Focus: Writing Tips

Fit or Flat: Getting Your Novel in Shape Part II

Let’s chat about sagging middles. Pilates works at strengthening the body’s core, creating a taut, attractive, strong middle. That’s what we want in our writing, too.

exercising womanOne way to create that taut core in a novel is to strengthen the connecting tissue by applying tension and conflict. That strong line of tension and story question pulls you through to the end.

Throughout the story arc, your protagonist must face a series of obstacles. Things must get worse, then worse yet. Oh, and even worse, before she uses her wits and talent to resolve those problems.

But each chapter, each scene, also needs tension. An argument between the main characters isn’t necessarily conflict. Or at least not compelling, page-turning tension.

In each scene, the focal character wants something. You can create tension by making it hard to achieve that objective, by putting up obstacles and by showing the emotions created in your point of view characters as they struggle to achieve their objectives. Even better? Show the emotions created in the non POV character in the scene, as observed by the POV character.

Pacing creates tension. Taut, rapid fire dialog without tags and with lots of white space on the page moves the scene along. Contrast that pace by using telling details to stretch a physical act beyond what you’d normally expect, or by allowing your character a moment for reflection. A moment. A brief moment. Too much internal thought drains tension.

You want to make sure your protagonist is not getting what he or she wants from the scene. Nor is the reader. And that creates fat-30252_1280tension. And tension is like a girdle for a sagging middle.

Another cause of the sagging middle is including too much back story. We’ve learned that you need to delay back story until after the first 50 pages. That’s a good lesson. It doesn’t give you permission to dump back story, like a four cheese lasagna, into your middle. It will sag. Sprinkle the bits of essential back story throughout the middle and avoid the back story bulge.

Make things difficult for your protagonist, season lightly with the right details, show the emotion that each obstacle, each event, creates in your characters, and don’t drown your reader in back story. You’ll avoid flabbiness and achieve a tasty, toned tale.

How do you keep your writing trim? Please share your tips.

 

CONFLICTED ABOUT CONFLICT? A guest post from Conda V. Douglas, short story maven

Today I welcome Idaho writer Conda V. Douglas. Conda’s had more than 100 short stories published and has written a great book on writing short stories, Write Short to Succeed. Recently she mentioned to me how many stories lack real conflict, so I asked her to share her thoughts here. Welcome, Conda. And congratulations on The Mall Fairies: War winning the Epic eBook Award 2016 for children’s/young readers!

Now to the conflict.

Write Short to Succeed - Conda V Douglas front coverConflict: that most necessary element of writing anything and yet sometimes the most difficult for authors to grasp. Conflict: often the easiest way to construct a story and yet sometimes the most difficult for authors to use. Conflict: a tool that every author needs to know how to use.

One way to learn what conflict is and isn’t is to deconstruct a story or article. For this post, I’m using common romance. Why? Because romances are one type of story that it’s easy to confuse the different elements, conflict with plot, for example.

Most romances are “Girl gets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy back.” This is not conflict. This is the plot. The conflict is inherent in the plot. Where is it?

Three questions can lead to finding the conflict:

“What’s the problem?”

“What’s the goal of the main character?”

“Are the stakes high?”

The problem is: Girl loses boy and wants boy back. This is the conflict. She wants what she doesn’t have. The conflict always raises questions. Will the girl be able to get the boy back? How? What will she do to accomplish that?

Her goal is to get the boy back. What she does to accomplish that is the action of the story. When the goal is thwarted—what the girl tries doesn’t work, that leads to more conflict. Now what will she do? Will that work?

The stakes are high because she’s lost the love of her life. It will be terrible if she can’t get him back. The higher the stakes the more conflict there is.

This is why writing coaches always advise to make it as hard as possible on your characters. The more problems, the higher the stakes, the bigger the goals and the harder to achieve those goals, the more conflict there is.

Conflicting questions? Conflicting answers? Let me know in the comments!

Here’s a little more about Conda V. Douglas:

CVD crazy photoConda glories in writing both short and long, always with oodles of conflict. She credits winning the Epic eBook 2016 award in children’s/Young Reader for her title The Mall Fairies: War to using conflict! (And no, it’s not the war that’s the conflict, that’s the action.) Her latest book, Write Short to Succeed, in which she devotes an entire chapter to the vagaries of conflict, is out now. On May 3, 2016, Conda will teach a class in Hows and Whys of Writing Short for Boise Schools Community Education, more details here.