State the goal of your Lead at the beginning of each scene. What does she want? What does he need? How does he plan to acquire the thing he wants? What will she give up for the thing she wants? This “want” is your Lead’s stake in the ground.
Promise pain through foreshadowing (tears, heartache, physical discomfort)
Deliver pain through action (show your Lead suffering)
Progress from goal to conflict, disaster, character development (how does she grow?)
Suspense is anticipation, so announce the reward for your Lead early in the scene
Restate your Lead’s goal as necessary (halfway through)
Never let your Lead relax for too long
Increase the risk of failure (towards the end of the scene add-to the penalties for failure)
Tension comes from unresolved conflict so leave your character’s world messy
Promise the payoff for that scene, then delay the payoff until later in the story.
Deliver a payoff, but not the thing your Lead sought
Excerpted from A Novel Idea.
From the Author
For ten years I’ve sat across the appointment table with authors who pitch me their project. When I ask:
“Who’s your main character?”
“What’s the inciting incident in Act One?”
“What is the main character’s call to action and how do they deny this call?”
I often get blank stares.
I wrote this book so authors could review their project and fix their story: or, in many cases, toss the story and begin a new novel.
I quote Steven James, from the book Save the Cat, James Scott Bell, and other successful authors and screenwriters because these individuals have mastered the craft of writing. I tell authors in my classes to learn from those who are best-sellers. There is nothing new in this book that you cannot find in a library full of writing books. I have simply compiled the essential elements of a novel into one book.
I teach from this book at writers conferences. Some authors say it helps them organize their novel. You decide if it helps you.