Feb 28, 2011

Drive your Story Forward

One way to identify your turning points is to watch the story for place where a new question is opened for the characters. They may answer one question, only to find themselves facing a new one. They may resolve one conflict, onto to find that the resolution uncovers a new challenge.

The purpose of the turning point is to drive the story forward, so make sure you let it do its job. The turning point should leave both reader and character wondering what will happen now.

There are some “givens” when we write genre fiction. The readers of a romance novel know the characters will get together in the end before they read the first word of your book. The readers of a mystery know that the murder will be solved and the sleuth will live to sleuth another day. The readers of a western know that justice will prevail. There’s very little question in genre fiction about what is going to happen in the end. That makes how they get there extremely important ...

And “How” translates into turning points.

How are you going to keep the characters apart believably for 300 pages? How are you going to get them past the conflicts that keep them apart at the end of the book? How are you going to keep the reader from guessing who did it—or why they did it—in your mystery novel?

Pacing is also determined by deciding what to include and what to leave out.

Readers are generally interested in the first time anything happens in your book. The first meeting between hero and heroine, their first real conversation, the first time they share their secrets, their first kiss, the first time they make love, the first time they admit their love for one another.

Readers are generally not interested in reading endless repeats of those conversations, kisses, and lovemaking sessions unless they’re also getting new important information with each repetition. When you look at scenes and decide whether or not to include them, consider how much new information you’ll be revealing to the reader. If you’re not giving them enough new information, seriously think about leaving the scene out and summarizing the action at the beginning of the next important scene.

What kind of new information are we talking about? We’re talking about new pieces to the puzzle. A substantial piece of character development. A new secret previously unknown to the reader.

For instance, if you reveal the heroine’s entire past to the reader in chapter one, or let the heroine reveal it to her best friend in chapter two, when she reveals her past to the hero in chapter four, the whole chapter is probably going to feel redundant and slow to the reader. Your pacing will suffer.

If, however, you let the heroine and her best friend discuss her past in general terms in chapter two, build suspense by alluding to her past in chapter four and again in chapter six, by the time the heroine tells the hero everything in chapter eight, the reader will probably be eager to learn all the details.

Sometimes this works best if you decide where you want to reveal the Big Secret, and then work the other details in from there—sort of backward plotting. Whether you calculate it on paper or just think it through in your head, working backward can be a valuable tool for pacing.

Remember also that your characters will have specific goals for each section of your book (the chapters or pages that fall between turning points.) If, for example, your character begins the book with a goal to shut down the horse trainer’s business at the end of his lane, then his specific scene goals will reflect that goal until the first major turning point.

At the first major turning point, the story must dramatically change directions. So perhaps the character learns that the woman who owns the horse training business is a single mother who is struggling to support her children. Now, he feels like a complete jerk. How can he put her and her children on the streets?

His new goal might be to convince her to move back to Cincinnati, near her parents. This would be a win-win situation for him, right? So his specific scene goals for the next section of the book will support his new goal . . . at least until the next turning point when he learns that the heroine has a very good reason for not going back to Cincinnati.

Planning strong turning points which make the story shift direction makes it possible to have strong scene goals. Strong scene goals make for strong disasters. Your scenes begin to have purpose, and your story begins to move at a page-turning rate.

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