Monday, 30 June 2014

Life, Plot, Story

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A story is more than stuff that happens to a person. And yet, if a friend were to tell you something that happened to them at work or at school or wherever, you wouldn’t be uninterested.

In fact, if it was something amusing or surprising or touching in some way, it might even be quite compelling. This incident might involve coincidence, luck, randomness and have no real conclusion, but that won’t necessarily stop you hanging on every word.

However, put that same story down in print, and it doesn’t have quite the same effect. Now it’s contrived and pointless and banal.

Why? What makes fiction—whether it be a short story or a novel—different from real life? And how can we use this difference to help create more engaging and entertaining stories?

Monday, 23 June 2014

Tricking The Reader By Choice

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No story is full of high drama all the time. Sometimes you’re setting things up or dealing with the aftermath of some event, and the characters are on their own or in a non-volatile situation.

Introducing a problem or a struggle at this point, even a small one, often helps to keep the narrative interesting, but there are times when you don’t want your character to be fighting battles or solving puzzles.

So how do you turn a mundane moment into something more gripping without resorting to enemies to battle or mountains to climb?

Monday, 16 June 2014

The Power of Story Compels You

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A story with high stakes and deadly dangers can still bore you to tears. Equally, a character folding laundry while contemplating life’s absurdities can be deeply moving and affecting.

While there’s probably more to work with if your story is about an exploding volcano than creased shirts and an ironing board, the fact that neither subject-matter guarantees how the story will be received demonstrates that whatever it is that draws readers into a tale, it isn’t just a matter of sticking a character in a perilous situation and seeing how they cope.

So what is it that grabs a reader and keeps them engaged through many hundreds of pages?

Monday, 9 June 2014

The Emotion of Changing Your Mind

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Throughout a story there will be moments where the central character will do things that are interesting, exciting, scary or whatever. These kinds of scenes where key events occur are what you build towards, and their aftermath will provide the momentum/motivation to keep the reader turning pages to get to the next one, and the one after that.

But even though the chase, the rescue, the attack on the enemy base, will be an entertaining set-piece, there is another, equally important, part of this moment: the decision to do it.

Every big scene will be preceded by the character having to choose to engage with whatever scenario they’re faced with. This choice is incredibly important, both to the character and to the reader.

Monday, 2 June 2014

The Escalation of Complications

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The worst thing a story can be is boring. A dull tale, whatever the genre, whatever the length, will be a hard sell no matter how well written.

The most common advice for making a story more interesting is to increase the conflict.

More problems, sharper tension, higher stakes. The harder you make life for you main character, the greater the interest in how they’re going to reach their goal.

This isn’t particularly revolutionary information. Both as readers and as people we know that the most interesting stories are the ones where people face the greatest adversities, so it stands to reason that the tougher you make things the better.

However, while it’s pretty clear more conflict is a good idea, it isn’t always obvious how you go about this. If you just throw everything you can think of at the protagonist it can feel unrealistic and melodramatic. Random events overwhelming a character can also overwhelm the story and shift the tone in a direction you might not have intended. So how do you make life worse for your protagonist in an organic manner?
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