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.
Unmotivated Characters Don’t Have to Suck
You may at some point want to write about a character who doesn’t know what they want. Who has no focus or great passion for life.
Often this will be the starting point of the story and events will conspire to shake them out of their stupor. Or it could be a character study, possibly an existential tale.
It’s a valid character to write about because there are many people who feel that way, and they deserve to be written about as much as anyone. There are many famous precedents by writers like Salinger, Camus, Beckett.
The problem is that this kind of character is very hard to make interesting.
Specifics Make Stories Real
In order for the reader to see your make believe world as clearly as you see it, you need to be specific.
This does not mean long descriptions or emphasising the way characters react to their environment. It means when you make a claim (it was an amazing library) or assign an emotion (she loved him), you have to back it up (what was so amazing about the library? What did she love about him?).
This is quite difficult, especially if you’re trying to avoid the clichés most commonly used.
Romantic Fiction: It’s All Over, Casanova
Romance novels make a lot of money. Even the bad ones. The demand is very high. Around 50% of all fiction books sold in North America are romances. In Britain the number is around 20%.
What’s more most of these books are written by women and read by women.
So what is it about this genre that makes it so successful, and what can the boys do to emulate that success?
Linear Writing Leads To Flat Narrative
By linear I don’t mean the way time is structured in your story. You don’t have to write scenes all out of order Christopher Nolan style to make it interesting.
This is what I’m talking about: A man is hungry. He goes to the kitchen and makes a sandwich. He eats the sandwich. He is no longer hungry.
The journey from hungry man to sated man is very straight. It’s easy. It’s obvious. It’s dull.
When someone wants something you have the beginning of a story. When they get it you have the end of the story. But the bit in between is the interesting part, and making it too linear won’t generate much enthusiasm in the reader.
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.
Bad Advice For Writers
Most advice given to writers is generic and basic. This is because most aspiring writers make the same basic mistakes. But then most aspiring writers never finish the story they’re writing. And most of the ones that do finish, never get round to doing a rewrite. And if you happen to be one of the few who do manage to persevere and are serious about producing a book worth reading (and buying) then, by definition, you aren’t most people.
When you follow generic advice your writing most likely will become better than it was, but that doesn’t mean it’s as good as it could be. Once you reach a certain level you need specific advice. Specific to your writing. And there aren’t people qualified to give you that advice.
For example, flowery, repetitious description is annoying and distracting to read, but that’s when it’s done badly. It is very difficult to show someone how to do it better. It’s very easy to tell them not to do it at all. But that may be the kind of writing they love to write. How can you help them then?
Monotone Writing Is Monotonous Writing
Monotonous means boring, so as long as you have interesting stuff going on in your scene it won’t be monotonous, right?
But that’s not what monotonous means. It’s boredom brought on by repetition or lack of variety. Monotone. So even a scene that in itself is fairly interesting, when put in an environment of similar scenes, not only loses its impact, it actually becomes a negative force.
Condition Of Your Transition
The simplest kind of story is where the goal of the main character is clear and all-encompassing. He has nothing else to distract him, at least not for very long. It’s all about the thing.
This kind of story is usually a genre piece, a crime, a romance, a mystery, something like that is driving the MC, and their emotional state is pretty easy to work out.
However, not all stories are that single-minded. Often a character will switch moods, or have more than one thing to deal with. And when they switch, whether because of time passing, or having to deal with different people, the writer has to transition the reader from one mind-set to another.
This is a good thing, even the most engaging stories can become monotonous if there’s no variation in tone. But if you just go from one emotional state to another without due care, it can be very jarring for the reader.
What Do You Love About Your Characters?
When it comes down to it, it’s the people in stories that stay with the reader. You may be impressed and delighted by a plot twist or a surprise ending, but that’s not what you’ll remember years later. It’s the characters that will stay with you.
Some fictional characters resonate strongly with people. They stand out as remarkable. You want to know more about them. You want to read more books about them. You want to see the movie when it comes out. Why? What is it that makes a character stand out? And more importantly, how does anyone meeting your character for the first time know how wonderful they are?