Keep It Moving
Those beautiful paragraphs. We’ve all seen them – on facebook posts or writing blogs – those stunning paragraphs of a walk in the morning with the light of angels rising over the fertile hills in the luxurious horizon. Dew drops fall from blades of grass and the breeze tussles the pine needles causing the landscape to shimmer.
“You’re such a great writer,” the comments section says. They are lovely paragraphs. Do you like them? Yes. Do you want to read 300 pages of them? No. Fiction has to move. A long, luxurious description of a hotel room that takes three pages because the painting over the bed foreshadows a death (that will happen 70 pages down the line) is not going to make the cut.
As any literary agent will tell you – “If you show what your character is eating for breakfast, there better be a bomb in that bagel.”
Most authors write long scenes that go nowhere because they don’t know how to make the story keep moving so they “spin in place” until they figure out a way to get the character to the next plot point. Fortunately for readers, a good editor will leave all the spinning on the cutting room floor. Scenes need be purposeful and lead to something quickly.
The best way to write a page-turner is to write small scenes with a complete set of actions. String these scenes together with some transitions and you’ve got a good story. A complete set of actions is a Goal, and Attempt, and Resistance/Resolution (one or the other). Remember, winning is boring unless you are at the end of the book, so you should end scenes with a lot more Resistance than Resolution.
Scene 1: So – back to our hotel room. Jimmy wants to impress the girl of his dreams (GOAL), he rents a hotel room he can’t afford, orders room service hoping to skip out on the bill later and puts on the best (only) suit he owns (ATTEMPT). He invites his lady friend in but before she can sit down there is a knock on the door. It’s the manager saying his credit card was rejected. (RESISTANCE).
Scene 2: She is not impressed but her heart is touched he tried to impress her. She wants to make him feel better (GOAL). She says she will take him out to dinner instead (ATTEMPT). Walking to the café, they are kidnapped and thrown into a waiting car. (RESISTANCE).
One scene leads to another. The story moves, emotions and elements are present and the reader can’t wait to find out what happens next. Don’t construct big, descriptive scenes that carry on for days and add nothing. Write each scene with a goal, attempt and either resistance (attempt fails) or resolution (attempt succeeds) and keep the story pushing forward.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Fiction has to move.