Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Plotting – Act II

While Act I and Act III are each normally three or four chapters long, perhaps 120 pages of your book, the other 280 belong to the middle, and while Act I and Act III have very specific purposes to accomplish, Act II’s task is to tell the story—this means telling a story that will capture readers attention and leave them wanting more.

How do you keep readers interested? First work with the pacing techniques that I mentioned in earlier posts on pacing. Balance action with the more contemplative moments that help to deepened characterization and adds complications to the plot. Next, makes sure that each scene has a more complex crisis or conflict than the last. Makes sure that you initiate a new conflict before you resolve the earlier one. Use the technique of foreshadowing to arouse the readers curiosity, and initiate new situations that complicate the solution of the conflict.

End chapters with hooks—leave the reader asking questions, stop the action as the telephone rings or as the window breaks. Change scenes to another character, and then return to resolve the problem. This kind of writing is bound to keep readers reading. Use the Jack-in-the-Box method or the Time-Bomb technique to keep readers aroused both discussed in an earlier post.

Most of all make sure that every scene provides new and important information. Each scene should show character’s change and eventually grow, just as the romance, faith or solution to the crime will come closer to being resolved.

If your story tends to bog down change the pacing or try some of these methods to add new zing to your plot. My book Writing the Christian Romance covers this more fully, and while this book focuses on romance, the techniques can be used for any type of fiction. These methods might give you something to think about.

1. Arrive at a new conflict that you hadn’t planned. Give thought to what’s going on in your story and see if you can do something else to complicate matters. The male protagonist loses his job or a family member becomes seriously ill and pulls him from the matters at hand. The female protagonist learns something about a friend or fellow employee that affects her way of looking at what’s going on in her life.

2. Include characters with secrets, and let little pieces of the secret be revealed until you totally expose it at the end of the book. Readers enjoy trying to figure out the secret.

3. Add a subplot that’s related to the main plot, perhaps a character who’s going through something that mirrors the main character’s situation. This could provide more tension or help the characters come up with ideas on how to resolve their own problems.

4. Deepen the stakes, meaning change the problem to something even deeper. If a problem involves the character, then have the situation involve the character’s family as well. If it meant losing a major contract in a business, then let the problem grow to losing the total business.

5. Use the tried and true "what if" to add a new event that affects a major character’s situation – an automobile accident that puts the character in the hospital for example.

6. Add people’s phobias and fears, then put them in a situation to have to overcome this.

7. Remove a character from the story and give the roles to the main characters. This is a technique suggested by agent and writer Donald Maass.

8. Add a character. Bring back a prodigal sister or brother, an old boyfriend, a new boss.

9. Twist the plot. Don’t go with the expected, but put your ending on it’s ear. Have the culprit not be the culprit at all but someone else while the assumed culprit was covering for the real person who set the fire, caused the accident, or stole the money. If you give enough clues, yet focus on someone else, the reader will follow you until you turn the tables.

10. Keep your writing sharp and dynamic. Use vivid verbs and realistic dialogue. Don’t over describe, but bring the scene to life with enough details, and fill the story with emotion. Emotion is what helps readers relate.

By using some of the ten techniques listed above, you can keep your middle from sagging and create a page-turner in the process. Isn’t that what we all want to write?

Next we’ll talk about Act III – The Ending. How about emotions next? Or do you have any other thoughts? Drop me a note in the comments on your ideas.

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