I’m a plotter. I work out who my characters are before I begin writing. I decide what’s going to happen to them, and how it’s going to happen. I’m not one of those people who starts with an idea and then meanders towards the end.
I’m currently working on the first book in a YA psychological thriller trilogy, and as I headed towards the end of my first draft, I realized that I had perfectly followed the map I’d designed before I started.
I had taken my MC to all the places I intended to take her, but my story still seemed to lack dramatic tension.
That’s when I realized that I had lots of interesting things happening in the story, but it lacked two major ingredients that were kind of related.
1. It lacked a strong climax; one where my character had been placed in extreme danger, where the stakes were so high that the reader would wonder if she’d survive.
2. I had threatened danger, but I hadn’t put my character in harm’s way enough.
Your story can having engaging characters, powerful themes and an interesting story line but if it lacks dramatic tension, it loses the reader.
To build dramatic tension, you need to put important questions in the readers mind. Will the main character survive this event? How will they survive it? You must lead your reader to the brink, make them think there is no way out for the MC; that they can’t possibly survive this. Then it’s up to you, the author to work out how they do.
So after discovering that my story was ‘interesting’ but not mind blowing, I went back to look for dramatic tension.
To do this, I returned to my original plot diagram and realized that although I had increasing action, I had hinted at danger, but not put the character in a situation that she might not survive.
I don’t think it’s ever too late to go back and re-plot parts of your story. Or to look at each scene and decide whether it really moves the story forward. Does it put your main character even further in danger? Does it make the risk of failure more deadly?
After going back and asking myself the sorts of questions I wanted to be in the mind of the reader, I re-plotted the climax of my story and raised the stakes for my character. The result was, more dramatic tension into my manuscript.