Key Plotting Components
The beginning sells your book and should include an inciting incident, whether on the first page or in the first chapter. But no matter what, those opening lines are the most crucial of the novel and not to be wasted. Hook your reader straight away and start the story, soaking those first few pages with tension.
One difficult part of writing a novel is preventing the middle from sagging. The middle is where you need to build the tension. Don't forget where you're going with the story. Every scene needs to be there for a reason as you take your reader on a journey towards the climax. Some tips include:
- Use hooks to drag your reader through the story. Raise questions, tease a scene to come, use cliffhangers at the end of chapters if you need to.
- Structure your turning points. This is where the narrative turns and heads in a slightly different direction. You can't go back after a turning point and they're great at increasing tension.
- Balance with subplot. Usually something else related to your main storyline is also going on in your character's world. Most stories will have a subplot, whether simple or complex, but they need to be used strategically.
- Raise tension by taking what you have and make it worse. This will deepen conflicts.
The climax or 'black moment' is the 'worst thing that can happen' and should be the highest point of tension in your novel. However, after this, there needs to be some kind of resolution, whether you do have a sad or happy ending. Consider the story you want to tell, the genre you're writing, and what your reader will expect in order to deliver an emotionally satisfying ending. Remember, romance always ends happily ever after.
Tension is essential for a page turner as it creates a state of uncertainty in both the character and a reader and hopefully builds anxiety.
A reader wants to know what happens next. If you can keep your reader asking this question, they will continue to flip the pages.
Remember, tension is not always fighting conflict. What's the difference?
Conflict exists to oppose your character's goals.
Tension is having your character fight the barriers in order to achieve their goals.
Some great ways to build tension include:
1. Raise the stakes and complicate the situation for your characters. In romance, falling in love is never easy. The stakes are high and emotions are reeling. The tension is the sexual and emotional pull between the characters. Whereas in thriller/suspense writing, tension increases as the situation grows more dire.
2. You can include calmer/happier scenes. Baggage is carried even during the happy moments as it continues to play on your character's mind. Or in your reader's head. This is especially important in a romance or light story. Life includes happy moments even in times of trouble. In a thriller, you may want to keep the tension high and hardly give your character and reader time to breathe, but a task might be completed, death escaped, or it's simply time to finally give your character a nap, and this could be enough to let both your character and reader take a quick moment to breathe.
3. Use twists. Make revelations. Turn the story completely on it's head. If your reader can't see it coming, they'll find themselves on the edge of their seat when you send them on a completely new course. And this will also create more uncertainty in your character as their world has been turned completely upside down.
4. Tension comes from many different places. Explore where you can draw it from. Tension doesn't only exist between protagonists and antagonists. Characters who get along can have tense moments too. Tension includes emotional tension, sexual tension, and external tension.
- Emotional tension comes from inside the character. Can I do this? Is this right? Remember, tension is uncertainty and your character is likely to doubt their decisions no matter what genre you're writing.
- Sexual tension is vital in a romance novel and may involve resistance and fighting their feelings. But the key here is 'feelings'. Sexual tension needs emotional tension as you cannot divorce sex from emotion.
- External tension comes from the world around your character. In paranormal, this is from the world they're in. In suspense, it's usually the villain creating tension. Romance can, and often is, written without much external tension as it can take the focus off the characters. But that's not to say there can't be a villain or another external force bothering your character.
5. Tension is increased with active characters, who make things happen, react, and make mistakes. Passive characters, who sit back and let things happen to them, are boring, don't create uncertainty, and therefore the reader won't want to know what happens to them.
6. Therefore, your reader will be emotionally invested in your character and the stakes you've created. Include emotion in your stakes and appeal to your reader's emotions. This will lead to the reader screaming 'No! Don't kill them off!'
7. Avoid things that kill tension, like too much backstory or idling in a moment where the reader is not asking the crucial question 'what happens next?'
8. And above all, make sure your tension makes sense to your genre. Romance readers want to experience the struggles the hero and heroine must face in order to be together. They want the strong sexual attraction, the emotional pay off of falling in love, the heart poundings, tears, resistance, and all the happy things like kissing and dates and characters showing affection for one another. Crime readers want to try to catch the criminal before the character does, to track clues and solve the mystery. Thriller readers want to be on the edge of their seat, to witness the situation growing worse and worse for the character. The reader wants to wonder how the character is going to get out of this. Or if you're writing a psychological thriller, perhaps the reader wants to be asking 'what the hell is going on in this book???'
So that's just a few notes about tension and plotting this month.
Thanks for stopping by and see you in November!
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