From the Notebook: Bringing Fiction to Life

I’ve been cleaning my place, trying to get things in order since I’ve moved back to campus, and I found some old notes about how to bring fiction to life.

I only got as far as character surface life in terms of my detailed handwritten notes, with a character that I gave up, sadly enough. There are a couple things I wanted to post from my notes, however, since they seem useful.

* Take cues from other actors (characters) to know how the main (or other) character should be treated.

* Want to build suspense? Here are twelve ways to do so:

  1. Objective – begins the reader anticipation, because now the character is working toward a goal.
  2. Raise Stakes – this increases the importance of the objective.
  3. Danger – increases the suspense because now lives might be at stake.
  4. Ticking Clock – having a time limit/deadline always raises stakes. What happens if the goal isn’t reached by the time limit?
  5. Obstacles – the inability to take action can be very frustrating. This frustration ups the suspense as the reader sympathizes with the character.
  6. The Unknown – allows the reader to contemplate possibilities.
  7. Sexual Tension – having an attraction to someone always raises the suspense. Life is hard as it is, but throw in feelings, and the uncertainty that they are reciprocated, and we have a whole subplot in the works.
  8. Dramatic irony – this isn’t necessarily suspenseful for the character, but for the readers who are privy to the new information.
  9. Living in the Future – the reader anticipates the difference between reality now, and what might happen in order for that reality to take place.
  10. Lack of Resolution – end your scenes and chapters with cliffhangers!
  11. Secret – “Secrets, secrets are no fun. Secrets, secrets hurt someone.” Keeping secrets is a dangerous business. Keep them from the characters, not from your reader, unless you want your story to be vague and hard to understand. In other words, don’t keep the secret from your reader if you want to be published.
  12. Character Type – through knowing the character, the reader anticipates what the character might and might not do. This wonder whether the character will do as expected increases the reader’s suspsense.

Notes taken from The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life by Noah Lukeman. St Martin’s Press 2002, New York, New York.

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