Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Back on the Blog Chain: Want More Drama?

It's a good thing I have the blog chain to force me to blog. Lately, my life has been like this:

Only without the Beatles or the screaming girls.

Anyway, Christine would like us to discuss drama this round:

How do you create a wonderfully dramatic story? Are there any questions you ask yourself, or specific things you keep in mind to ensure that you have the level of tension necessary to propel the story forward?

Amanda posted before me, and Eric will post next.

When I first read Christine's question, I thought I wouldn't have much to say. After all, I'm an organic writer who cranks out draft after draft, constantly tinkering with scenes in my head. However, as the chain progressed and I saw what others posted, I thought of a couple of things to add.

A couple of people have mentioned how they say "No!" to their characters, constantly denying them what they want. While that does keep the tension high, sometimes you have to let the characters move forward to advance the plot. The trick to keeping this dramatic is to have the forward movement come at a cost. Jack Bickman refers to this as "Yes, But..." in his book Scene and Structure.

Let me use an example from my current work, since I enjoy talking about it. My main character, Paul, wants to prove his great-uncle had his mother murdered; to do so, Paul plans to impersonate a famous dead ancestor of theirs that his uncle is obsessed with. To do this, he needs to visit an alternate Earth where their ancestor is still alive. Paul can travel to this Earth, since he lives on a spaceship that does visit the alternate universe, but he's never been allowed down on the planet. Paul is motivated to change his ancestor's fate (he's also murdered), which could change history, so the authorities would be better off keeping him on the spaceship. But that would be a very big roadblock for the story I want to tell. So Paul bargains with the authorities by revealing two secrets, secrets the authorities want to exploit for their own purposes. They then agree to let him leave the ship and his family--so they can run secret tests on him. This is the first "But" to the "Yes." Paul does manage to escape, but in a way that puts him in deeper trouble with the other time travelers. So even though he's making progress on one story front, he's getting deeper into trouble on another front. And when the travelers do catch up to him, there will be consequences....(insert evil laugh)

The second thing I do is take risks. Paul's best friend, Scott, is bisexual. He has an unrequited crush on Paul even though he's also attracted to Paul's sister. I didn't know this about Scott at first; I wrote him as straight in the first couple of drafts. For a long time, I suppressed it in the story, fearing it might turn readers off. But finally I gave in to the inevitable; not only does Paul know about Scott's bisexuality, but Scott reveals his feelings at a key moment. Now that's drama! As if Paul didn't have enough problems already.

That's all I can think of for now. May all of your drama stay in your fiction and not in your daily life!


christine said...

Nice additions to the thread Sandra! Thanks

Mandy said...

Wow Sandra, that is some hard-core drama!

I like giving characters a full plate. In that they have emotional drama to deal with on top of the danger that they're constantly dodging. Great post!

B.J. Anderson said...

Sounds like the makings of a killer plot!!

Cole Gibsen said...

Wow! I agree. That really is some killer drama. Well done :)

Eric said...

Interesting post. You seem to have a pretty good idea on how you deal with drama. Nice job.

Kat Harris said...

Isn't it funny how characters are what they are?

I've tried to resist making certain behave one way, but they always lean another. It always works out in the end.

Great post!

Sarah Bromley said...

Taking risks, very cool, and it certainly sounds like you've done that with your book. Good job!

Shaun Hutchinson said...

Awesome stuff. Glad you took the risk with Scott. I think agents/editors/readers can always tell when a writer is holding back.

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