As I’m currently working my way through the first draft of my third novel, I’ve come to realise that my story scope is too small. My main plot events are commonplace and my dramatic moments nothing out of the ordinary.
It’s not something I’m worried about at this stage. I shall forge on until I’ve a complete first draft, then set to work correcting the problem when I re-write. I’ll need to really think about those moments when my protagonist finds himself in danger, as they need to be both extreme and believable.
To help, I got out my highlighter pen and marked any sentences in Donald Maass’ book which I thought may help. I found this one particularly useful: “What makes a breakout novel memorable are conflicts that are deep, credible, complex and universal enough so a great number of readers can relate.”
By deep, he means deep trouble. Think about the absolute worst situation your protagonist could find himself in, then crank it up a notch, or even two. There’s a reason James Bond ends up tied above a pool full of man-eating sharks.
Or why, in the Aliens film, Ripley finds herself walking through a whole nest of alien eggs, only to come face to face with their momma.
Extreme conflicts which appear out of nowhere won’t do the trick. The reason your protagonist has got into this terrible tangle has to be credible. Not just from a character motivation stand point, but also it has to be a credible situation within the story world. You wouldn’t find James Bond suddenly fighting with sharks if his archenemy wasn’t obsessed with them within the story parameters.
Problems which have a clear right and wrong solution are never so interesting as problems which have no straightforward answer. There’s nothing better for keeping reader attention than giving your protagonist a dilemma.
When Ripley faces the alien queen, her priority is to save a child. The queen’s priority is to save her eggs. They come to a compromise, the queen will let Ripley leave is she doesn’t harm any eggs. It’s not until the queen reneges on the deal that Ripley let’s rip, so to speak.
The idea of fighting aliens may not seem like something a lot of people can relate to, but in the film, Aliens, there is an additional maternal theme which gives the story greater depth than if it was simply about humans versus aliens. It’s a theme which repeats in the fourth Alien film, and I often wonder if that is why 2 and 4 are my favourites.
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