Of course you need highs and lows. What you don’t need is for the momentum to drop. That spells instant reader turn-off, and you’ve lost him.
Writers often start off with a great idea, bang into the story, take us through the action, and then don’t know where to go from there. It’s not just lack of ideas, though that can happen too. It’s more the problem of knowing how to shift from one plot point to the next.
Children are prone to this problem, and you can help them overcome it with a simple craft trick. Action begets action begets action. Each action point ought to suggest the next. A story is a series of consequences – one thing leads to another.
But what we don’t do is mess around in the interim between action scenes.
The key is to time jump. Never try to cross time by taking the reader through boring days with nothing happening. Leap across time and bang straight into the next action scene.
Every scene doesn’t have to consist of high drama. It does have to move the story along. Your hero needs to be progressing towards his goal, or being prevented from making it. We are not interested in the days in between where he is getting over the first problem and thinking up his next move.
So how do you let the reader know what happened in between? That’s where your flashback moments come in. A flashback can run from a few sentences to a whole scene. You use it to tell us something we need to know, either about what happened in the past before the story starts, or what happened between scenes.
Let’s take an example:
In the opening scenes, Jack located Harry but was attacked by Harry’s henchman and had to take evasive action. There was a cat-and-mouse chase in a warehouse, a pitched battle in the dark and Jack managed to escape with his life. Harry disappears.
Our next big scene takes place a few days later, when Jack, again hunting for Harry (prompted by his disappearance), runs into an ex-girlfriend who left Jack for Harry, but is now trying to escape from his jealous rages.
In between these two scenes, Jack got himself patched up in the hospital and dug around for information on where Harry might be now. But we don’t want to waste our time following him through this scenario. It won’t hold attention because it isn’t moving Jack towards his goal.
Don’t write those scenes. Instead, during the scene with the girl, he can tell her where he thinks Harry now is, and how he got that information. He can also have her notice his injuries. A brief flashback in his head would be enough to tell us that he got patched up. Like this:
“He recalled the doc’s pungent comments on seeing the mess of his face. ‘You walked into a wall? Looks to me like the wall walked into you, Mr Dillon, complete with sprouted fists.’”
Any time you find the story dragging a big, look for the next action scene and time jump into that. You will avoid the curse of saggy middles.
Guest Blog by Elizabeth Bailey
Coming from professional theatre, Elizabeth Bailey taught drama for many years alongside her writing career. Multi-published, she now writes full time, both her own novels and ghostwriting, as well as critiquing for other writers. Find out more at www.elizabethbailey.co.uk