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It is the significant moments in books or movies, or just about anything else in life, which have lasting effects on us. I bet almost all of us can remember different scenes that have remained in our minds long after we closed the cover of a book, or we left the theater after seeing a film that made an impression on us. I know this happens to me.
The trick is how to make this happen in every scene in your book. It’s much better to start your novel off with a bang instead of a boring scene. You need to jump right into the action with something noteworthy. How can you strengthen the scene to make your words jump off the page? All of us know it is those first few paragraphs that really count. Of course, it would be great to write three hundred pages of material that kept the reader sitting on the edge of their seat. I’m trying to do this with my current WIP. Of course, it is much too soon to see if I’ll accomplish this or not. I am hoping to achieve enough tense moments when it’s all said and done.
The story advances by the characters dialogue and actions in different situations throughout the book, thus revealing things about them and moving the story forward. We get to know how the characters think and feel about the situations that they encounter throughout the story. As the writer, you need to create an incident that will stir things up for your character and get them started on their journey, which might be solving a crime, finding someone they lost years ago, finding the love of their life while tackling other obstacles in the way, rescuing someone or something, etc. You get the idea.
Your protagonist should have the reader engaged after the first chapter. Perhaps the character did something shocking. Maybe the first paragraph included a tear jerking moment, or they were so funny and unpredictable that the reader can’t help but care about them. Remember you can’t draw your reader in with pages of narrative that is all back-story. Something actually needs to be happening to your character. In fact, it is best to reveal any back-story through dialogue between characters. This is hard to do all the way through, but the whole book would read better if we all could refrain from tons of information that we don’t need to put in our stories. Narrative does weigh a story down and dialogue moves it along. If we could all remember that, we’d probably be writing compelling novels. I’m definitely at fault here on the first novel I ever wrote. I don’t think there is a bit of dialogue in the first three chapters and that is unusual for me.
Whatever the plot is, your character needs to encounter challenges from the beginning to the end of the book. There may be times when it looks like things are falling into place for your characters, but that is the time to step in and throw a brick in their path. Memorable moments are ones that catch the reader by surprise when they are anticipating something else. I think I was able to achieve this, even with all the narrative I had going on in the beginning of that first novel.
It is important to get across to the reader the way the characters feel, what they are facing, fearing, desiring. What are they feeling in their heart? Are they frustrated, vulnerable?
Along with this, let’s never forget the value of description, so the reader gets a real sense of place and time along with a sense of character. See, hear, smell, touch, taste all come into play depending on the scene. I’m guilty of this one in a big way. When it comes to description, I probably use it to excess, so beware it is easy to do. My very first writing class taught us how important description is to the story and personally I don’t mind reading books with lots of flowery descriptive phrases, but I know I’m probably an exception in this case.
Each chapter should hold a suspenseful, spellbinding moment that leaves the reader hanging at the end. You may ask how to accomplish this in every chapter. It could be a bit trickier in some genres. I think mysteries would be easy to do this with because think about all the things that can happen to throw things into chaos for the characters in a mystery novel. New evidence could become known, another murder could take place, someone significant could be caught up in shady dealings, people could disappear, the number of things that could happen is really only limited by your imagination. You can accomplish this in other genres as well, if you think it out.
When you look at things this way, you can see how easy it would be to introduce all kinds of issues for your characters to face in any genre. The most important thing is to keep the action coming to the very last page. That will make for a tense fast paced read, or a slower thought provoking one and that’s the best kind.
Remember, if you are ever stumped, just pick out a few novels and read the first few paragraphs. This is a good way to get inspired. You want the reader wondering enough about what will happen to your character to keep reading.