The role of conflict and tension
It is so often the tension between characters that leads to story in the first place. So tension is a number one driver. As is a conflict of interests. Often too, the protagonists are conflicted with their environment. A character may cross the first threshold but may still refuse the call to adventure. There is also that very important conflict between what a character wants and what they need.
Lesson from stage and screen
It’s useful for novel and short story writer to look at what happens on stage and screen – and even in radio plays. There we find a projection forward. Suggestions are made and the viewer / listener looks out for how that pans out. Will the ghost actually appear to Hamlet? What will he learn from it? What will he do as a result of seeing the ghost?
Not what but how
We expect a happy ending usually. We know the good guy will win in most cases. Yet seeing how that happens fascinates us. Car chases are welcome.
Can you keep your reader on the edge of their seat? Will any scene make them say, “So what?”? If it does the latter, get rid of it or change it.
Every so often though the reader needs a break – and so do your characters. They need to regroup, gather their thoughts or reflect a little on what just happened. Or maybe they need to make a plan - albeit one that is going to be thwarted.
A few tricks up your sleeve
There are a couple of tricks that help us to keep the reader engaged:
1. Have a cliff-hanger at the end of each chapter
2. Have one more nasty thing happen just before it all resolves
Practical editing tips
So, what should we be doing in this stage of revision?
Examine each scene carefully. It must do one or several of the following:
- Relate to the main conflict
- Make the reader want to carry on reading
- Allow a break for the characters to regroup, reflect, rationalise and make further plans