For the next couple weeks, I'm doing one of my favorite things--studying books on the writing craft! Woo-hoo!
The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing was put together by the editors of Writer's Digest. Featuring seventy-seven essays on writing, this book appeals to my need for bite-size lessons. Gail Gaymer Martin wrote chapter forty-three, "What is Christian Romance?" Needless to say, I have an author crush on Gail!
Anyway, I recently read Monica Wood's excellent chapter, "The Plot Thickens," where she discusses complications in a novel. She explains that many newer writers mistake a situation for a complication. For instance, a bomb destroying a building our heroine just exited sounds like a complication, right? If the character runs to her car, drives to her boyfriend's house, and continues living her life with little consequence, the bomb was merely part of a situation.
Ms. Wood explains, "A good complication puts emotional pressure on a character, prompting that character not only to act, but to act with purpose."
Sometimes we come up with a great problem to throw at our characters, like the bomb above, but we fail to fully capitalize on it. We settle for letting the heroine escape with a racing heart rather than giving her a reason to act.
After I write a scene, I immediately take fifteen minutes to review it and ask a few questions.
- Did the viewpoint character learn anything in this scene?
- Did the scene answer a question? If yes, is a new question presented?
- How did the viewpoint character grow? If she didn't grow, did she regress?
- How did this scene move the plot forward?
I almost always find a way to bring the scene to a new level by doing this. It doesn't always take much to take a "good" scene to a "compelling" scene.
The questions go back to the dilemma of situation or complication. Sometimes we think we've written a complication, but when we analyze the writing, we haven't pushed our characters enough. We've either made the situation too tidy or we've ignored a potential complication in order to push our own plot agenda.
How do you turn situations into complications for your characters? I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Have a terrific weekend!