Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Writer's Resolution 5 - Story logic and tension

As you are rushing along, building the story without taking breaks to rewrite or research (and using the suggestions in this series), it can be easy to lose track of where you are headed. With something like a novel or a screenplay, there are so many scenes between the blank page and "the end" that it's easy to get lost or create inconsistencies.

If you are a plotter, this will be less of a problem. As long as you stick to the outline, you are unlikely to become too confused. A few notes along the way when you complete a scene that diverges or slip in a new character can usually be enough. (But you DO have to take the time to make those notes.)

If you are less of a plotter, or even a full-fledged seat-of-the-pants storyteller, you can do yourself a favor by creating an outline along the way. If you follow the advice I gave in the first entry in this series (Be ready for tomorrow), you'll find you are building your list of scenes with valuable references on content along the way. Annotating these, the way plotters do, will save you time and effort later on.

The point of these notes is to help you to:
  • Be consistent. When you make decisions as simple as the color of a character's eyes or as complex as an allusion to the REAL reason the antagonist is taking an action (say, buying a wrench or sending flowers to the heroine), you'll need to remember these later on. If you change the decision later, you'll create headaches for yourself.
  • Be logical. When the scenes are summarized simply, the way one leads into or causes the next is easier to pick out.
  • Build tension. It's all too easy to plateau, with things happening that are not increasing jeopardy for the protagonist. A list of scenes can make this visible. It also will show you when you have lower tension scenes later in the story or when you have a scene that is, essentially, a repeat of an earlier scene. (Repeats happen with amazing regularity in the unpublished work I read, and they can take the whole story down.)
  • Get oriented. Not sure where you are in the story? A good list can be a to-date summary that can propel you into the next section.
Now, some scrambling and mistakes are okay as the story is being drafted. Everything can be fixed in revision. But, especially for pantsers, a good map of where you've been can be a nudge to better writing without forcing compliance with a plan.

My online "How To Write Fast" course begins Feb. 1
Face-to-face romance (love scene) is set for Feb 13; SF (plot) on March 5 at the Hudson Valley Writers Center in Sleepy Hollow, NY.
My online "Novel in a Month" class begins March 2.

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