So your writing is incredible. Your descriptions are sexy, your characters are funny, and you have a concept that’ll impress Stephen King himself. But is there DRAMA in your story? Or is it just... story?
Drama keeps readers hooked to the page. Drama takes a series of events and turns them into emotional scenes. Drama raises questions in the readers mind; questions that they want answered NOW. Drama is the surest way to put the reader in the character’s shoes.
How do you introduce drama into your story? There are three tricks that I use:
1. Take advantage of point of view.
If you’re writing from the first-person POV, you’re very limited. If you’re writing from third-person however, you’ll have many opportunities to improve the drama in your story.
Try this: use a different person’s point of view to give the reader information that your main character doesn’t have. Maybe Keaton learns that Mike’s wife is cheating on him. When we cut back to a banal conversation between Mike and his wife, their simple dialogue has been enriched with drama. You can write the worst dialogue in the world, and the reader will still be scrutinizing every line for meaning.
2. Force a dilemma on your protagonist.
(I’ll try to discuss this concept without ranting about “The Hunger Games.”)
A dilemma occurs when a person is faced with two choices with equal stakes. Should I go to college or take the offer for a high-paying job? Should I tell my friend his wife is cheating on him, or should I keep it a secret? Should I let the Nazis take my son or my daughter?
Characters NEED to make decisions. It’s the writer’s job to present them with two of their greatest fears and force them to pick one. You need to put the reader inside the protagonist’s brain as he tries to determine the best path to success. And whatever you do, do not pull a “Katniss and Peeta both live” and break the impending conflict. If you do, you could lose your reader.
This is not just about building drama, it’s about building character. The biggest indication of one’s character are the decisions they make under pressure.
3. Sacrifice surprise for suspense.
Hitchcock gives the example of two men having a mundane conversation in a diner. They talk and talk and talk, and then... KA-BOOM! A bomb explodes beneath the table, the men are killed instantly, and the audience is shocked!
Surprise can be fun, but it’s also a momentary experience. Suspense, on the other hand, can last for hours. Consider this: what if we show a ticking time bomb beneath the table before the men sit down? The reader will be on the edge of their seat for the whole conversation.
Note that this technique is a great way to spice up boring exposition!
Remember, the writer's goal is to raise questions in the reader's mind and to withhold the answers for as long as possible. This will make your readers active participants in your story.
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