I’ll admit that I’m feeling my way through this whole “write your novel” thing. I’ve been reading a few of the writing magazines since university. I have a shelf full of books on the different aspects of writing the perfect novel. I have more different types of thesaurus references than you can shake a stick at. I’ve subscribed to several social media writing groups. I have characters who just won’t leave me alone. So, what’s the problem?
The half a dozen or so new imaginary friends every month that clamor for my attention, that’s what.
For now, I get the basics of their stories and file them away for later consideration. I know that they won’t be forgotten, most likely their tale will percolate in the back of my mind, and when I get back to them, they will have much more to tell me.
Right now, my Visible Means of SupportTMputs a damper the time I’d like to be spending letting my imaginary friends tell the tales that will fall from my fingertips onto the page. Worse yet, I’ve never had much in the way of patience, nor a desire to hold more than one job at a time, yet here I am. I’m grateful for a partner who allows me the freedom to pursue this next stage of my life and to lay the groundwork for what is to come next.
But I digress, onto developing plot elements to move the story along.
If you read much fiction, you know that the idea is to get the main character (the MC) through some degree of adversity and hope they learn something along the way. I don’t know about you, but a book that does nothing but explains a happy life in which nothing eventful happens can be pretty – yawn – tiresome, but that’s just my opinion. On the flip side, I think there is such thing as too much adversity thrown at the MC (or MCs).
Adversity as Plot Element
I read a series once where the main character experienced an event in which she suddenly develops super magical powers compared to other magic users in the world. Needless to say, she was chased by the “good” guys and “bad” guys alike, one side ostensibly to “protect” her, the other to use her powers for themselves and their nefarious goals.
What followed was an exhausting read to an inevitable ending.
The protagonist and her mate are chased mercilessly around the realms, and the author didn’t always reveal how or why, despite the best efforts of the “good” guys (a group which could have whisked her to safety but really never seemed to care to do so) to keep her shielded and safe, the “bad” guys always found her. My question was always, “how the hell did they find her this time? Last I knew she was hidden.”
I’ve listened to the series once and read it once, both times I was emotionally exhausted when I finished. I would barely catch my breath from one harried scene before I was caught up in another. Each time I had to question the deus ex machina feel of the adversaries always finding them, no matter what they did to hide—especially in the last book.
Throwing challenges at your protagonist will progress the story, herding your protagonist toward a desired and inescapable end feels forced.
Weather as Plot Element
I’ve read other books in which the weather was almost as much a character in the story as the people about whom the story was written. In fact, the unpredictability of the weather in the Rocky Mountains plays a part in my book.
Springtime in the Rockies can produce some volatile weather. This last week was a prime example. On Tuesday, folks along the Front Range were enjoying temperatures in the upper seventies and low eighties, running around in shorts (lily-white legs and all) and sandals. Twenty-four hours later, we had ten inches of wet, spring snow, and blowing conditions—and an almost fifty-degree temperature drop coupled with hurricane force winds.
Now, put your characters in a position where they are minimally prepared for an event like that and see how they would survive.
Terrain as Plot Element
Another way to throw a little twist into your story is to add the landscape as a stumbling block. A lot of us don’t think about how much more effort is involved in walking up a ten-degree incline as opposed to walking on a flat surface. Throw in a scramble up a steep slope with an injury, and now you have some adversity
Living in the foothills of Northern Colorado has made me very aware of how small changes in the topography make a big difference in effort, especially at altitude. When I want to take a walk, I need to hike up to the road (it’s up there, you just can’t see it). Even during the summer, that climb sets my ticker racing.
If I want to put your protagonist into a real pickle, crash their car in rough terrain, with no cell reception, and see how well they make it to relative safety. Better yet, throw in a sudden storm, just to spice things up.
You can use almost any element or event to throw adversity at your characters and move the story forward but remember to keep a balance. Unless your goal is to leave your readers breathless and suspecting the outcome, that is.