Friday, January 28, 2011

Novel Revision part 3: Tension

Two weeks ago I started this Novel Revision sequence by posting a Plot Arc Exercise. Last week, I explored how you could start analyzing your outline for conflict. Those questions focused on the overall plot arc, and also looked at the presence or absence of conflict in every section.

This week, go back to your Plot Arc Exercise outline and look at each scene or chapter in more detail. You may have identified some chapters where you had no conflict. But chances are you have some conflict in most chapters. But is it enough? And is it the right conflict?

Perhaps you have chapters where you have conflict in your subplots, but not your main plot. Perhaps your main character is facing a challenge, but it's not directly related to his primary goal or problem. You may choose to keep some of those scenes, but ideally, the story should never lose sight of the main character’s primary goal or problem. Subplots should be tied into the main plot. Extra conflicts should relate to the main conflict. These questions will help you identify trouble spots.

Analyze plot arc for Tension:

  • Does each scene fulfill the synopsis goal?

  • Does each scene advance plot, reveal character, or ideally both?

  • Do your characters have a goal in each scene, such as a shorter term goal that helps lead to the final resolution of the problem?

  • Does your MC attempt to make progress toward his/her primary goal in every chapter, or are some chapters only subplot? If you have chapters of only subplot, can you weave them into other chapters with plot, or add plot progression within those chapters?

  • Can you make the stakes higher for any scenes?

  • Mark plot twists. Do you have several surprises/reversals? If not, can you add some?

  • Is the antagonist actively thwarting the hero throughout the book?

  • Does the tension rise over time, with the situation worsening? Can you increase the complications, so at each step, more is at stake, there’s greater risk or a better reward?

EXAMPLE: The middle grade boy novel I mentioned last week at one point had an opening chapter where Jesse had an accident in the woods. I was trying to open with an action scene, but unfortunately it didn't relate to the main plot. I ultimately decided it was better to cut that scene and get to the main plot problem more quickly.

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