If I told you to go up in front of an audience and speak for two minutes about something off the top of your head, and make it interesting, could you?
What if I said the same thing, but this time added the proviso that you can’t use the word ‘the’?
A strange thing will happen as you struggle to get the words out without breaking my arbitrary rule. The audience, even though they don’t know why you’re speaking so weirdly, will recognise that you are struggling against something and it will catch their interest.
And an even stranger thing happens if I let the audience in on what it is you’re trying to do. They will join in the game with you, laughing at your weird story, going ooh when you nearly make a mistake.
The point is, when you are struggling against an obstacle, what you do to get round that obstacle becomes interesting. The same action with no obstacle takes a lot more effort to get the same result.
Difficulty stimulates the brain to be more creative. And difficulty is what makes improvisation engaging.
Hey! What’s The Idea?
You come up with an idea. You like it. It’s a good idea. You start planning it out, or you just start writing, either way it’s going well. You like the characters and you like where they’re headed. And then you get about halfway and everything changes. Now it seems boring. Everything seems obvious or clichéd or incredibly tedious. The magic’s gone. Why? Where did it go?
There are three things I believe every story needs: premise, premise, premise.
I’m not talking about the logline, the pithy couple of lines that sum up the whole story in compact form, easy for drunk, cocaine-fuelled agents to digest between Thai massages. Loglines are a very useful selling tool, but they come at the end of the process. The premise is the idea you have at the start, that fires you up enough to write the story in the first place.
That idea you start out with can do a lot of the work to get you out of the mid-story slump. In order to do that it has to have more than a rough suggestion of what the story’s about. It needs one key ingredient.