Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Balance the Missing Ingredient - Part 1

By Donna Sundblad author of Windwalker and Beyond the Fifth Gate

“What’s missing?” Details move your story along. It’s complete with a beginning, middle and end, but your muse clucks its tongue quietly and tells you that it can be better. You agree; something is lacking. But what?

What do you do when inspiration strikes, but when pen meets paper the story doesn’t engage on an emotional level? What good is a story if it doesn’t grab us and demand our attention? Sometimes it’s a matter of walking away from the project for a couple of days so you can look at it with fresh eyes and a clear mind. When you come back to it, it’s easier to see what’s missing.

Look for balance.

Conflict, Tension and Resolution

How many times have you been disappointed with a book or movie and you say, “That’s the end?” Conflict is an essential element when writing fiction, however resolution to that conflict is equally important and necessary. If you introduce conflict without resolution, it leaves the reader unfulfilled.

Pull out a story you want to improve. First, dissect the text. Look for elements of conflict, tension and resolution. With a blue highlighter, mark sections presenting conflict. In the same way, highlight tension in yellow and resolution in green. Conflict should be introduced throughout, with tension ebbing and flowing around it as characters strive toward a goal of some sort. Ultimate resolution will be nestled near the end of the story where it brings all the loose threads together and ties them in a tidy knot, but minor aspects of resolution should be sprinkled throughout the story to lessen tension.

Real life issues, different circumstances everyday even amid a life of routine can be used to create conflict or tension. Stress is a real part of life. After the fact, it makes interesting telling. It’s no different when writing. Without tension the story reads flat and less interesting, but constant tension is no better. The reader needs a break. Yellow highlighted text should be situated within some un-highlighted text. It’s like riding a wave carrying the reader to the top and gently dropping them on the other side ready to start a new wave. One scene should flow into the next as you travel to meet the big wave—the climax.

Inner and Outer Problems

Circumstances intruding on life induce conflict. Character reaction to these circumstances builds tension. For example: If your protagonist meets a potential date on line and he asks her to consider meeting him face-to-face, the internal conflict can deal with the issue of honesty or lack of self-confidence. Should she send her suitor an up-to-date photo of herself? Will she be rejected? What kind of guy wants to meet for a diner at a truck stop? Outer problems include things like getting a flat tire on the way to meet the date, making her late or even greasy with dirty smudges all over her red dress and a big hole in her nylons.

Mingling inner and outer conflict builds tension until it culminates at the climax of the story. The trick is to bring the reader toward the conclusion of the story in the same way—a wave at a time. Even as you head toward the end of the story, tension is a necessary ingredient. It’s the bait that keeps the reader wanting to know what happens next. On the way to the conclusion, check to see that you have resolved each conflict woven into the story line. Dangling details or unanswered questions leave the reader wondering if they missed something.

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