In my previous two writing tips posts, I discussed how to maintain and enhance an emotional connection with readers as the story progresses beyond the beginning. We do this by adding anticipation and frustration in the following ways:
- Pauses – A pause immediately before an attempt to achieve a goal reminds the reader of the importance of the goal and enhances anticipation. If possible, restate the goal and the danger.
- First attempt never works – Avoid allowing a goal to be achieved on the first attempt. The victory will be less satisfying. It will seem too easy.
- Obstacles increase – New obstacles add frustration, which will enhance relief and the sense of triumph later. We can relate to frustration.
- Complete failure achieving early goal – An early goal should not be the most important one, though failure causes real pain. When the character fails to achieve the goal, this proves that failure is always possible, even with the big goals, thereby enhancing the danger and suspense as the story progresses. Since we all experience failures at times, we can relate.
- Failure leads to bigger goal – A failure is often a crisis point that creates a bigger goal, which can be the story’s ultimate object of desire.
- Increasing sacrifice – Character willingly exposed to danger, whether physical or emotional, and the danger increases.
This week we will look at #5 and #6.
Failure leads to a bigger goal.
One of the intriguing qualities of failure is that it creates a need that is often more urgent than the previous goal. It is through failure that we come face to face with our weaknesses and need for improvement, and failure often creates a new crisis that inspires a bigger goal.
In Reapers, Phoenix’s initial goal was to save Molly. He failed. As one of the results of his failure, Molly’s family members are being taken to the dreaded corrections camp, as follows:
I crept to the front of Colm’s house, Sing following, and leaned over the edge of the roof. At the entry steps, the door opened, and Alex’s voice rose from below.
“Pack one small suitcase for each member of your family. The bus will come for you soon, so get ready quickly. And don’t try to escape. I already have someone watching your house.”
“Bus?” Sing whispered.
“A camp bus. She’s sending them to corrections.” I heaved a sigh. “I guess I don’t have any choice. I shouldn’t have left them alone with her in the first place.” I snapped the spool from my belt and handed Sing the weighted end of the line. “If you’ll anchor this to your belt, I’ll drop down and—”
“No.” Sing grabbed my arm. “You can’t.”
I looked again at the steps below. Alex appeared, slowly descending. “Colm and Fiona are too old for the camp,” I hissed. “They’d never survive.”
Now multiple lives are at stake, and the urgency grows as Phoenix talks to Alex, the antagonist.
Alex stared at me long and hard. “And what of my proposition?”
“I told you I need more time. Three seconds isn’t enough. Give me twenty-four hours.”
She put the helmet on. Blonde locks flowed around the edges. “Molly’s family members were charged with medicine trafficking, and they are going to the corrections camp. They will be safe there for twenty-four hours. After that, there are no guarantees.”
“If I decide to accept your offer, how will I find you?”
“No need. I will find you before your time runs out.”
I pushed back my cloak and set my hands on my weapons belt. “Just remember, I could have stopped you from reporting this family.”
“You have more confidence in your abilities than you should.” Alex picked up the gun and slid it into her holster. “Still, I will keep your restraint in mind. Just stay away from the family for now, and when we meet again, we can discuss their future.”
This bigger goal and elevated urgency will keep the pages turning.
Just because we have a bigger goal and more urgency, that doesn’t necessarily mean that greater intensity and reader interest will follow. We must make the goal more difficult to achieve. Add greater elements of danger so that the protagonist will have to sacrifice more in order to complete the goal.
Sacrifice naturally includes suffering, so be sure to make your heroic character suffer more. Each time you ratchet up the goal, ratchet up the sacrificial suffering just as much.
In Reapers, take a look at how the new goal’s danger manifests itself as Phoenix has a “discussion” with Alex about coming to the corrections camp.
Alex shot to her feet. She grabbed my arm, bent it behind my back, and shoved me against the wall, rubbing my cheek on the rough plaster. Cold steel pressed against my skull. Her breaths blew past my ear, hot and heavy. “You think you’re so smart, don’t you? Three years on the street, and you know it all. You think you’re bucking the system being Mr. Nice Guy Reaper, looking down your nose at loyalists. You think I’m just an enforcer who gets her jollies inflicting pain.” She twisted my arm, sending shock waves to my spine. “Well, you’re wrong. There is method to my madness. Pain is just one tool in my arsenal of ways to get what I want. And what I want right now is for you to realize that you’re dealing with someone who could jerk your soul out of your skull and hurl you into the abyss without a second thought. And if I find out you’ve been lying to me, that’s exactly what I’ll do.”
I grimaced but refused to grunt. “What’s the abyss?”
“A place no one wants to go.” She spun me around and pressed the gun barrel between my eyes. “You have nothing to worry about if you’ll keep that smart-aleck mouth of yours shut.”
Next week, I will begin a discussion about how to turn up the heat as the conflicts escalate.
If you have any questions or comments, please post them.
Categories: Writing Tips