Friday, August 26, 2011

Story Structure: Ocean Waves or Stairsteps?

By Heather Justesen

I've spent quite a while mulling over one of my writing projects lately, trying to decide what wasn't working. Now don't get me wrong, the characters are terrific (if I do say so myself), the set up is good, the chemistry between all of the players is working nicely, but I still felt like something wasn't working quite right.

Then it hit me--I have plenty of conflict but it looks like ocean waves instead of a set of stairs.

You see, for conflict to push the characters to the end of the book, you have to keep upping the ante. Ocean wakes may have some nice crests, but the conflict comes back down again to a former level (or close).

Stair steps on the other hand keep building upward. One conflict stacks on top of the next until you reach the crisis at the end--and it keeps the reader riveted in their seats. If things don't continue to get worse for the character then the story stagnates.

Yeah, that means I need to do a little more tweaking to the story, but hopefully it'll help me make it the best it can be.

In other awesome news, I saw a preview of my book cover for my next book, Family by Design, and it rocks! Last I heard the book is supposed to be available in January, and seeing the cover has me all kinds of excited. I'll post it up here as soon as I get the final version.


Lola X said...

Absolutely fantastic blog!!! Glad I found it! Love it!!!

Lola x

J Scott Savage said...

One of the problems with continually raising the stakes is that it can actually turn the reader off to the point that they put the book down or jump to the end. They need some release and some satisfaction along the way.

The best way to accomplish this is to make sure you have at least three story lines. When one is slowing, the other can ramp up. When the reader is starting to feel frustrated, they can resolve one story line.

It's something that took a couple of books for me to learn.