Action Scenes: The Basics

Action is often at the center of important story points and should grab the reader’s attention with realistic description and exciting actions.

The Purpose of Action

An action scene isn’t really about the action. It’s about how the character’s experience the action and how they are affected by it. Focusing on the sensory and emotional information of the action taking place can help you avoid tedious recounting of every movement.

An action scene should move the story forward. Action for action’s sake get old very quickly. It begins to fill like filler very quickly and can bore the reader. Always consider what the action is or needs to accomplish when writing an action scene.

Whether the hero wins of loses, he/she should learn something important from the experience. This may be actual information, understanding something out his or her self or the antagonist, or a skill or talent revealed (particularly in non-realistic storylines).

Action scenes should improve characterization. Consider why the characters are engaging in this action and what their feelings are about the encounter. Did they enter willingly, reluctantly, under duress, etc. What are their reactions during the experience and how will it affect them once the action is over, including long term?

The reader should learn something important about one or more of the characters during or as a result of the action. What does the character’s motivation to be involved in the action say about him or her? Similar questions help the reader become more personally invested in the story through their connection with the character.

Action scenes should help fulfill the purpose of the book. This relates to action needing to move the story forward, but it goes deeper. It asks that action scenes relate to the overall purpose of the book. Is that purpose to fulfill a quest, reveal hidden abilities, understand the self, etc.? Action can easily become an easy way to provide momentary excitement in an otherwise slow section, however, it will lack depth if that is its only purpose.

Action Basics

Action is often movement, though not in every situation. When writing action scenes such as chases, fights, combat, etc., it is important to balance describing movement with story needs. Avoid writing an entire action scene as blow-by-blow description. This quickly becomes tedious for the reader, and if the reader is not familiar with specific terminology it may be skimmed and important information might be missed. It also slows the pace of the story progression. Intersperse movement description with other story elements to keep the focus on the overall story as well as the immediate action.

When writing action scenes, strive for clarity. If the reader can’t understand what’s going on because it’s too chaotic, they will likely miss the point of the scene. Be specific on what is happening, but don’t overdo it with technical terms or pack in too many movements with little or no explanation on what is actually happening.

Focus on the experience, not the individual actions. Give the reader periodic breaks from the action with glimpses of what the characters are experiencing. These may be thoughts, emotions, observations, sensory input, etc.

We’ll cover show vs. tell later in this series, but keep in mind what the purpose of the scene is and write in a way that fulfills the purpose.

Book Blurbs: Crafting the Blurb

While the hook is critical to a great blurb, the body of the blurb deserves equal attention. Consider it’s effectiveness as a whole as well as it’s individual parts.

Word Choice Matters

Choosing the right words can make all the different in a blurb. Be certain to make sure your word choice communicates the tone of the story by using words that fit the genre and situation. A dark thriller will use more intense wording while a rom-com will use light, fun words.

Word choice should also match the time period and regional setting. If you’re writing historical fiction that should be apparent within a few sentences through carefully selected words and phrases. Maintain regional accuracy without overloading the blurb with slang or colloquialisms.

It’s also all right to use hyperbole when appropriate, such as “unimaginable” for a shocking crime or “intoxicating” for a sudden and passionate romance, but don’t overdo it. Stuffing the blurb with hyperbole will exhaust the reader.

Avoid clichés, superfluous words, description, unnecessary adverbs, and “chatter” as much as possible. The blurb should be too the point and directly communicate the basics of the story to the reader.

Be Concise

Blurbs should run 100-150 words in most cases. Blurbs placed on the back cover of a book may be longer depending on space available during formatting. Blurbs for online retailers should be on the shorter end of the range since people browsing often skim.

Don’t try to tell the reader everything you think might interest them in a blurb. Stick to the important highlights and leave backstory, secondary characters, subplots, and similar information to be discovered when reading the full book.

It may be helpful to start writing a blurb with bullet points to sift out what should and shouldn’t be mentioned. Expand on the bullet points with 1-2 sentences about each point.

Utilizing Cliffhangers

This isn’t a must in a hook, but for many stories a cliffhanger ending in a blurb will be a good nudge for readers toward purchasing.

Cliffhangers can also help you avoid giving away too much in a blurb. Cliffhangers focus on the main conflict the characters face but only hint at a possible resolution. It’s important to present the problem and leave readers wondering how the character will overcome it.

The answer to how the story will resolve shouldn’t be too obvious.

Even with books that are more formulaic, it’s important to make the reader curious about how this particular story will unfold. While most romances end in a happily-ever-after scenario, they don’t (or shouldn’t) all reach it the same way. Hint at the uniqueness and leave it at that.

Formatting the Blurb

Once you’ve finished crafting the blurb, the work isn’t quite done. It’s important to format blurbs according to genre conventions. Each main genre has it’s own nuances when it comes to formatting. Fore example:

Contemporary romance tends to use short, 1-2 sentence paragraphs that highlight main points of the storyline.

Historical romance tends to use longer paragraphs with a more in-depth summary of each point of interest.

Study blurbs on Amazon in your genre to make sure you’re formatting correctly. Of course, sometimes you need to break out of conventions to highlight a unique aspect of your story, but make sure there’s a reason for using a unique format and that it conveys the tone or action of the story.

Effective blurbs intrigue readers. Highlight the most interesting aspects of the book that will hook readers and make the need to find out more great enough to click the buy button.

Book Blurbs: Irresistible Hooks

The first few lines of a blurb should contain the hook, the attention-grabbing snippet of information about the book that will entice readers to wonder what will happen next and hopefully get them to buy the book.

Crafting the Hook

A great hook catches readers’ attention, but there are different ways to accomplish that. Consider these examples from published novels:

Write something that startles the reader: “Shaye Archer’s life effectively began the night police found her in an alley, beaten and abused and with no memory of the previous fifteen years, not even her name.” Malevolent by Jana DeLeon

Open with the inciting incident: “When Willow is born with severe osteogenesis imperfecta, her parents are devastated—she will suffer hundreds of broken bones as she grows, a lifetime of pain.” Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult

Create intrigue: “Inspired by a terrifying true story from the author’s hometown, a heart-pounding novel of suspense about a small Minnesota community where nothing is as quiet—or as safe—as it seems.” Unspeakable Things by Jeffrey Eugenides

Introduce something ominous: “A bloodthirsty sheriff is terrorizing a small Texas town where justice has been buried with his victims.” In the Heart of the Fire by Dean Koontz

Make the characters sympathetic and relatable: “What happens when the most beautiful girl in the world marries the handsomest prince of all time and he turns out to be…well…a lot less than the man of her dreams?” The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Capture the reader’s heart : “Every so often a love story so captures our hearts that it becomes more than a story—it becomes an experience to remember forever.” The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

Focus on the Main Characters

Introduce the main characters and leave the side characters for the reader to discover once they start reading. Trying to include side characters in a hook will make it too wordy and confusing for the reader. If a reader has to reread a hook to understand it, you’ve already lost them.

It’s important to get readers interested in the characters right away. That means focusing on the basics, the most intriguing aspects. Give his or her name, a few important traits that make the characters unique or interesting, explain what the situation is, and what dilemma or conflict the characters are going to face.

Staying focused on engaging and capturing the reader’s interest with a hook will help you pair down unnecessary details and highlight the strengths and uniqueness of your book.

Book Blurbs: Formulas and Pitches

I’m generally a big fan of carving your own path and ditching conventions that don’t work for you, but when it comes to blurbs, that may make you lose your mind. Blurbs are so challenging for most writers there’s no point reinventing the wheel and doubling the work. Start with what is time tested and reliable, then adjust and adapt to make it suit your work.

A Formula That Works

Below is a general formula that will get you started with writing a well-structured blurb. Once you have the basic elements, change it up in whatever way best portrays your novel and compels a reader’s interest.

The first 1-2 sentences should state the purpose or central theme of the story or character journey. These few words should also briefly introduce the characters and initial situation. It is critical that the reader finds the characters interesting and likable, or they will not want to spend hours with them reading the book. Lastly, the first few lines should introduce the main problem or source of conflict.

The first paragraph should indicate the twist without giving too much away. Don’t spoil the ending in the blurb or give away important details that will take away from the story’s suspense when reading. Limit yourself to establishing the stakes of failure or of the relationship not working out.

The last paragraph should wrap up the story introduction and entice readers to find out more. The desire to know more relies heavily on a connection with the characters. If the reader doesn’t care about the character, he or she will not care about what happens to the character, either. End the blurb with a question or with a sentence that sets the overall mood of the story. Again, do NOT give away the ending!

A blurb is not a synopsis. It’s a tease meant to make the reader need to buy the book in order to know how the characters’ story will end.

Crafting a Sales Pitch

Convincing the reader they need to know the ending starts with developing a connect between the story and/or characters and the reader, but it’s also important to realize the blurb is a sales pitch and needs to be written like one.

The first sentence must grab the reader’s attention. Readers have very short attention spans and tend to skim when browsing online. You have minimal time to hook them and make them ask what will happen next?

Think of this first sentence (two at the most) as an elevator pitch. It should capture the most interesting part of the story. That may be the conflict, mystery, romance, etc. When writing this sentence, consider what element of the story will have the biggest draw for readers and focus on that aspect.

Whatever will most make readers want to check out your book, mention it in the first line. This first sentence often sits by itself on retailer sites before the bulk of the blurb, giving it a better chance to catch the reader’s attention.

The preview on most ebook retailer sites barely gives you more than a sentence or two before readers have to click “read more,” so make that first sentence count!

Even though blurbs are sales pitches, don’t make promises the book can’t keep. Punching up certain elements to make a story seem more appealing will backfire when disappointed readers leave negative reviews.

Book Blurbs: What and Why?

Condensing a full story into a few paragraphs takes concise wording, understanding the purpose of the story, and developing a great hook. This blog series will dive into defining and book summary/blurb and the techniques of effective book blurb writing.

What is a blurb?

A book summary, or blurb, is a short description of a book used for promotional purposes, including the book description listed on retailer websites and the book’s back cover. The term blurb is often used in place of book summary, and I’ll use it throughout this series because it’s a common term and easier to type.

Blurbs give the reader a brief idea of the book’s content. They are NOT a full synopsis of the book and should not contain any spoilers of major plot points, including the resolution. Blurbs are NOT a summary of the first chapter, which is an all too common trap authors fall into when writing blurbs. Focus on the bigger picture.

A blurb highlights the genre/subgenre, purpose, situation, conflict, and characters of the story. It should give the reader a clear idea of what kind of book they are looking at and set expectations for what the book will deliver.

A blurbs style and formatting varies slightly depending on genre, and can change over time depending on industry trends. It’s important to occasionally review and adjust blurbs to fit current reader interests and expectations.

Blurb Writing Challenges

It’s always a challenge to boil down an entire story into a few hundred words. You’ve put endless hours into writing and editing a story, only to be asked to summarize it in a few sentences. The task often seems impossible, but there are ways to survive such torture.

Most writers hate this part of publishing. After developing so many details and intricacies to craft a well-written story, it’s a incredibly difficult to take all of those nuances and wonderful subplots back out of the story and convince readers to buy a book on only the highlights.

Boiling a full story down to a few paragraphs requires concise word choice, pinpointing the purpose of the story, and developing a great hook.

How to Write a Blurb

Traditionally, blurbs are written in third person present tense. This may feel odd at first, since few books are written this way, but it is one of those longstanding industry standards that remains despite so many other changes in publishing.

One of the few exceptions to this is contemporary, modern romance. For reasons that I’m not sure anyone really knows fully, contemporary romance blurbs are commonly (though not always) written in first person present tense. The most likely reason for this shift has to do with the recent popularity of writing in first person in popular fiction and the fact that many contemporary romance writers are independently published and have control over how their books are listed and portrayed on retailer sites.

Do you have to write your blurb in a particular tense or style? Not really. Consider what style matches the novel’s style and what format, tense, or styles will prepare readers for that point of view. It’s a good idea to study the top 100 blurbs in a genre or subgenre to decide which is best for a particular novel.

The Purpose of a Blurb

When considering how to craft your blurb, think about the book’s purpose. Readers want to know the main point or purpose of the book when reading a blurb. They want to know if a particular book is what they’re looking for and if it will fulfill their expectations.

When writing the blurb, focus on the main point or purpose of the story, first and foremost, the consider what need the book will fulfill for the reader. Readers often search for new books with search terms that describe what they are in the mood to read right in that moment. A blurb should tell a prospective reader if a book truly fits that need, such as escapism, sweet romance, excitement, suspense, etc.

Make the purpose of the book clear early in the blurb. This should be contained in the first one to two sentences. It should also be accurate and not misleading. Readers get very upset when they spend money on a book only to realize it was inaccurately portrayed.

An example of a clear and accurate blurb opener, consider White Rose, Black Forest by Eoin Dempsey: “In the shadows of World War II, trust becomes the greatest risk of all for two strangers.” The riskiness of trust during war times is the clear purpose of this story and is pointed out in the first line of this blurb.

Although condensing a story down to a few paragraphs is never easy, understanding what a blurb is and why you are writing one will help you craft a purpose-driven blurb that will entice readers.

Writing Professionalism: Effective Client Communication

Communicating with clients effectively takes many of the same skills as in other important relationships.

Active Listening

Active listening is more than hearing, it’s fully concentrating on words, body language, and subtext, and internalizing the message without judgment or offering of advice. Active listening is the first step in understand what a client needs or what a problem entails. Fully take in what the client is saying with an open mind rather than planning a response of considering other options while the client is speaking.

After listening actively to the initial conversation, take the time to ask questions about anything you don’t fully understand or on issues you aren’t sure you are seeing in the same way as the client. Reflect back to the client what they said in your own words so you can check your understanding and so the client can clarify anything that isn’t being understood in the way he or she would like it to be understood.

Ask for clarification when needed rather than assume or guess. Lastly, summarize the message or problem for both yourself and the client. This process help ensure there are no misunderstandings or missing information.

Active listening shows respect, improves the chances of full understanding, and limits misunderstandings or missed information. To learn more about active listening, visit Very Well Mind.

Consistent Communication

Communicating with a client in a consistent manner is an important aspect of effective communication.

All attempts at communication with clients should be conducted in a professional manner. Even if you know the person personally prior to them becoming a client, adjust the client/provider interactions to reflect that new aspect of the relationship.

Avoid casual chatting, asking personal questions, or sharing personal information when engaged in business discussions. It is important to stay focused on the project and so you can ensure the client is satisfied. Use professional language, avoiding slang, excessive emojis, or profanity.

It’s also important to use a similar communication style in all interactions, so the client knows what to expect when they engage in a conversation with you. This helps clients become more familiar with your style as a service provider and allow them to anticipate how interactions will occur. Consistency improves chances of open communication and honesty.

Adapting your communication style to the client’s (in a reasonable manner) can help the client feel more accepted and heard. This doesn’t mean mimicking a client’s style of communication. Instead, adapt to what the client needs to feel comfortable during an interaction. This may mean detailed explanations or brief overviews, providing written notes or audio messages, scheduling chat sessions or dropping impromptu updates as you complete tasks.

Ask your client specifically about their communication style in order to know and meet their expectations.

Adapting Language

Another important adaptation to consider is that of adapting your language to the individual client. This includes word choice, determine what does or doesn’t need to be explained, or the level of technicality.

Few clients will be as well-versed in literary or marketing terms as the writer providing the service is. Simplify language when needed to fully explain a concept without over-simplifying it to the point of condescension. Explain issues or problems in plain language to avoid confusion.

Ask yourself how you learned a term or idea and if a lay person would have the same knowledge. Writers who are working with an editor for the first time may need grammatical or style changes explained, or a discussion on why a particular aspect goes against industry standards or retailer terms of service.

Don’t assume your client knows everything you do, but don’t speak to them like a they know nothing at all, either. Assess the client’s level of knowledge and adapt accordingly. Explain a concept as you would to a coworker who has asked for your expertise on a subject, not as a teacher would explain something to a child.

Clarity and Concision

Be clear and concise when speaking with clients in order to avoid unnecessary problems. When asking clients for feedback or to respond to a question, be clear in what information you need and concise in your wording so the client does not have to attempt to interpret your request or guess at what you want.

List specific details you need if you are requesting answers or information. Provide the list in whatever manner your client is most receptive too, such as a bulleted list, audio file, graphic, etc.

When requesting opinions or feedback, ask about specific items, not general concepts. “What do you think about this version?” is much less helpful than “Does this color palette inspire the emotional response you’re looking for?” If a client doesn’t like something, they often have trouble pinpointing exactly what they don’t like. Asking specific questions makes giving feedback easier for the client and avoids lengthy back and forth conversations guessing at the main problem.

Provide timely updates on your progress. Don’t leave the client wondering what you are working on or when they will next hear from you. Clearly communicate any delays and the reasons for the delay, without crossing a line of professional boundaries.

Focusing on your client’s needs and giving full effort to communicating effectively will help avoid confusion, disappointment, and frustration.

Writing Professionalism: Getting Started Working with Clients

Building relationships with clients and having effective interactions is key to success in growing a service-oriented business.

Many authors don’t just write, they also provide services to other authors and to various writing clients. Learning how to interact with clients on a professional level can help you develop strong relationships with clients and grow your writing business.

The Importance of Working with Clients

As an editor, copywriter, ghostwriter, freelancer writer, etc., you will interact with clients on a regular basis during a project. The better those interactions go, the better the overall project will go as well.

It is critical that writers understand the importance of working with clients and the level of professionalism expected by clients. Clients who feel they are not valued or respected are unlikely to come back for another project with you.

An inability to interact with clients professionally will likely result in being awarded fewer projects. The writing community is small and reputations matter a great deal. If clients are unwilling to work with a service provider, other writers will hear about it fairly quickly.

Providing the client with excellent customer service, no matter the situation, is key a successful service-oriented business.

The Importance of Great Communication with Clients

Working with clients is all about building relationships. Like any relationship, effective communication improves the chances of building a strong relationship with your clients. Developing great relationships with clients helps to ensure repeat business. Repeat customers help the overall business and helps individual writers have more consistent work.

Poor communication leads to confusion, hurt feelings, dissatisfaction, and unfulfilled needs. Expectations should be communicated clearly at the beginning of the project to ensure you can meet them and that the client knows what product or service you will be providing and how and when it will be provided. This should include updates and progress reports.

Effective Communication when Getting to Know Clients

Monitoring tone is important in both verbal and written communication. It’s easier to interpret tone when a message is spoken, but if a new client is not familiar with you personally, jokes or sarcasm might not be taken in the right way.

In written communication, tone is even more easily be misconstrued. Be aware of how your words might be taken by someone who is still not yet familiar with you and your style of communication.

Connotation is the non-definition meaning people attach to words or ideas. Everyone has different connotations, making word choice extremely important in written messages where body language or vocal tone is absent. If you tend to use humor or sarcasm, these are especially in danger of being misinterpreted. Be cautious of using too much of this type of language when first getting to know a client.

Choose words that are universal and harder to misinterpret when explaining what services you will provide and the process you will use to complete the project.

It is also important to use concise language to communicate an issue or problem so the client knows exactly what is going on and how you intend to fix it. The more clearly the problem is defined, the more easily the client will be able to offer useful information to address it as well.

Working Through Problems with Clients

Be friendly and polite in all situations, even if a client is being difficult to work with or manage. Any message, including and especially problems, that communicated in a friendly, upbeat, and personable way are more likely to be received favorably. This will make finding solutions and working through the problem much less challenging.

Never use language that places blame or attacks the client. If information or materials are missing from what the client was supposed to provide, politely remind him or her that they are needed and ask when you can expect them. Make suggestions in a manner that offers a solution rather than simply stating a problem.

Ask for feedback on suggestions when problems are encountered. Show genuine interest in the client’s thoughts and reasoning, even if they are difference from your own ideas or plans for addressing an issue. Because clients are most familiar with a projects, they will have unique insights.

If a client disagrees with your plan of action or proposed solutions, acknowledge their input and accept their final decision graciously. You are providing a service, but the ultimate outcome of the project is his or her decision.

Always use basic manner, such as please and thank you, in your communications. Not getting along with a client doesn’t mean it’s okay to be disrespectful or rude.

Telling Clients “No”

Saying no to a client is always challenging, but it will almost always go better if you can find a way to reject an idea in a positive way.

There may be times when a client wants something that go against a retailer’s policies, client or genre expectations, or will be detrimental to a projects success. It is an important skill to be able to explain why an idea won’t work in a positive and respectful way.

Avoid actually saying the word “no” when possible. A better approach is to fully explain the problem. For instance, explicit sex scenes int eh first chapter, rape or incest as a main storyline, and similar taboos will go against many retailer’s terms of service and block a book from being published or prevent it from being found by customers.

Once you fully explain the problem, back up your reasoning with facts and data when possible. Amazon categorizes books with explicit sex in the first 25% of the book as erotica and will bury it, and most retailers will remove books containing incest or rape as a main storyline. Explaining this policies can help a client understand why a project element will harm its overall success.

Offer a solution to the problem after presenting it. The client may need to add more character development in early chapter to push explicit sex further back, and alter a storyline to remove unacceptable or banned taboo topics.

If a client is unwilling to change or alter a project element that you know will hurt the project’s success, it may be necessary to end the relationship. Do so politely and with explicit reasons of why you have reached an impasse. Not every partnership is a good fit, and it is better to end what isn’t working than let it devolve into unprofessionalism.

Remember that your reputation in the writing community will greatly affect your overall success in growing a service-oriented writing business.

Writing Compelling Conflict: Fixing Conflict that Doesn’t Work

Conflict may fall flat for a variety of reasons. If a source of conflict is not providing the needed progression or reader interest, consider why it isn’t working.

One-Source Conflict

Conflict, particularly the main story conflict, cannot come from a single source and be realistic and effective. A mix of internal and external conflict is needed to support a full story arc.

Consider which type of conflict the story is most heavily leaning on and work to balance it out. If internal conflict is dominating, create more instances of external conflict that relates back to the main internal conflict and pushes the character to develop new skills or grow in some way. These often appear in subplots and focus on individual skills or traits the character needs to develop.

Simple Conflict

Conflict that is not complex enough is boring and too easily resolved to hold the reader’s attention or provide meaningful opportunities for character growth and development.

This is another great use for subplots that can raise the stakes of the main conflict, make the character’s faults and weakness have a bigger impact on the main storyline, and make the character fail more often.

Provide ample opportunities for the character to learn and grow or the change needed at the end will feel too abrupt and unsupported to be believable.

Superficial Conflict

If the conflict a character faces is not impactful enough or too easily resolved, delve deeper. Figure out what the source of the conflict is rather than focusing on how it manifests. Dig until the character is bare, then use that knowledge to create more meaningful obstacles.

Predictable Conflict

If the reader can see what is coming a mile away, he or she will get bored and move on. Do not set a character on the first path that comes to mind without exploring all the options.

Develop unusual paths for growth, obstacles that arise from unexpected sources, and resolutions that may end the way the reader expected (such as a happily ever after ending) but do not come about in the expected way.

Examine each trope or tactic used and come up with an alternative way to integrate it, such as a character losing the job she spent the whole book working toward but being offered an alternative that will use her skills in an unexpected way.

Conflict in a Bubble

A story and its sources of conflict should extend beyond the page. Conflict that exists in a bubble often occurs due to lack of backstory development and consideration of the character’s future.

That final scene kiss in a romance won’t be as delicious if the reader is left feeling like the characters are underdeveloped and incapable of sustaining the relationship long-term.

The characters of a story did not come into existence on page one. Their lives prior to the story beginning brought them to the moment that takes place on page one. The characters’ current situation will have important impacts on the choices and actions made and taken throughout the story. Consider how a character got to page one and how past experiences will complicate or hinder his or her future.

Conflict only drives a story when it is carefully developed and well thought out. Taking the time to delve into the sources and impacts of conflict in a story will make it more meaningful, realistic, and powerful.

Writing Compelling Conflict: Resolving Conflict

The resolution to conflict, both main and subplot conflict, must be believable. That means it must makes sense for the characters and overall story, and have been reached through a logical progression of events, actions, and decisions.

If conflict resolution does not meet these criteria, the reader will be left unsatisfied and may even lose interest in the writer.

Resolution of the main conflict should be a progression of smaller resolutions, each one wrapping up a subplot conflict that served a purpose in helping the character grow and develop enough to resolve the main conflict. Resolving minor conflicts is key because those conflicts are often the reasons (taken all together) for the main conflict.

Internal change shapes the character’s underlying goals and helps him or her focus more fully on achieving the main goal. Once the underlying goals are better aligned, it is easier for the character to more clearly see how to resolve the main conflict.

It is imperative that the the minor and major conflicts resolve in ways that satisfies the reader and doesn’t leave him or her with unanswered questions. This does not mean that the resolution has to be the expected option or that the reader will like the resolution. It does mean that resolution satisfies the initial questions posed and promises made to the reader at the beginning of the story.

Evaluating Resolution

Reread the first chapter and ask yourself how you want the story to end. Then ask yourself what you are willing to see each character give up in order to achieve that ending.

Do your answers to these questions line up with how the story ended? If not, why? If so, did you fully explore all options for resolution or are you taking the easy, expected way out of the story? Avoid cliched, stereotypical, and unrealistic endings.

If a female main character gives up all of her goals to fulfill the male main character’s goals instead, you are bound to get more than a few eye rolls from readers unless you provide very convincing reasons for that choice. After spending so much time and energy developing strong conflict, don’t short change the resolution by failing to consider all options and making needed revisions that will improve the resolution.

Ask yourself what steps make sense for each character to get from page one to the final resolution. Is anything out of character or difficult to justify? If so, take the time to rework or flesh out unsatisfying points of a character’s development. If you can fully develop the character’s journey and individual points of conflict, the resolution will flow from that journey to a satisfying ending more easily.

Writing Compelling Conflict: Adding Depth

Even if you have developed strong conflict for the main plot, you may still end up with slow sections or lackluster moments of character growth. Layering conflict in small ways adds depth and can make a big different in the overall appeal of a story.

Progress and Failure

The main conflict should be complex enough to last the entire length of the story. Ending it too early creates endings that drag on for too long. Conflicts related to subplots or specific instances of learning or growth can be resolved within a few chapters.

It is important to remember, though, that conflict progression should not be a straight line. It should reflect a roller coaster motion, making improvement or completing steps toward a goal, then failing or hitting a new stumbling block. This back and forth motion prolongs and heightens the story’s conflict, adding depth and realism.

Anticipation and Expectation

Once readers know what a character’s main goal is, most will be able to intuit the necessary steps the character will need to take to achieve that goal. If you as the writer follow those steps in a straight forward manner, the reader will become bored.

Determine what steps need to be taken, then create situations or outcomes that will derail or delay those steps being completed, causing the character to have to take unexpected routes to continue on their journey.

Make sure the character is fully invested in the expected outcome and make it clear to the reader through internal dialogue and conversation how much he or she anticipates reaching that goal. This raises the personal stakes of failure for the character and helps forge a bond with the reader. When failure and setbacks happen, as they should, the reader will share the character’s pain and frustration.

Other character’s expectations can be a powerful way to add depth to conflict as well. If a character’s friend or partner either doesn’t believe she can reach a goal, or puts an excessive amount of pressure on her to meet a goal, this also raises the stakes of failure and heightens the reader’s anticipation of character development. The character not only needs to reach his goal, he must also battle with consequences of the outcome on others.

Building Suspense

Conflict and suspense are not the same thing, but they are often closely related. Suspense surrounding whether or not the character will push through conflict to reach a goal keeps the reader wondering whether the character will be successful. If the reader is too sure of success, the reader may lose interest.

Adding stumbling blocks, internal uncertainty or fear, and situational problems into a story keeps the reader from developing too much certainty about how the story will end. The suspense of not knowing keeps the interest level higher and can help develop a connection with the reader.

Fears and Faults

The reasons that a character struggles to achieve a goal aren’t always external. In fact, they shouldn’t be only external because that risks progress toward a goal becoming repetitive and predictable.

If a character can always talk herself out of a problem and never faces any repercussions, the reader will not be concerned about failure. If, however, a character self-sabotages even the most promising situation out of fear of an employer developing too high of expectations, the reader will constantly worry about how the character might bomb a situation.

Internal obstacles provide a deeper source of conflict because internal conflict is often much more difficult to overcome than external conflict. Internal conflict comes from trauma and old wounds. Neither of which are easily repaired.

Disadvantaged Starts

A story’s inciting incident is often seen as the start of the main conflict in a story. It is not the beginning of all conflict involved in a character’s journey. The reasons that a character struggles to achieve a goal are often rooted in their past experiences and situations.

Consider what disadvantages your character is starting with and how those will play into the storyline. Whether physical, financial, emotional, educational, or mental, everyone has sources of conflict they battle daily. Draw on these to develop meaningful stumbling blocks. The more personal the hindrance, the more believable it will be.

If a character is too close to achieving a goal when the story starts and there is not enough conflict in reaching a goal, the journey won’t be very interesting. Make a character have to work to achieve their goal.

Reveal Slowly

The main question that keeps reader engaged in a story is: what will happen next? When readers connect with characters and situations, they become invested in the outcome. If the answers are given too early or too openly without any work on the part of the reader, he or she may loose interest quickly.

Only give the bare minimum that the reader needs to understand what is happening in the scene. Do not reveal full backstories or motivations without good reason. Make both the character and the reader work to learn what he will face and whether she will succeed.

Be patient and detailed when fleshing out conflict in a story. Success should never come easily or in the most commonly expected way.