5 Ways to Increase Your Story’s Tension

Is your story dragging? Learn 5 strategies for increasing your story's tension to keep readers flying through the pages!Tension is a beautiful thing in fiction. It’s so subtle that readers (and often writers!) don’t realize its presence on the page, but trust me, it’s pull is powerful. It’s the stuff of page-turners, what keeps readers on the edge of their seats and awake until 2am. It’s one of the greatest tools you can wield as a writer.

Last week, we talked about how conflict, tension, and plot all relate to one another, and how they function in a story. Today, we’re going to narrow our focus and explore how you can make tension a force to be reckoned with in your novel.

Because a story without tension, well…that’s not a story that thrills readers. And you want your story to be a thrill ride, yes? (Hint: Of course you do!)

What is Tension?

Tension is the anticipation of what will happen next in a story. It’s driven by the reader’s concern for the characters and/or their curiosity to know the outcome of a conflict. Conflict is the clash between two opposing sides; it is the foundation of your story, and it is from conflict tension arises.

For example, in Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games, the conflict begins when Katniss takes Prim’s place to fight in the games. Katniss doesn’t want to fight, but the rules of her society leave her with no choice. Thus, a conflict is created between her personal morals and desires and her society’s laws, which is played out in the arena.

The tension of the story arises from the reader’s anticipation of whether or not Katniss will survive the games. This is driven by both concern for the character and curiosity to know the outcome of the conflict.

Why is Tension Important to Story?

Tension is the “secret ingredient” that keeps readers turning pages. A story without tension is lifeless. It drags on and on until the reader can’t stand the boredom a moment longer and casts it aside.

And in that moment an author’s worst nightmare is created. So many writers fear people reading their story, but you know what’s worse, what you should really be afraid of? Writing a story that doesn’t get read all the way through. *Cue screams of writerly horror*

That doesn’t have to be your novel’s fate, friend! Let’s avoid that dreaded scenario and dig into some strategies for creating tension that will help carry your readers from page one all the way to The End.


1. Tell Your Characters “No”

One easy way to create tension is to avoid giving your characters what they want. I know we love our characters, but as an author you have to be mean to them. Which can be hard. It’s tempting to grant them their every desire like a spoiled child, but if you do you’ll end up with a dull story.

Ask yourself: What does my hero want? Does he want to win the heart of the girl? To study at a prestigious college? To avenge his friend’s murder?  To buy his own boat so he can sail the world? Whatever his goal or desire, throw as many obstacles and complications into his plans as you can to keep him from getting it. This will leave your readers to wonder whether or not he will be able to succeed, thus creating tension.

2. “What’s the Worst That Could Happen?”

If your suspicions weren’t already confirmed with the above tip, allow me to elaborate: your job as an author is to make your characters’ lives miserable. Which can be fun sometimes, in a sadistic sort of way. Whatever situation you put your characters in, ask yourself what you can do to make it worse.

For example:

Let’s say Tom is on his way to his first date with the cute girl he just asked out. But on the way there his car gets a flat. He tries to call for help, but he realizes he forgot his phone at home.

He starts to walk, but then it begins to rain and his new suit gets soaked. He flags down a passing car and the driver offers him a lift.

But not long after, flashing blue lights appear behind them and the driver leads the police on a high-speed chase. Turns out the driver just robbed a bank, and when the cops catch up to him Tom is arrested by association. Needless to say, Tom is having a very bad day.

Getting the idea? This won’t be much fun for your character, but it’s fun for your reader! No one wants to read about how Tom went on a date and everything went fantastic. Yawn. Keep asking: How can I get my hero into trouble? How can I make this problem worse? How can I keep him from getting what he wants?

3. Create Flawed Worlds

Building flaws into your story’s world is a great way to create conflict and tension. The world in which we live isn’t perfect, and this should be reflected in your story.

Is your story dragging? Learn 5 strategies for increasing your story's tension to keep readers flying through the pages!For example, in The Hunger Games the whole idea of a televised fight to the death between teens is morally wrong to us, but is accepted as normal within that society. When members of that society begin to rebel against the accepted norm, it creates tension.

In The Mortal Instruments series, Cassandra Clare creates tension among characters by making the Shadowhunters and Downworlders hold prejudices against one another.

In Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, cyborgs are outcasts and viewed as less than human in their society. This prejudice creates tension between the heroine Cinder, who happens to be a cyborg, and other characters in the story.

Know the issues of your story’s world. Not only does this give your world more depth and realism, but it presents you with more opportunities for conflict, which you can use to your advantage to create tension.

4. Agree to Disagree

You know what can make a story a snooze-fest really fast? When all of the characters are getting along. Everyone likes one another, and no one argues or disagrees. Everyone is happy and everything is peaceful. It’s a few fuzzy animals short of a Disney movie.

This is a danger-zone for your story! You must throw an apple of discord among your characters. (Preferably a poisoned one).

Sure in real life we want to avoid conflict and we want everyone to like us, but this makes for boring fiction! Remember, story is all about conflict. Characters are always more interesting when they’re not getting along.

So let your characters hate each other. Let them argue about how to solve the problem at hand. Let them squabble and disagree. Let them lie to each other, manipulate, or keep secrets. Your reader will thank you for it!

5. Raise the Stakes

Finally, one of the best ways to increase the tension in your story is to raise the stakesthe reward or consequence of your hero achieving or failing his goal.

For example, in The Hunger Games, the stakes for Katniss winning or losing the games is her life. Later in the book, the stakes are raised when it’s announced the Game Makers will allow two winners. Katniss’ reward for success has been increased because she now has the chance to save Peeta. She now has more to lose than just her own life.

Another example can be found in Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones. The villain, Valentine, captures Clary’s mother in the beginning of the book, and towards the climax he also captures Clary’s love interest, Jace. This raises the stakes because if Clary can’t find Valentine not only will she lose her mother, but she’ll also lose the boy she’s beginning to fall in love with.

When you raise the stakes of your story, you instantly increase the reader’s anticipation to find out what happens next.

page turner project side barOf course, there are many other ways to create tension in your story than the few listed above. Be on the lookout for ways to create tension at every turn and you’ll be well on your way to creating a thrilling ride for your reader!

Need more ideas on how to create tension? My e-book “The Page-Turner Project” includes 36 ideas for creating tension, plus more tips. Click to check it out!

What’s your favorite way to increase the tension in your story? Share your thoughts below!


Writing 101: Unraveling Conflict, Tension, and Your Plot

Part 4 in the Writing 101 series for beginning writers! Confused about conflict, tension, and plot? Learn what they are, how they relate, and how you can use them to create a page-turning story.Creating a story is a challenge. Creating one that readers actually complete from beginning to end? That’s even more challenging.

As a beginning writer, it took me years to understand how plot worked, but today I’m going to help you start off on the right foot! We’re going to untangle your plot, conflict, and tension and examine how they all relate. And most importantly, how you can use them to design a page-turning story.

Behind on the Writing 101 series? Click to catch up! Part 1 (The Fundamentals of Story), Part 2 (Writing Term Glossary), and Part 3 (Creating a Successful Hero & Villain).

What is Conflict?

Conflict: a clash between two opposing sides.

Conflict is the foundation of any novel. Without it, you have no story. So how do you create conflict? First, you must give your hero a goal. Only when you know what he is trying to achieve can you put obstacles in his path to keep him from getting what he wants. This clash of the hero’s desire and the forces standing against him are your conflict.

For example, look at the fairy tale Cinderella. What does Cinderella want? To attend the ball. What forces oppose her? Her stepmother. Their opposing goals create the conflict of the story, and the reader will have to keep reading to see who wins in the end.

But, here’s the thing–a hero with a goal isn’t enough to carry your story, no matter how amazing it is. In order for the reader to stick through your entire novel, they must care about your hero. Otherwise, the hero’s goal won’t matter. The reader won’t care if they win or fail.

But with Cinderella, we sympathize with her for several reasons–her father’s death, her stepmother and stepsister’s cruelty, and her days of endless chores. Some readers might even be able to relate to her in some ways. And despite all the abuse, she remains strong and kind and dreams of a better life. We want to see her achieve her goal of attending the ball.

So spend the time developing your hero into a life-like human being we can care about and cheer for!

What is Plot?

When I first started writing, my definition of plot was very vague. I thought a plot was just all the exciting stuff that happened in a story. You know, car chases, kidnappings, murders, sword fights, and all that jazz.

But since then I’ve learned that you can’t string together a bunch of random events together and call it a story, no matter how epic they may be. Your story will lack direction and focus, and it won’t be much of a story at all.

Let me paint you a picture. Your plot is like a ship sailing on the churning, choppy waves of conflict. It could go anywhere; it could easily become lost, or even crash upon the rocks of the shore. Your hero’s goal is the guiding light, the lighthouse that ensures the ships stays on course and reaches its destination safely.

In other words, your plot is the vehicle through which the conflict plays out, and your hero’s goal gives meaning to the conflict and guides the plot.

Plot: the account of the actions the hero takes to achieve his goal, and the obstacles he must overcome along the way.

Remember back in Part I when we defined story?:

A story is about someone (hero) who wants something (goal), sets out on a journey to attain it (plot), and grows or learns something along the way (change).

Your plot is you hero’s journey. The steps he takes to attain what he wants, the obstacles he meets along the way, and how he fights to overcome them. A ship navigating a treacherous sea, trying to reach its destination.

Together, your hero’s goal and your story’s conflict create tension.

What is Tension?

Tension: the anticipation of what will happen next in a story. Driven by concern and/or curiosity in the reader.

While conflict is the foundation of story, tension is what keeps readers turning pages. Your hero’s goal + your story’s conflict create a question that must be answered throughout the course of the novel. Broadly speaking, that question is: Will the hero achieve his goal? This question creates your novel’s tension, forcing readers to turn pages to find the answer, to discover what will happen to a character they care about.

But that’s very vague, so let’s look at a specific example. In Cinderella, her goal is to attend the royal ball, but her wicked stepmother is the conflict opposing her. This creates the question: Will Cinderella attend the ball?

But good stories create more than one question, aka source of tension. Your goal is to look for ways to get your hero into trouble–to keep him from reaching his goal–and make the trouble increasingly worse as the story goes along.

Cinderella faces several obstacles. First, her stepmother destroys her gown and bans her from attending the ball. The situation seems pretty hopeless, causing readers to wonder if the stepmother has won. How can Cinderella possibly attend the ball now?

Then the fairy godmother shows up, and creates a gown and carriage for Cinderella. That could be the end of the story, but there’s a catch–Cinderella must return home before midnight or the magic will wear off. Now we have a new source of tension: Will Cinderella make it home in time? Will her stepmother or stepsisters will recognize her at the ball?

When Cinderella finally arrives at the ball, she dances with prince. But then the clock begins to strike midnight and she has to make a run for it, leaving her glass slipper behind. Again, a new source of tension is introduced as the prince decides to find the slipper’s owner: Will the prince find Cinderella? Will her stepmother manage to trick him into thinking the slipper belongs to one of Cinderella’s stepsisters? Will Cinderella marry the prince and live happily ever after?

The reader continues to turn the pages out of both worry for Cinderella, a character they love and who they want to win, and curiosity over what will happen next. To create tension throughout your story you must continually create questions. As soon as one question is answered, create another. This will carry your readers through your story and create a page-turner of a novel!

 What’s your biggest struggle with plot or tension? Let me know in the comments below!

P.S. Ready for Part 5? Click here to learn the basics of dialogue!



5 Brainstorming Techniques for Writers: A Guest Post by Linda Craig

5 brainstorming techniques for writers‘Brainstorming’ is an idea-generating session where you come up with a plot, characters, and ideas that will define your novel. You can’t simply get out your laptop and start writing your next big masterpiece—you need to know the direction in which you’ll take your story. That’s where brainstorming comes into play.

Here are five brainstorming techniques you can use if you’re struggling to generate ideas.

1. Skim-Read

Many times your personal brainstorming sessions need a little kick. It may not be that you’re not in the right frame of mind, or that your creative side is failing; it may simply be that your mind hasn’t found an idea just yet.

You can try quickly skim-reading a book from your library. Sometimes just the chapter titles are enough to get you going. Needless to say, you should never copy another author’s ideas. But this technique can spark your imagination and maybe even guide your impressions in an unexpected direction throughout the brainstorming session.

2. Use Contradictions

Let’s say your hero has the best intentions and great personal qualities. During the brainstorming session, look for ideas and personality traits that contradict the ones you’ve come up with. Your readers won’t identify with an ideal hero; they want complexity, and you can deliver this through contradictions.

Alternatively, if you’re completely stuck, start by thinking about what contradicts the main idea or theme of your story. If, for example, you’re writing about everlasting love, you can add characters who distort the traditional concept of love in every single way.

3. Read Similar Stories

A successful novelist delivers a story the audience has never seen before. You don’t want to follow the trends and write about vampires or dystopian societies similar to that of The Hunger Games. Readers will tire of repetitive trends and only respect the original work.

However, you can’t create a story that sets itself apart unless you know what’s already out there. This will be a longer brainstorming session that will help you come up with an ideal plot. If you find another writer has already covered ideas similar to yours, you can think of ways to improve your plot such as with an unexpected turn. That’s when you’ll have some real brainstorming to do.

4. Use Active Imagination

Most novelists understand that fiction writing is closely related to psychology, so you shouldn’t be too bored to explore the concept of Active Imagination developed by Carl Gustav Jung. It’s a method that requires you to find a quiet place, close your eyes, and imagine other people in the room with you.

Pick some of the writers you admire the most. They can be from any period in history. You can choose people you know, historical figures, celebrities…whoever you like. Imagine them as they are with their own personalities.

You then conduct a meeting, but you should allow your creativity and intuition to take over the show. What do they think about the plot? How would they develop the main characters? You’re not purposefully imagining their responses, you are simply allowing them to speak and take part in the meeting. If you really get into the spirit of it, there may be times when they interrupt each other or get into harsh discussions.

This technique will help you come up with fantastic ideas for your story. It may sound crazy, but try it a few times and you’ll be surprised with the ideas your subconscious comes up with.

5. Try Rolestorming

With this idea-generating technique, you pretend to be another person and apply their thoughts to the idea at hand. This is similar to a primitive version of Active Imagination, and it’s almost like a child pretending to be Captain America.

You put yourself in the shoes of another person and think of what he or she might say about your idea. It can be anybody from the perfect reader to Beyoncé to Stalin. It’s up to you. Rolestorming may yield no results, but it will help you examine the issues of your plot from another angle, and may even awaken your imaginative side.

The last thing a novelist is, is boring. The creative writing process demands an unusual approach, especially when you’re forming your initial ideas. These brainstorming techniques will help you dig into the deep areas of your sub consciousness. That’s where your best ideas are hidden!

About the Author

Linda Craig is an eager traveller, editor at Assignment Masters service, and passionate blogger. Her favourite destinations are Brazil and Nepal. Linda is currently working on her PhD thesis. You can find her on Twitter at @LindaUKmasters.

Writing 101: Creating a Successful Hero and Villain

Part 3 in the Writing 101 series for beginning writers. Learn the roles your hero and villain play in your story, and the elements you need in each one to create successful characters! Welcome to Part 3 of the Writing 101 series for beginning writers! Are you a bit behind? You can catch Part 1 (The Fundamentals of Story) here, and Part 2 (Writing Term Glossary) here.

Today, we’re talking characters. In order to craft a successful, compelling story, you need to understand a) the roles your hero and villain play, and b) what you need to make them work. Let’s get started, shall we?

The Protagonist’s Role

In Part 1 of this series, we said that a story is:

About someone (hero) who wants something (goal), sets out on a journey to attain it (plot), and grows or learns something along the way (change).

Reading a story is about sharing an experience, so you have to decide whose story it is and whose experience we’ll be sharing. Your hero is the character whom your story centers around. He or she offers your readers a point of access to your story by allowing them to  experience events from his/her point of view rather than as a neutral outsider. The hero invites us in and lets us become a part of the story.

Think of your story as the track of a roller coaster–it has ups and downs, twists and turns, and maybe a couple stomach-dropping loops. Your hero is the car of the roller coaster the reader enters to experience the thrills you’ve created. If you don’t let your readers get up close and personal with the hero, then they’ll just be someone standing in line watching the roller coaster go by from a distance but not getting to experience it for themselves.

There are 4 main “ingredients” you need to successfully create a hero: goal, likability, realism, and change.

1. Goal

Your hero’s goal is what drives your story. What does he want? What is he trying to achieve? How your hero sets out to get what he wants becomes your plot. If your hero doesn’t have a goal, your story has no direction. Actually, without a goal you don’t have a story at all. A goal unifies your story’s events and gives them purpose. And if you don’t know what your hero is trying to achieve, you won’t be able to create compelling conflict that stands in his way.

2. Likability

One of the most important parts of creating your hero is to make readers care about him. We don’t stick through a 200+ page story to read about a character we hate! It doesn’t matter how awesome your plot is, if we don’t like your hero we won’t care about whether or not he achieves his goal. And that means game over for your novel.

3. Realism

In order for your hero to feel like a real person, you need to give him flaws, strengths, a personality, a past, etc. The biggest mistake beginning writers make is creating a hero who is too perfect or too strong. Your hero needs flaws and weaknesses to seem human. If he’s handsome, perfect, super smart, and can kick ass like a freaking ninja, your readers won’t be able to identify with him. We relate to flawed characters far more than we relate to perfect characters. And flawed characters are always far more interesting.

4. Change

Most new writers get so wrapped up focusing on getting their hero through the external plot that they tend to forget about the internal. But change is an important part of a satisfying story. Your hero should be different in some way at the end of the novel versus how he was at the beginning. If he was rich, prejudiced, or cowardly on page one and he’s still rich, prejudiced, or cowardly when we read The End, there’s a problem. When people go through big experiences in real life, it changes them. You need to reflect this in your novel.

The Antagonist’s Role

The main role of your story’s villain is to provide your story with conflict. Whatever it is your hero wants, the villain is standing in the way. Actually, your villain wants the opposite of what the hero wants. Both forces are trying their hardest to achieve their goals, which causes them to clash.

The hero wants to save the city. The villain wants to destroy it. The hero wants to destroy the object of the villain’s power. The villain wants to save it. The hero wants to overthrow the villain’s rule. The villain wants to squash the hero’s rebellion.

Your story is about the conflict between the hero and the villain. Your plot shows us how the hero tries to achieve his goal, how the villain tries to stop him, and who wins out in the end.

Similar to creating a hero, there are 4 main “ingredients” you need to create a successful villain: Goal, Loathing, Realism, and Credibility.


Just as with your hero, your villain needs a goal. You need to figure out what he wants and why. He can’t be trying to take over the world or destroy New York City “just because he’s evil.” He needs an actual reason that justifies him going through all the trouble. His goal should oppose your hero’s to create conflict.

2. Loathing

While with your hero you need to create likability, with your villain your aim is to do the opposite. You need readers to hate and fear your villain to get them on that emotional roller coaster, and so it will be satisfying when the hero finally defeats him. But don’t just tell us that he’s evil–show us through his words and actions.

3. Realism

In order for readers to fear your villain, he needs to feel like a real person. That mean giving him strengths, flaws, a past, etc. just like you would with your hero. The biggest mistake new writers make with their villains is making them too evil. In real life, people aren’t so black and white. You want to make your villain (and hero) more grey by giving them a mix of both good and bad qualities.

4. Credibility

Your villain in the main source of conflict in your novel, and therefore  also a huge source of tension. You want to keep readers wondering if the hero will win–if things seem too easy the reader will feel they know the answer, so they’ll stop turning pages. This means you need to create a strong villain who backs up his threats so readers will know he means business. And most importantly, you need to let your hero lose some battles to keep readers anxious!

Need more help with villains? I know they’re the most difficult character to write, so I’ve created a free e-book to help you out–just click here to download the PDF!

Ready for Part 4 (Unraveling Tension, Conflict, and Your Plot)? Click here!

What elements do you think go into creating a successful hero and villain?




Creating Emotional Connections: The Psychology of Emotional Stories (A Guest Post by Faye Kirwin of Writerology)

Learn how to use techniques from psychology to create an emotional bond between your readers and characters. This is a guest post from the lovely Faye Kirwin of Writerology.

Writing is all about people—the characters, the readers, the author, all drawn together by emotion. If you can tie your readers’ emotions to your characters, they’re tied to the story, and it’s that connection that will stay with them long after they’ve finished reading.

But… that’s easier said than done, right? A lot of mystery and uncertainty surrounds those emotional bonds with the reader. Is it something that just happens naturally? Is there a trick to it? How come it works with some characters and not others? How do you create an emotional connection anyway? Psychology offers a solution: peek inside the brain. If you can find out what happens to someone when they’re caught up in a story, the mystery surrounding emotional connection begins to clear.

Professor Paul Zak set about doing just that. He had a group of participants watch a video that told the highly emotional story of a father struggling with the fact that his two-year-old son had only a few months left to live. After the video, Professor Zak found an increase in two neurochemicals produced by participants’ brains: cortisol and oxytocin.

Cortisol, a chemical involved in focusing attention on things that are important, was related to how distressed participants felt. The more distressed they felt, the more cortisol they produced, and the more attention they paid to the video. Oxytocin, a chemical involved in social bonding, was related to how much empathy the participants experienced. The more oxytocin they produced, the more empathetic they felt. If you put these two neurochemicals together, you have the ingredients for an emotional connection—but knowing what happens to make your reader emotionally involved isn’t the end of the story. Now you need to know how to create those circumstances yourself.

Step 1: Capture Your Readers’ Attention

Transportation, that magical moment when readers experience the characters’ emotions for themselves, can only happen if the story holds their attention. How can you ensure you do that? Keep raising the tension. Don’t go easy on your characters. Tension and conflict ramp up distress, which is linked to cortisol, one of the ingredients for emotional connection.

Professor Zak recommends using Freytag’s dramatic arc to pile on the tension and maintain the readers’ interest throughout the story. Let’s take a brief look at it now.

Freytag's Pyramid - Creating Emotional Connections

The dramatic arc is a type of story structure made up of five acts: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and dénouement. Tension increases throughout the rising action act, culminating in the conflict-laden climax of the story, and it’s this elicitation of distress that captures your readers’ attention and prepares them for the next step: empathising with the characters.

Step 2: Elicit Your Readers’ Empathy

Maintaining readers’ interest doesn’t guarantee that they’ll develop an emotional connection with the characters. How many books have you read that had an exciting, relentless, page-turning plot but neglected to develop their cast? With the focus on the external events that happen to the characters, plot-driven stories capture the readers’ attention, but don’t necessarily establish bonds that stick around after reaching ‘The End’. Characters do that, which is why Professor Zak points to character-driven stories as the best way to create emotional connections with readers.

What elements of a character-driven story make it so easy to form a bond?

  1. Memorable characters. Readers don’t care for the shallow, cardboard cut-outs they’ve seen a hundred times before. They want characters who are quirky, flawed, relatable, varied and complex, characters who make a home in their memories and refuse to move out. Your job as a writer is to create characters like these. I recommend a helping of psychology to keep your cast unique and, above all, realistic.
  2. Steady character development. The plot doesn’t just transport characters physically but emotionally too. What happens to them over the course of the story will change them for better or worse, and it’s this development that will engage your readers and spur them on to emotionally invest in your characters. K. M. Weiland has a fantastic and in-depth series on character arc that can help you to do just that.
  3. Engaging and relatable internal conflict. Tension doesn’t just come from external conflict; it comes from the internal variety as well. Having your characters struggle with their self-doubt, weaknesses and inner demons makes them relatable, understandable and ultimately someone readers can empathise with.

Step 3: Combine Attention and Empathy to Create a Connection

Readers form emotional bonds with the characters and the story when you maintain their attention and elicit their empathy. Increase tension throughout the story with exciting external conflicts and draw out empathy with memorable characters, steady development and engaging internal conflict. Do that and you have the ingredients you need to create an emotional connection that will stay with your readers long after they’ve put the book down.

About the Author

Faye Kirwin - WriterologyFaye Kirwin is a writer with a passion for words, minds and tea. She blogs over at Writerology, where she applies the science of psychology to the art of storytelling and teaches authors how to make writing a part of their everyday lives.

When she’s not blogging or running the Writember Workshop, she writes fiction chock-full of magic, clockwork and tea. (Mm, tea.)

Writing 101: A Glossary of Writing Terms

Part 2 in the writing 101 series for beginning writers. Click to browse a handy glossary of 74 writing terms for novelists. Plus, download a free PDF of the glossary!Welcome to Part 2 of my series for new writers, Writing 101! Miss Part 1 on the Fundamentals of Story? You can catch up here. Ready for Part 3? Click here to learn how to create a successful hero and villain!

This week, I’m providing you with a handy resource of all the terms you need to know to be novel savvy. This epic glossary of writing terms has a grand total of 74 entries (okay, so I might have gone a little overboard, don’t judge).

Don’t know the difference between a protagonist and an antagonist? Not sure what a hook is? Do you think a trope is a type of fish? Do you think you catch a trope on a hook? (Bless you, if you do). Read on to demystify all those puzzling writing terms!

BONUS: Because I’m awesome, I’ve created a PDF of this glossary you can click here to download and print for handy reference. Hooray!

Glossary of Writing Terms for Novelists

Active Voice: when the subject of the sentence performs the action, rather than being acted upon (Ex. “He kissed her” rather than “He was kissed by her”).

Antagonist: the villain of the story; the opposition to the hero.

Anti-hero: a dark hero who is riddled with flaws instead of the positive, noble traits we come to expect from heroes (Ex. Han Solo, Wolverine, Jack Sparrow).

Archetype: a recurring type of character in fiction found across multiple cultures, such as a trickster, mentor, healer, etc. (Ex. Yoda, Haymitch, and Dumbledore are all mentor archetypes).

Backstory: the details and background about a character’s past.

Beta Reader: someone who reads a writer’s story and provides them with feedback before publication.

Beat: the thoughts and actions of a character which comprise a scene. Often used between lines of dialogue for dramatic pause and to increase the emotion/tension of a scene.

Cardboard Character: a character who hasn’t been developed to feel realistic or like a unique individual.

Character Arc: the character’s inner journey throughout the story, and how they transform in some way by the end. Can either be a positive change or a negative change.

Character Trait: characteristics, behaviors, and attitudes that create a character’s personality.  Can either be positive or negative (Ex. Brave, pessimistic, honest, loyal, greedy, stubborn, etc.).

Character Quirk: a strange/interesting behavior, habit, hobby, or mannerism.

Characterization: the act of creating the specifics of a character such as traits, quirks, backstory, goal, etc.

Cliche: something that has been overused. In fiction this can mean a phrase, plot, character type, or dialogue.

Climax: the height of the story’s action before the ending. The final conflict where it is decided whether or not the hero will win and achieve his goal.

Conflict: any opposition that keeps a character from getting what they want. The main conflict of a story is that between the hero and villain.

Deep Point of View: a style of writing that strives to bring the reader deep into the hero’s head by eliminating “evidence” of the author’s hand such as speech tags, words like “felt,” “wondered,” and “thought,” and using more of the hero’s voice in the writing.

Denouement: the ending of a story where any loose ends are tied and all questions are answered.

Dialogue: the spoken conversation between characters, signaled by quotation marks.

Dialogue tags: the verb after a line of dialogue that signals how it is being spoken and who is speaking (said, exclaimed, shouted, asked, etc.)

Epilogue: a section after the main ending of the story that reveals what happened to the characters afterward.

External Conflict: the struggle between the hero and an outside force such as nature or the villain.

Falling Action: when the story begins to slow down after its climax as it heads into the ending.

First Person: when the character uses “I” to tell the story (Ex. I walked along the bridge at noon).

Fleshing Out a Character: the act of creating a realistic character with traits, quirks, backstory, goal, etc. (See also, Characterization).

Genre: the type of story (Fantasy, Historical, Romance, Science Fiction, etc.)

High Concept: a story with a unique or fresh premise that grabs attention and appeals to a large audience.

Hook: the first sentence of your novel, designed to grab the reader’s attention and arouse curiosity.

Info Dump: when the writer reveals a large amount of information or backstory all at once instead of spreading it out.

Imagery: descriptive, visual writing that often uses figurative language such as similes or metaphors.

Inciting Incident: the event that is the cause of the story. Without this event, no story would follow. (Ex. Katniss’ sister getting chosen at the reaping is the inciting incident of The Hunger Games).

Internal Conflict: the struggle of the hero against his own self. (Ex. a struggle against a fear, flaw, or vice).

Manuscript: a term used to refer to an unpublished novel.

Minor Character: characters who appear in the story but don’t play a large or significant role (Ex. Prim and Cinna in The Hunger Games).

Mood: the emotion a scene evokes in the reader.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo): an annual contest held during the month of November in which participants try to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.

Narrative: the written events of the story, as told by the viewpoint character in either first or third person.

Narrator: the person telling the story, either in first or third person.

Novel: a written work over 40,000 words in length.

Novella: a written work between 17,500-40,000 words in length.

Omniscient Point of View: a point of view where the narrator is god-like in that he knows the thoughts, feelings, secrets, backstories, etc. of all other characters and reveals them to the reader.

Pantsing: the act of writing a novel “by the seat of your pants” without any planning.

Passive Voice: when the subject is acted upon, rather than performing the action (Ex.  “He was kissed by her” rather than “He kissed her”).

Plot: the events that unfold in a story as the hero overcomes obstacles to try to achieve his goal, and how he changes along the way.

Plot Device: an object or character that moves the plot forward. Can sometimes be created in a way that feels too deliberate and unrealistic.

Plot Hole: an inconsistency, contradiction, or issue with the plot that makes it illogical or unbelievable.

Plot Point: 1) a significant event that moves the story forward; 2) a turning point; 3) the two moments of action and/or decision that lead from Act 1 into Act 2, and from Act 2 into Act 3 in a story.

Premise: a story’s main idea or concept (Ex. The premise of The Hunger Games is 24 teens forced to fight to the death in a televised event).

Prologue: events that take place before the main story, but have a significant connection to or impact upon the main story so that it is important for the reader to know them.

Point of View (POV): the perspective of a certain character who is telling the story.

Prose: ordinary, written language without rhyme or meter (Ex. What you’re reading right now is prose).

Protagonist: the hero of the story.

Purple Prose: writing that tries too hard to be descriptive, and in doing so overloads the reader (Also called flowery prose).

Rising Action: the events of the story leading up to the climax.

Secondary Character: characters who appear in the story but don’t play a large or significant role (Ex. Prim and Cinna in The Hunger Games).

Scene: a single event that takes place in a single setting in a set amount of time. A story is made up of many scenes.

Scene Break: the writer’s way of signaling a change in scene to the reader by leaving a blank line between the scenes or three asterisks centered in the page. The break signals a passage in time and/or a change in setting.

Setting: the place where the story and scenes occur.

Stakes: the consequences or reward for the hero’s success or failure of their goal.

Stereotype: a flat, undeveloped character that focuses on a single widely perceived trait or misconception associated with them

Subplot: a mini storyline in addition to the main plot. (Ex. The romance between Katniss and Peeta is a romantic subplot while the Hunger Games is the main plot).

Subtext: the underlying meaning in writing or dialogue that is hinted at but not plainly expressed.

Suspension of Disbelief: the willingness of the reader to set aside their judgement and believe the story they are being told.

Synopsis: a summary of the novel’s events, including its ending.

Tone: the attitude the writing expresses (Ex. Could be sarcastic, pessimistic, cheerful, etc.).

Theme: what your story is trying to say/prove about a topic (Ex. Love conquers all, the strong will always crush the weak, etc.).

Three Act Structure: the most common structure for plotting a story, with Act I representing the beginning, Act II the middle, and Act III the end.

Three Dimensional Character: a character who is realistic and has dimension like a real person.

Trope: another term for a cliche

Twist: an unexpected revelation or turn of events in a story.

Two Dimensional Character: a character who is flat and doesn’t feel real, and seems only to exist in the confines of the page.

Voice: the expression of the writing through the narrator, revealing their thoughts, opinions, and attitudes.

Word Count: how the length of a novel is measured. (The type of font, font size, line spacing, and page margins can all vary, which can add to or subtract from the number of pages. Word count doesn’t lie and is always accurate).

Word Sprint: a 30 minute writing session in which the participant writes as fast as they can.

World Building: the act of creating a world so that it resembles our own with details such as culture, government, geography, politics, religion, etc.

Phew! You made it! Did I miss anything you think should be in this glossary of writing terms? Let me know in the comments!

p.s. Don’t forget to check out Part 3 in the series, Creating a Successful Hero and Villain!



Writing 101: The Fundamentals of Story

Before we can write a story, we must first understand how story works. And before we can understand that, we must understand why we read. Learn the fundamentals of story in the first part in a new series for beginning writers! Welcome to the first post in my new series for beginning writers, Writing 101! In this series we’ll cover all the basics you need to know to get started with your first story, such as character, plot, and setting. Today, we’re kicking things off by looking at story itself. So without further ado, let’s hop to it!

Why do We Read?

Before we can write a story, we must first understand how story works. And before we can understand that, we must understand why we read. You might think the answer is obvious. We read for fun, for entertainment, to lose ourselves in a good book. While that may all be true, there’s more behind why we’re so drawn to stories. Actually, there’s even scientific proof to back it up. In her book Wired for Story, Lisa Cron explains, “Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story.”

Think about that. The desire for story is written in our DNA. Even people who don’t like to read can’t resist a good story. There’s a reason why speakers and businessmen use stories in their speeches and product pitches–human beings respond better to story. It’s how we’re designed.

For example, I can tell you that human trafficking is a $32 billion dollar a year industry, that there are 30 million people trapped in modern-day slavery right now, and 80% of them are women and children. These facts might shock you, but the shock will fade and you’ll soon forget.

But what if I told you the story Mealea, a 13-year-old Cambodian girl whose mother sold her to a brothel to pay her family’s debts so they could survive? What if I told you about her fear and pain, how her captors made her feel worthless and beat her when she tried to escape? What if I told you how she still dreams of going to school, but the pimps cheat her out of her earnings so she can never be free?

Her story would stick with you while those statistics slipped away. We connect with people in a way we can’t connect with facts and figures. Even now, you’re probably wondering in the back of your mind what happens to Mealea, and if she manages to escape. To share a story is to share an experience. Through story, we’re able to connect emotionally with another person, whether they’re real or fictional.

But there’s another reason why we’re hardwired for story. It’s through story that we learn about the world around us, how we should act, and how to survive. We learn what to do and what not to do from the experiences of others–whether real or fictional. Since the beginning of time cultures have passed down tales designed to teach future generations important lessons. Think of Grimm’s fairy tales, Aesop’s fables, or Jesus’ parables.

Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker explained, “Fictional narratives supply us with a mental catalog of the fatal conundrums we might face someday and the outcomes of strategies we could deploy in them. What are the options if I were to suspect that my uncle killed my father, took his position, and married my mother?”

There’s a reason why survival stories are so popular–think Robinson Crusoe, The Lovely Bones, The Hunger Games, and The Walking Dead. We like to put ourselves in the character’s place and ask if we would be able to survive in their situation. What would we do in a zombie apocalypse? What would we do if we were kidnapped? What would we do if we were stranded on a deserted island? How would we survive? These stories answer that question, and often without us realizing it our brain is taking note on how to survive these situations.

But survival doesn’t have to be physical. Story also teaches us how to survive socially–how to get the guy, deal with manipulative co-workers, get through our first day of school, make up with an angry friend, etc. Think of Pride and Prejudice, or Jane Eyre. We learn so well through story because we’re designed to think in story. We remember stories, while we tend to forget facts, statistics, or sermons. Our brains soak up stories like a sponge.

So to sum things up, there are 3 main reasons why we crave story:

  1. To connect emotionally to another person and share their experience (whether they’re real or fictional).
  2. To learn about the world around us from the experiences of others to learn how to survive (whether physically or socially).
  3. For entertainment and escape.

What is a Story?

Writing a story is a completely different experience from reading a story. That’s because we’re so used to the masterful, seemingly effortless skill with which authors weave words that we don’t realize how they do it. We’re too busy becoming emotionally engrossed with the hero, sharing her experiences and emotions, to take notice.

In Wired for Story, Lisa Cron points out, “It’s no surprise that we tend to be utterly oblivious to the fact that beneath every captivating story, there is an intricate mesh of interconnected elements holding it together, allowing it to build with seemingly effortless precision.”

Most new writers don’t realize that there is a structure to stories. Heck, just the word “structure” seems to send most writers scurrying (it’s really not that scary, I promise!). But in order to become a good writer, you must be able to dismantle a story like you might a clock. You must learn all of its parts, what they do, and how they work together to make the clock tick.

So, what makes a story a story?

A story is about someone (hero) who wants something (goal), sets out on a journey to attain it (plot), and grows or learns something along the way (change).

It doesn’t matter how many explosions, sword fights, or rabid vampires you have. Without this structure, you have nothing more than a pile of random events that won’t work as a complete story, no matter how exciting they may be.

So, remember:

Hero + Goal + Plot + Change = Story

Why do you read? What do you think makes a good story? Let me know in the comments below!

Ready for Part 2 in the series? Click here!



Clutter Words to Cut from Your Writing

10+ words you can cut from your writing for leaner, tighter prose. One mark of a good writer is the ability to communicate more with less. Editors like lean prose that’s effective and clear without wasting words. Often, our writing becomes cluttered without us realizing it. Words that seem innocent enough can actually detract from what you’re trying to say and add unneeded “fluff.” So how can you create tight, lean prose? Here are some words to cut from your writing!

NOTE: While these words can often clutter your writing, that’s not always the case. Exceptions can always be made, and it’s up to you to use your judgement to decide when a word can stay and when it needs to go.

1.Of the

“Of the” is almost always unnecessary and can be simplified.


The owner of the restaurant.

The restaurant owner.

The wheels of the skateboard.

The skateboard’s wheels.

One of the nails came loose.

A nail came loose.

2. That

This one seems innocent enough, but again it can almost always be cut without any damage. If you have “that” in a sentence remove it, and if what’s left still makes sense then it’s unnecessary.

He said that he was coming.

He said he was coming.

Our teacher promised that there wouldn’t be any homework.

Our teacher promised there wouldn’t be any homework.

3. Adverbs

Most adverbs are either redundant or superfluous. For example:

“I have to go,” she whispered quietly.

Whispering implies being quiet, so “quietly” is redundant and can be cut.

He moved quickly across the lawn.

If we choose a strong verb the adverb becomes unnecessary and the writing becomes tighter and punchier:

He dashed across the lawn.

4. Almost/slightly/somewhat

Words like almost, slightly, somewhat, etc. aim to de-emphasize. This can weaken your writing. Observe:

The weather was somewhat hot.

The weather was balmy.

He backed up slightly.

He took a step back.

Her hair was almost soaked.

Her hair was wet.

Be as clear and direct as possible! Don’t waver in-between.

5. Really/very/quite

These words aim to emphasize, but if we choose our words carefully to begin with, they become unnecessary.

He ran really fast across the parking lot.

He bolted across the parking lot.

They had a very good time.

They had an excellent time.

The mouse was quite large.

The mouse was massive.

6. Adjectives

While not all adjectives are bad, you can usually eliminate or combine them without losing meaning. Watch out for piling on too many adjectives, and try to choose strong nouns that could replace them.

The small, fluffy, white kitten

The white kitten (small and fluffy is implied with kittens)

The large spotted dog

The dalmatian

7. Things/Stuff

Vague words like things, stuff, something, etc. should be avoided whenever possible because they do little to help the reader. Be specific to communicate clearly and give the reader a vivid picture!

She knew they needed to talk about things.

She knew they needed to talk about Max cheating with Em.

The table was littered with random art stuff.

The table was littered with pens, charcoal, paper wads, and brushes whose bristles were gummy with dried paint.

8. Most dialogue tags

Sometimes we need dialogue tags (said, shouted, whispered, etc.) to let us know who’s speaking. But often we can use character actions to communicate the same information in place of dialogue tags, or drop both altogether. For example:

Derek shoved his sweet potatoes around his plate. “I’m not hungry.”

His mother sighed. “Stop being picky.”

“I’m not picky. Potatoes shouldn’t be orange.”

“It’s good for you.”

“I don’t trust orange food.” He shoved his plate away.

There wasn’t a single dialogue tag in that conversation but you probably didn’t have any trouble following who was saying what. When you do find yourself in need of a dialogue tag, it’s usually best to use said over words like intoned, stated, etc.

9. Thought/realized/wondered

Just like with dialogue tags, we can communicate a character’s thoughts without words like realized, wondered, pondered, etc. I have a more detailed article explaining how to communicate a character’s thoughts which you can read here.

10. Then

This is a sneaky clutter word that can often be cut from your writing without changing its meaning.

Sara called a cab and then grabbed her coat.

Sara called a cab and grabbed her coat.

Do you struggle with any of these clutter words? Are there any other words you avoid? Let me know in the comments below!



“Should I Get a Creative Writing Degree?”

 Not sure if you should major in Creative Writing? Here are some important points to consider when making your decision. I remember years ago when I was a teen and I first announced to my parents that I wanted to become an author.

Their response was something along the lines of: “But don’t you need a degree to publish a book?”

I stared at them with a weird, puzzled look and tried not to laugh. To me, the answer seemed obvious: of course you don’t.

But now that I’ve been through college and have experienced our society’s obsession and pressure with attaining a college degree, my parents’ confusion makes sense. In today’s world, everyone expects you to acquire a degree, and it’s assumed that without a degree you can’t do much else besides flip burgers. So how could you do something as intellectual and professional  as publishing a book without *gasp* a college degree?

The beautiful thing about art is anyone can be an artist. Anyone can be a writer, and anyone can publish a novel. Whether or not it’s good is another story, but its always fascinated me that unlike other professions, you don’t need any sort of certification or degree to become an author. You just need a story to tell and the ability to do so.

Because writers don’t need degrees to become authors, our career paths aren’t so clear-cut. To become a doctor you need a degree in medicine. To become a teacher you need a degree in education. But to become an author you can get a degree in anything…or nothing at all. Writers are oddities. We’re divergents who don’t fit neatly into the system of college education. And that seems to both unnerve and perplex people.

To help us writer anomalies fit into the college system, we now have Creative Writing programs. Sure we had English programs before, but Creative Writing is more specialized and focused toward authors, poets, and playwrights rather than columnists and journalists. And while newspapers and magazines require you to have an English degree, no one can require you to have a degree of any kind to become a published author.

You see, the thing about publishers is they don’t care whether you have a BFA, a PHD, or were a high school drop out. As long as you can tell a good story that they feel they can sell, that’s all that matters. The only thing they require is that you be able to know your way around a story. Heck, if you look at some of the published fiction out there you’ll see that the quality of the writing doesn’t even have to be that great.

So if publishers don’t require you to have a Creative Writing degree, then why should you get one?

Most people pursue Creative Writing degrees because a) they love to write, and, b) they want to learn how to become a better writer. But here’s the thing: you don’t need to complete a Creative Writing program to learn how to write! Similarly, completing said program will not guarantee you a publishing contract.

So, if you don’t go through a Creative Writing program then how do you learn to write? I’ve written a post called 10 Ways to Become a Stronger Writer, and it outlines all the ways we learn to write and how you can improve your writing.

Personally, I have an Interdisciplinary degree in Creative Writing and History, but I didn’t learn how to write fiction in college. Almost everything I know about writing I’ve taught myself through practicing, studying craft books, and scouring online articles.

Now you might be wondering: if I didn’t learn how to write novels in college, then was my college experience even worth it?

Yes, I do believe so. It helped me to grow as an individual, and I studied other subjects that I use in my writing like history, sociology, and psychology. I also had the opportunity to study abroad and that has hugely influenced me as a writer. I was also challenged to write things I wouldn’t normally write, such as plays, short stories and poetry, and I’ve been able to take techniques from those genres and apply them to my fiction. I don’t think any education is ever wasted.

The question you really need to ask isn’t “Should I get a Creative Writing degree?” but “Is a Creative Writing degree right for me?” The decision is entirely up to you, and only you can make it. But there are a few points I believe you should consider when trying to make your decision. You need to weigh the realities with your dreams, because at the end of the day as much as we love to make art a writer still has to eat. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a starving artist. I really, really like food.

3 Points to Consider When Deciding if You Should Major in Creative Writing

#1: Do you have any secondary passions, interests, or talents besides writing?

The basic goal of higher education is to obtain a degree that with allow you to get a job with a decent paycheck so you can make a living. The hard truth is, it’s really hard to make a living as a writer. Heck, it’s hard to make a living in any artistic field. If you have any skills or interests outside of writing, it might be worth pursuing those as a means of making a living and to write on the side. If you love animals, maybe you’d like to be a vet. If you’re love kids, maybe you’d like to be a teacher. If you love books, maybe you’d like to work in the publishing industry.

But what if writing is your only passion, the only thing you feel like you’re good at and your entire life? That’s how it was for me. For the longest time I was an Education major, but I was miserable because I wasn’t pursuing my passion. If writing is everything for you and you’re willing to put in the hard work of making a career out of writing novels, then take the risk. Go for it. If you fail, you’ll still have a degree. But if you don’t try, you’ll regret it forever.

#2: Will your Creative Writing degree pay for itself?

It’s no secret that college is expensive. And it’s no secret that it’s really hard to make money as a writer. So is it wise to invest thousands of dollars into a degree for a field that a) doesn’t require one, and b) offers little monetary compensation? When thinking about choosing a Creative Writing degree, it’s wise to research the other career options with which it will provide you, as well as the average incomes of those jobs. Can you get a return on your investment in your degree? Aka, pay off your loans and pay the bills?

It is possible to make a living as an author, but it takes time. You have to have several books published before you start earning a decent wage off of royalties, and you must continue to publish books. That sort of commitment isn’t for everyone. Are you willing to make your writing a full-time career, or would you rather have another job that pays the bills and keep your writing as a hobby on the side?

#3: How  can you use your degree to make an income before you get published, or if you never become published at all?

Some people say Creative Writing degrees or English degrees are worthless because you can’t do anything with them. While that’s not true, it is wise to educate yourself about your options. I’ve written an article that lists jobs you can do with an English degree, most of which should apply to a Creative Writing degree because they are similar.

Research your options. Could you see yourself doing any of these jobs? Do any of them appeal to you? Are they difficult to break into? Keep in mind that you will need a way to make a living until you make publish enough books to become a full-time author, or if you never become published at all (though I certainly hope you do!). Also consider that you can find work in a field unrelated to Creative Writing, such as a receptionist, which still requires a degree but isn’t specific as to what kind. A Creative Writing degree is never a waste–it will still help you get a job that pays more!

So what do you think? Is a Creative Writing degree right for you? Do your research, weigh your options, and try be practical and realistic while pursuing your dreams. I wish you all the best!



Why You Need to Rethink Your Definition of Plot

A plot isn't just a bunch of exciting events strung together. Learn the 3 elements that create a focused story.I don’t know about you, but my definition of plot has changed since I first started writing.

When I was a new writer making my first foray into the world of novels, my idea of plot was very vague. I thought a plot was just all the stuff that happened in a story. String together a bunch a exciting scenes and BAM, plot. But in reality, it’s a little more complex than that.

You see, you can’t just mash a bunch of random events together and call it a story, no matter how epic they may be. Your story will lack direction and focus, and it won’t be much of a story at all. You need some sort of order, some sort of structure.

“But what if I’m a pantser,” you argue. “We don’t like structure!”

I know the word “structure” is enough to make most writers run away screaming with arms flailing. But it doesn’t matter whether you’re a plotter who plans the story in advance or a panster who writes it on the fly. Once you have a finished product, you will have to structure it in some way so that it creates meaning for the reader.

Allow me to elaborate. Let’s say you have a story about a kick-ass rebel heroine traveling around the universe hunting aliens and blowing them to bits with her laser gun. There’s lots of fights, chases, alien guts, and heck, let’s throw a cute love interest in there too. It’s exciting, adrenaline pumping, and…completely flat.

Sure there’s a bunch of stuff happening, but there’s no plot. There’s no meaning to unify the events that occur. Why is she running around space killing aliens? What is she trying to accomplish? If there’s no point, there’s no plot.

I love how Lisa Cron defines plot in her book Wired for Story as, “the events that relentlessly force the protagonist to deal with her [internal] issue as she pursues her goal.

Read that again. Let it sink it.

Right there, we have the 4 elements crucial for structuring a plot:

  1. The heroine’s goal (what she wants)
  2. The heroine’s issue (the internal conflict that’s keeping her from her goal)
  3. Obstacles in the heroine’s path (the external conflict that’s keeping her from her goal)
  4. The results of dealing with her internal issue (change)

Let’s go back to our alien assassin. Let’s say her parents were murdered by aliens, so she joins a special task force that hunts down rogue aliens throughout the galaxy in the hopes of finding and killing the ones who murdered her family (goal). Because of her bad experience, she’s become prejudiced toward non-human species (internal issue) even though the task force is a mix of humans and aliens.

When she’s assigned a case that might be her parent’s killers she’s eager to go…until she learns her partner (and love interest) is a non-human. They’ll have to learn to work together to hunt down the aliens (external obstacles) and get justice for her parents. Along the way, she’ll have to learn how to overcome her prejudice (change).

Now we have a plot. Our heroine will set off on a mission to seek justice for her parents’ killers, but must overcome her prejudice against aliens in order to accept her partner’s help. All of the exciting things that happen along the way–chases, shoot-outs, skirmishes–should be obstacles that make it harder for her to get what she wants, or force her to confront that internal issue. And, bonus, her internal issue will serve as even more conflict when she begins to fall for her partner.

So, what am I trying to get at here?

I want you to realize that nothing in your story should be random, or just there for the sake of action or excitement. Every scene in your story should work to create meaning, to serve a purpose. When we view our stories through the lens of these 4 elements (goal, internal issue, obstacles, and change), we can narrow our focus and create a story that resonates and stays with readers because it has a point.

This is because story isn’t simply about exciting stuff that happens to someone. A story is about someone who wants something, sets out to obtain it, is faced with obstacles, and changes along the way. Do you know what the point of your story is?

How do you look at plot? Let me know below!