Do you wish that plotting your fiction could be easier? Whether you’re a natural plotter, or write into the mist as a pantser, there’s one simple element you need to keep in mind.
Focus on this element, because nothing is more important.
Plot your fiction: your goal is to write page-turners
Take a moment to think about your goals for writing a novel, or any kind of fiction.
What do you want?
Yes, I know… you want to sell a million copies of your current work in progress. Every author does. To do that, your fiction must engage readers — you must snag your reader from page one, and keep him turning the pages.
We’ve talked about narrative drive, and that’s essential, no matter your genre. Without narrative drive, it’s much harder to keep readers turning pages.
There’s an additional element however.
Recently I started reading a long novel in a genre I don’t usually read. After 200 pages, I realized that although there was minimal narrative drive, something kept me turning pages — the author kept surprising me.
That gave me a chuckle, because it’s something I teach my fiction writing students. I’ve always thought of it as something of a trick, and a cheap trick at that. However, it’s a trick that works. Let’s look at some tips to help you to use surprises in your current project.
1. Plot reader surprises in advance
When you’re aware of the need for surprises, you can develop them in advance, even if you’re a pantser. (See our third tip.)
An easy way to surprise readers: use misdirection. Your main character thinks something is very important; so does the reader. It turns out that something else is much more important. Look at it as though you’re holding a chair for someone to sit down. They’re almost seated, and you take away the chair.
Other ways to surprise include unusual jobs, or attributes, for your characters. For example, in the TV series Six Feet Under, the family operates a funeral home. Jeffrey Deaver’s detective Lincoln Rhyme is a quadriplegic.
2. Play with your genre’s tropes
Every genre has tropes. When you’re aware of them, you can use them, and then surprise readers in ways that they don’t expect.
For example, the alcoholic detective or prosecutor is a staple in crime fiction. Check out TV Tropes’ Character Development for tropes and ideas on how you can play with them.
When you know the tropes, surprises for the reader are built-in.
Years ago I read a novel set in the medieval period in which the heroine hires a knight to protect her castle. She’s heard that he’s won tournaments all over England and France. Surprise: the knight’s broken down and old now. His winnings were all years in the past. I can’t remember the novel’s title or the author (or the plot), but I remember the surprises — and the fact that the novel was a bestseller of its time.
3. Aim for a surprise in every scene
If you’re feeling a little desperate because you’re a pantser, and outlines are anathema to you, relax.
Just tell yourself that you need a surprise in every scene. Surprise yourself: remember misdirection, and your genre’s tropes.
Once you start looking for ways to generate surprise, you’ll find many opportunities.
Have fun. 🙂
You can, when you discover the secrets of writing blurbs (book descriptions) which sell.
You can rescue books which aren't selling, and have confidence that your new books will have the best chance to find their audience.More info →
I developed the tactics and strategies in this book to help myself. My students have found them essential to producing both fiction and nonfiction almost effortlessly.More info →
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