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How To Move The Story Forward In Fiction
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There are several ways to keep the story moving forward when writing fiction.
THE ORDER OF THINGS
One thing that keeps the story moving forward is to write in sequential order of the way things happen. If you mix up the order, you may lose or confuse the reader.
Consider the following sentence:
Mary worried about what she was going to say to her brother as she sat in the back of the restaurant where he was a waiter. She took in a deep breath when she saw him exit the swinging door leading to the kitchen.
The following revision corrects the order of things.
Mary entered the restaurant where her brother was a waiter and took a seat near the back. She worried about what she was going to say to him. When he exited the swinging door that led to the kitchen, she took in a deep breath.
Most novels will be paced by creating a mix of action and slower scenes where the characters gather their thoughts. But even action-packed thrillers need pacing, if for no other reason to give the reader a moment to breathe.
You can slow down the pace with longer dialogue, interior dialogue, backstory and more specific descriptions. Pace can be sped up with shorter words, shorter sentences, alliteration and fast dialogue. Mixing it up will add interest for the readers.
One mistake new writers often make is to spend too much time leading up to a specific piece of action. If you delay the action too much by describing the suspense, the reader will be disappointed. The longer it takes to get to the action, the more text readers will be tempted to skip over.
KEEPING IT FRESH
Someone who critiqued an early draft of my first novel advised, "Once you know he's a cowboy, you never have to mention it again." Providing information you've already conveyed about the character slows down the story and bores the reader. But, using the cowboy example, mentioning later in the story the cowboy accidentally killed an innocent person and that's why he no longer carries a gun, is new information that will cause the reader to continue to keep reading to see how he's going to survive without a gun.
Another way to keep the story moving forward is through escalation. Creating a beginning (introduction, set-up), middle (tension, conflict, crisis), and end (resolution) in each scene, chapter and entire manuscript will help to move the story forward. Omitting any one of these three components will likely confuse the reader. If a reader is forced to go back and re-read something, there's a problem.
It's hard to imagine a novel without any tension. No matter what the genre, tension is the conduit the protagonist needs to reach his goals and will aid in moving the story forward. Whether in a sentence, paragraph, chapter or the entire book, tension coincides with unfulfilled desire, which is an essential ingredient for a steadily progressing story.
I love the word, tension.
1. the act of stretching or straining.
2. the state of being stretched or strained.
3. mental or emotional strain; intense, suppressed suspense, anxiety, or excitement.
4. a strained relationship between individuals, groups, nations, etc.
Now show me a good novel that doesn't encompass this word.
Tension can happen all at once, or it can come to a slow boil. In any case, tension will move the story forward. It can come in the form of an internal struggle such as dealing with the disappearance of a loved one. Or it can come in the form of an external struggle, such as trying to find the missing loved one. And as with these examples, the two can often be combined.
Effective dialogue will keep the reader interested in the story, but only if it's meaningful. If it doesn't help to develop the character, establish the mood or depict what the character is feeling, omit it.
In most cases, idle chitchat will slow down the story. One way to get around it is by disclosing the protagonist's internal thoughts while the idle chitchat is going on. Example: Sara's thoughts drifted back to her son's dilemma while she shook John's hand and talked about the weather.
A SHIFT IN DIRECTION
A shift in direction is another good way to keep the story moving forward. If your character has spent her whole life running away from something and all of a sudden faces it head-on, that will keep the reader interested in what happens next.
REVEALING THE PLOT AND PLOT TWISTS
Revealing the plot abruptly is another tool to spark a reader's interest and urge him to read further. However, that's not to say revealing the plot bit by bit can't be equally as effective - as in, 'the plot thickens.' Plot twists can also be intriguing. Just when the reader thinks he knows what's going to happen next, try throwing in something totally unexpected to keep his interest.
You can catch a reader's attention with firsts - the first time the protagonist meets the antagonist; the first time they argue; the first time she feels threatened; etc. Make sure the reader feels what the protagonist is feeling when these firsts occur to keep the story moving.
CONFLICT & CRISIS
Readers love conflict, whether it's internal ("How will I ever live with this guilt?") or external ("I've been shot! Call 911!"). Without conflict, there is no story. Conflict can be introduced by forcing the protagonist to make difficult choices that cause a dilemma and further conflict. Having the protagonist do something unpredictable can also be effective. Or just as the protagonist is about to reach a goal, a roadblock can be thrown in that closes his escape route.
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