The Power Of Yes To Ruin A Story
A character in a story will want something. In order to get it they will at some time or other need the assistance of other characters. Information, permission, objects or help of some kind will be required and the character will have to ask for it.
If the person holding the power just says yes to the character, giving them what they need, it won’t make for a very interesting story. Getting what you want quickly and easily, while certainly preferable in real life, leads to a simplistic and dull tale in fiction.
But that doesn’t mean a flat ‘no’ and slamming the door in the character’s face will make things any more interesting.
Characters Are Developing All The Time
A reader follows a plot by the changes that occur in a character’s life. If their aim is to find the lost treasure of the Incas, then how the situation develops—if they seem to be getting closer or further from the goal—will be the primary way to tell how things are progressing.
Changes in the physical world indicate that people are acting in order to realise their goals. If the scenario remains static, then you have no plot.
But as things change in the physical world, they have an effect on the character instigating them. If things are going well, if things are going badly, if outside forces are getting involved—all these variables not only change the external situation, they also change the character internally.
The Pace Race
There are two elements to pace that you need to be aware of. There’s the sensation of pace and there’s contextual pace.
If I put you in a vehicle travelling at 1000 mph, then you will feel you are moving quickly based on how it feels to you personally.
If I tell you the journey you’re on is to another planet 10 million light years away, then 1000 mph doesn’t feel so quick after all.
This is true in story terms too. It’s possible to create the sensation of moving quickly, but to get a true sense of pace you need to know where it is you’re going.
Starting With Subplot
There are stories where you start in the middle of things and keep going. In the case of thrillers and books that are part of a series the reader doesn’t really need an explanation of what’s going on, they’ll work it out on the fly.
In most cases, though, readers prefer to get an idea of characters and setting before things really take off. The inciting incident that propels the main character into adventure may not occur for several chapters.
When you’re trying to establish the world so the reader has an idea of who they’re going to be following for the next few hundred pages the approach is often to show ordinary life, important relationships, interests and activities. And this can be quite dull.
Complications Of Storytelling
All stories get more complicated the further you get into them.
This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just inevitable. The reader starts off knowing nothing, and over the course of the story they get fed more and more information.
If it’s a properly written story anything the reader is told will be relevant to further developments. That means they have to remember everything that’s happened so far and how it relates to everything else that’s also happened and everything that’s going to happen.
This network of events, consequences and reactions will get ever more intricate. To the point where it can become so overwhelming that when a character says, “Hey, Mary’s back!” all the reader thinks is, Who the hell is Mary?
When To Let The Reader Into The Character’s Head
Direct narrative is when you have the reader experience a scene through a character. Doing what they do, feeling what they feel.
Indirect narrative is when the reader is told what just happened without getting a blow by blow report.
In most cases you’re going to write in direct narrative as much as possible. It’s more immediate and engaging, and makes it easier for the reader to connect with the character. First person narrative in particular is mainly written in this mode.
But there are times when you don’t want to live through every second of a story. Knowing when it is beneficial to the story to live through every moment, and when it’s just padding things out unnecessarily isn’t always obvious. Fortunately there’s a rule of thumb that can help make it clear which way to go.
The inciting incident is the thing that happens somewhere in the first part of a story that changes things for the main character and puts them on the path to adventure (or romance, or tragedy, or whatever).
It’s a pretty well understood element in fiction, and even writers who aren’t aware of it will naturally work it into the story.
However, what isn’t always as obvious is that a story has more than one inciting incident. A lot more.
Things A Scene Needs
Each character in a scene needs a goal. Obviously the main character’s goal is the most important, but every character should be aiming for something, and those goals should be acted on and in doing so affect one another.
This doesn’t just refer to the protagonist/antagonist relationship, it should be true of all characters in a scene.
Content Of Your Character
There’s no point having a story by the end of which the reader will know who your main character is and what he’s about.
You may think that the purpose of the story is to reveal this and that’s it’s intriguing for the reader not to be too sure where a character’s loyalties lie. That would be wrong.
Did you have a good idea of what kind of person Harry was before he got to Hogwart’s? Did you have a reasonable idea about Katniss before she got to the games?
The initial part of a story is to tell the reader the character’s values and beliefs. Once things kick off, then it’s time to test those values and beliefs.
Synopsis Support Pt 2
A synopsis for a novel comes in two different forms.
The first is a very dry, play-by play outline of what happens without any frills or attempts to impress the reader.
The other is more of a selling document intended to get the reader to read the full manuscript.