Note: This is the fifth of six parts. Click here to read from the beginning.
By Kayla Fontaine
“What if?” author Jacqueline Sheehan asked us during Bay Pay University’s Writer’s Day.
In her talk, “Novel 101,” Jacqueline instilled the truth about character and plot having crucial pertinence to every story, whether it be fiction or nonfiction. And she said to get into an intriguing story, one needs to ask, “What if?”
What if a character could do this? What if the character existed here? What if this were to happen?
I was interested in Jacqueline’s words because this is how my own creative endeavor of a sci-fi romance novel got started. I was reading Beowulf, and I asked myself, “What if Jaide wasn’t restricted to simply one timeline? What if there was a way to include all of the human timeline and force this main character to confront them, even though she is from the early sixteenth century?”
I was pleased that Jacqueline supported my technique. She also gave us a writing prompt during her session. She asked us to take a character who seems absolutely irredeemable and portray the “why” of this through their perspective. I took my villain from my sci-fi romance, Grenn, and gave him a reason to be the villain he is, but alluded to his reasoning behind why he became this way.
In tips she offered participants, Jacqueline said every work of fiction must:
- Employ conflict, tension and high drama
- Contain memorable characters
- Generate an emotional response in readers
- Tell great stories
Page turners have inwardly conflicted characters and layered, woven plots that build with memorable depth and power, she said.
She said raising the stakes for the reader is also one way to enhance a work’s intensity or help it to create that emotional response. Jacqueline suggested authors:
- Give the protagonist insurmountable odds.
- Add a deadline.
- End chapters with a cliff hanger.
- Crank up the tension in small ways. If the character is driving, make it at night, etc.
- Keep track of what’s going on with the antagonist. If the reader knows the hero is in danger, they’ll hold their breath.
- Keep the action moving. If nothing is happening, the reader will start to skim. If your main character has one tertiary character (i.e best friend, lover, etc.) that they cannot stand to lose—a great way to incorporate conflict is to kill off that character. (Cruel, I know but an unexpected death always enforces some kind of change in the lead character, which is necessary for their development.)
- Pin-point a particular attribute—physical, mental, emotional—most likely a strength, and then take this away from them.
This intense learning on Writer’s Day was inspiring to me, but as a senior only one month removed from graduation, I had bigger fish to fry than creative projects in April.
Now, with the pomp and circumstance, and my schoolwork behind me, maybe I will be able to incorporate some of this inspiration in practice and get back to my sci-fi work.
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